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Marketing to Millennials & Gen Z: A Strategic Guide

In layman terms, marketing can be defined as the action or process of promoting or selling products and services. But not only is this definition unhelpful and lacking, it also fails to encapsulate the depth that marketing as a field holds. Although it may overlap with advertising, marketing is an end to end process of its own, and it aims to understand and manipulate the psyche of its consumers, through tactics that we will explore through the course of this blog.

However, to fully immerse ourselves into the culture of our audience, we need to first classify and understand the individual needs of each demographic. To provide a personalised experience, we need to step away from mass production, and focus on learning the buying behaviours of each generation.

Age is one important factor that determines how consumers react to a brand. It is a straightforward way to gain a personal insight into your audience, and a cornerstone of segmenting customers into different groups.

This method of segmentation is widely known as Generational Marketing and is adopted to ensure that the brand is diverse in its marketing approaches.

​​Which generations respond best to telephone calls and mass emails, who is most likely to shop retail, or get on board because your product promotes sustainability? Don’t worry, we have got you covered.

Defining the Generations

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Although, certain brands may choose to disregard or avoid prioritising this generation due to its detachment with the current wave of technology, it is pertinent to remember that they hold a good amount of the disposable income in the economy, which means that their involvement with the brand can help in increasing the brand value, as well as its sales.

Most of the individuals under this generation prefer brick and mortar stores over online presence, and emphasise more on discounts and affordability as well as top tier customer service over the social and political stances of the brands they shop from.

Gen X (1965-1980)

Gen X defines the generation that is currently in their late adulthood. Currently, they have more spending power than any other generation, but they are also frugal in their expenditures. Born during the cusp of Economic Depression, they have adapted a mown down economy. They expect and reciprocate to clear and simple messaging, and value honesty over marketing gimmicks.

This generation has the highest rate of brand loyalty, and they commit to the brands they support wholeheartedly. Most of their social media presence is redirected to Facebook.

Gen Y (1981-1996)

Gen Y is the first generation that adapted to the digital world, and are thus termed as digital natives. Although they did not necessarily grow up with technology, it integrated itself into their lives almost seamlessly. They comprise one quarter of the current world population. Gen Y is currently in its prime buying years, but their buying power is not as powerful as the generations before them due to the deteriorating economy and excess inflation.

This generation is mobile dependent, and is most receptive to targeted advertisements. Since they grew up in social and political turmoil, they have strong beliefs that make it hard to gain their loyalty. 33% of millennials favour businesses that promote and create sustainable products.

Gen Z (1997-2012)

Due to the small age gap, many of the characteristics and values of Gen Z overlap with those of Gen Y. Gen Z is the first generation to not know a life without technology, and thus are fully immersed in the online world. This opens up a whole new arena for marketers to experiment with their creativity and capture the attention of these individuals, and to even go viral. This generation is referred to as the ‘unmarketable’ generation, since they’re speculative of everything that is fed to them.

84% of this generation does not pay conscious attention to the ads they see online and so it is pertinent to make sure your ad is eye grabbing, and can withhold the attention of its viewer. 68% of this generation expects brands to contribute to society, and thus it is of utmost importance to have your brand values in place.

Now that we have our generations clearly divided, we can understand that our target audience is mainly Gen Y and Gen Z, so how exactly do we market our brand in a way that appeals to them?

  • Maintain radical transparency and accountability

  • Hold the same values internally and externally

  • Establish a long term goal, and a clear set of values

  • Create Entertainment, not marketing

  • Prioritise authenticity over mass production

  • Give back to the community

  • Indulge in a two-way communication

  • Don’t be afraid to have a personality

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Pyramid is a psychological concept that is widely used to understand and interpret human needs. It comprises a five-tier hierarchy of needs, ranging from deficiency needs (the first four levels) to being needs (self actualization) Deficiency needs arise due to deprivation and are said to motivate people when they are unmet.

This theory can be applied to the field of marketing through the example of a simple t-shirt:

  • If a t-shirt keeps you warm when you feel cold, it satisfies your physiological needs

  • If that very t-shirt keeps you from being exposed in public, it protects you from being vulnerable and thus satisfies your safety needs

  • The brand association and loyalty attached to the t-shirt fulfils our love/belonging needs

  • The exclusivity of the brand may give us a personal boost and thus satisfy our self esteem needs

  • If the brand stands for something that the individual believes represents their true identity, it succeeds in fulfilling the self actualization needs.

If your brand can cover each stratum of Maslow’s human motivation triangle, and your product has the ability to deliver and satisfy on all these levels, then you are well on your way to tuning in effectively and building credibility within youth culture. - The Gen Z Frequency

Nike & Skateboarding: A Case Study

In 2002, Nike paved its way into the skateboarding market with its Nike SB shoes, but shockingly received a ton of backlash from the community. Nike had started its relationship with skateboarding without any previous experience in the field, it dived head on into sponsorship deals and celebrity endorsements. It did not focus on building brand loyalty, and thus did not garner the trust of the community. Nike’s first product line was cancelled after just 12 months and was characterised as a failure.

“Nike tried to break into skating before and their skate specific shoes and skate programs were terrible. No one in skating that had a good offer somewhere else would've wanted to ride for Nike at that point.” - Tim O'Connor (Savier)

However Nike refused to give up. It changed tactics, and focused on forming close relationships with the skateboarding community at the grass root level. It supported local and amateur skaters across the country, helped repair public and DIY skateparks as well as traded old worn out shoes for their new ones - thus fully immersing themselves in the skateboarding culture.

To get a better understanding of how Nike changed its strategy, watch the video linked below:

Four Foundational Truths of Youth Marketing - The Gen Z Frequency

To introspect whether your brand aligns with the youth or not, there are a few necessary questions that you need to ask yourself. Based on the responses, it becomes easier to evaluate what gaps you need to fill so as to optimise your marketing to its fullest potential.


  • What is your brand’s WHY, and what need do you fill in the market?

  • Why should youth culture be interested in your brand?

  • When you look at your core beliefs, do they align with the needs and desires of Gen Z?

  • Is your core promise believable for youth culture?

  • What does your brand do to establish an emotional connection with youth culture?


  • Why should young consumers trust your brand?

  • Do you proactively build relationships with your audience?

  • What are you doing to reinforce your relationship with youth audiences?

  • Are you transparent about your business practices?

  • Does Gen Z view you as an ally or an authority?


  • What makes your brand relevant to Gen Z?

  • When it comes to products and services, are yours relevant to young consumers?

  • Are you in tune with the attitudes, behaviours and perceptions that matter to your target youth audience?

  • Is your brand accessible to Gen Z when and where they need it?

  • Does your brand connect Gen Z with their peers or anyone who inspires them? Are you helping to elevate their status and build a community?


  • Are you providing memorable experiences for young people across social, digital and real world environments?

  • What are you doing to build community and create a true sense of belonging for young people?

  • How are you leveraging relationships with creators, influencers or celebrities to heighten the brand experience for your audience?

  • If a young person has a negative experience with your brand, what action steps are in place to assess and improve future interactions?

  • Do the branded experiences you offer align with the unique characteristics of the target youth culture audience?

Brands with User Centric Interaction

In a stream of upcoming brands and diverse marketing tactics, it is important to establish your ground and create an identity for your brand. Omni-channel experiences through all social media platforms helps in reiterating your brand presence, and indulging in social media trends proves that you are not marketing a product, but a lifestyle experience.

Brands talk about being part of the conversation with youth culture, but the types of content, experiences, and channels deployed are ineffective if you are not fully aligned with youth audiences. This integration should be natural, not forced.

Their lingo should be adopted, not mimicked. Do not resort to stereotypes and archetypal representations of what you think Gen Z is, rather try to listen and observe the multifaceted personalities that they imbibe.

The brand’s capability to empower young consumers drives passion more than advertisements or empty narratives. It isn’t just about imaging in terms of the product, but what the brand stands for that’s important to youth culture - Geoffrey Colon, 2017, designer of marketing communications, Microsoft, Author of disruptive marketing

Many brands have nailed the insight that is required to cut through the noise and create a niche of your own. Here are a few examples:


Spotify, an AI powered music streaming service has revolutionised the way we listen to music. Gone are the days where we required torrent to pirate songs, or an in-flow of money to buy music. With Spotify, music becomes not only accessible, but also a prerequisite in our daily lives.

Spotify uses AI and machine learning to discover and act on insights from external data and user behaviour, thus retaining its place as one of the most popular music streaming sites on the web. With an attractive User Interface, and easy navigation, all an individual needs is wifi/mobile data and a tolerance for interruptive advertisements to be able to enjoy the features of the app. Even the prices of its premium feature are affordable and conveniently enable the shift from free to paid subscriptions.

Machine learning helps the recommendations to improve over time. Not only does it keep users returning, it also enables greater exposure for artists who users may not search for organically.

The end of the year Spotify Wrapped - a personalised data sheet of an individual’s listening history and habits - wrapped in pretty paper is a huge hit amongst its users - here’s why.

The purpose of “Spotify Wrapped” is simple, to promote the music streaming platform and get more users. Spotify however claims that “wrapped” is a way of returning the favour to Spotify users for the past year. This way users get an in depth analysis of their music taste and the data can be used for rediscovering music all over again. This is a win-win situation for both parties. Whatever may be the purpose, this initiative of Spotify fulfils the needs of both the provider and the receiver.

Spotify Wrapped is just one of the many enigmatic endeavours that helped in establishing Spotify as the Streaming Giant of the year. With personalised playlists, wacky advertisements, Spotify Blend and the ability to upload your own podcasts onto the app, Spotify struck the right chord with its target audience and proved that it is here to stay.


Netflix, an OTT Platform rooted in the film streaming industry, has become a name almost synonymous with movies and entertainment. Having been around since 1997, it is only recently that it upped its marketing game, and took full advantage of the opportunity that a world wide lockdown provides. Netflix cut through the competitive clutter and reached out to its targeted audience by curating some interesting brand communication strategies over the years.

Similar to Spotify, Netflix also provides personalised recommendations to its consumers, but it does so much more than simply providing a platform to watch films. Netflix has fully immersed itself into the cultural patterns of each country, and thus adapts to their lifestyle.

Just a story away campaign:

Netflix India has adopted the likes of meme marketing, topical content and influencer marketing to promote itself, and has been insanely successful in doing so. Its social media strategy and relatability quotient has made it a beloved part of our lives, and a constant source of entertainment for the content hungry audience. Its emotions driven approach has helped in developing brand loyalty, and the specificity of its advertising ensures that it appeals to our sentimental elements.

Check the link below to learn more about Netflix India’s marketing campaign for Red Notice -

Key Takeaways from the Blog

  1. Invest in understanding your demographic

  2. Find alternatives to traditional marketing

  3. Appeal to FOMO and frugality

  4. Focus on interactive and experiential marketing

  5. Be transparent and meet your audience where they are

  6. Make your campaigns adaptable

  7. Focus on Word of Mouth

  8. Let your audience be your star

  9. Don’t sell products, sell your Purpose


We as individuals, and as brands, need to evolve and keep up with the transitional pace of technology so as to adapt to the environment we live in, and avail the best of resources for our wellbeing. Marketing has shifted from product-centric to people-centric. People want to be seen, recognised and understood for who they are, and it is the brand’s responsibility to align itself accordingly if it wants to be a part of the race. An emotional-driven approach is best suited to build a connection with your target demographic, and to ensure that you are not losing your values in the process of building your brand.


The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility - Derek E. Baird and Gregg L. Witt

Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business - Dan Keldsen and Tom Koulopoulos

Marketing to Gen Z - 5 things you need to know -

Marketing to the Unmarketable-


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