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Decoding the Gen Z student mindset: your questions answered

Last week, many of you showed up to decode the Gen Z student mindset with us in our webinar with Voxburner (PSA – if you missed it, you can catch it here). Richard Jackson and Becky Kells joined forces to deliver a comprehensive overview of the Gen Z student space. We packed so much into the hour that we ran out of time to answer your burning questions. So, here we are, doing that now.


Girl holds a sign bearing the slogan "I want to be myself"


Keeping it authentic

Given the importance of authenticity to Gen Z, how would you recommend striking a balance between promoting products and maintaining a genuine connection with this audience?

“I’d say the key is to know your limitations”, says Becky Kells – Content Marketing specialist at native. “Gen Zs know that you’re a brand or organisation – not a friend. When Gen Z students express an interest in connection and community, what this actually means is that you provide your service efficiently, and are clear about your product. 

“Take the top three things that Gen Z students want to see from brands on social, for example. 47% want to see behind-the-scenes content – indicating they are curious about what goes into your products or services. 42% want to see product imagery and content – again, so they know what they’re in for if they choose to buy from you – and 39% want you to post reviews. All of these help consumers to make informed decisions. 

“We’ve seen great success from brands on TikTok in building community – or tapping into existing Gen Z communities. But be mindful of how Gen Z students are experiencing your full marketing funnel. TikTok comments and fun filters are great at the awareness stage. But you have to back it up by providing a solid user experience as they start to consider (and ultimately purchase) from you.”


How can we seamlessly integrate into the student lifestyle to create authentic connections without appearing intrusive or disruptive?

Becky offers up a key recommendation here: “know your student calendar – and tailor your marketing strategy accordingly.” She adds: “if you come in with an all-singing, all-dancing in-person activation mid-exam season, you’re going to annoy a lot of students. Equally, if you bring a very low-key, single-placement activation to Freshers week, it will get drowned out in all the noise. 

“To really have an impact with students, I think brands need to do a bit of self-examination. Think about what you can offer students. Are you a brand that taps into their ethically-conscious, activist nature? Do you represent the high-octane excitement of Freshers season – or post exam parties? Could you become a little-and-often part of their daily lives, helping them through difficult times? Or are you one of those big milestone purchases on the road to adulthood, sitting within a shopping vertical they might never have considered before? 

“Think about what you can offer students, and let that dictate what times of the year – and with what degree of intensity – you appear on campus.”


Ethics and values 

With the rise of social justice movements, how can we authentically contribute to social causes and align with Gen Z values without appearing opportunistic or insincere?

“Gen Z students are, without a doubt, ethically conscious”, says Becky. “But when we asked them what they like to see from the brands they follow, just 7% said political or cause-related content. 

“Interpret this less that Gen Z students don’t want you to do the work. It’s more that they see right through blatant attempts to win them over via lazy social posting. The reality is, you need to do consistent work behind-the-scenes to support the causes that matter to Gen Z students – and put money, time and resources into it. An example would be to use inclusive models on instagram, but also offer clothing in inclusive sizing as standard. Focus on standing by Gen Z students when they’re not looking. Also, be accountable for any past mistakes – don’t try to bury them.”


Influencers vs creators 

With the increasing skepticism among Gen Z towards influencer authenticity, what strategies can brands employ to maintain credibility and build trust when working with influencers?

“Be mindful of what Gen Z students are looking for in influencers”, Becky says. “Catch-all mega-influencers aren’t really cutting it with Gen Z any more; instead, we’re seeing a rise in niche creators with special interests or topics running throughout their content. In our survey, we found that the top reason why Gen Z students would follow an influencer is if they can see a genuine, authentic passion from that influencer. The focal point of that passion varies – it could be fashion, it could be humour, it could be a specific type of craft or profession. But Gen Zs are over influencing just for the sake of it – they want their influencers to hinge on something tangible.”


What value do you see in creating opportunities for Gen Zs to create their own content for their personal channels at events/opportunities and is there any evidence to suggest that is something that they want to do?  

“I absolutely feel that this is valuable, and I think it ties closely to the previous question about influencer marketing”, Becky says. “Gen Z students will find their peers far more authentic than they will a mega-influencer with a broad scope. And the rise of TikTok – a platform that, at its heart, rewards the content not the creator – has gone some way to democratising who gets views. 

“When the reins are handed to Gen Z, great things happen. The classic example is Duolingo – which enjoyed significant social growth when they gave their Gen Z social media manager control to push the boundaries. We’re also seeing it more recently with digital publisher, SheerLuxe – their office interviews are often spearheaded by two Gen Z team members, and it’s really landing on TikTok. As a student-facing brand or org, it takes a leap of faith to give students control over your socials. But ultimately, Gen Zs should be seen as subject matter experts. Letting them experiment could be the best thing you do for your socials.” 


Missed the webinar? You can catch up on-demand at any time. Head right this way to join Becky and Rick in decoding the Gen Z mindset.