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June 20

The Power of Positivity in Gen Z Marketing


In Gen Z marketing, it’s important to understand the emotional needs and outlook of your target audience

In the blogosphere, much is made of the fact that Gen Z are digital natives who’ve never known life without the Internet, smart phones, and social media. 

To them, the virtual world is simply an extension of their physical, everyday life. 

Digital experiences and relationships for them are just as real and formative as their physical experiences.

But this doesn’t mean that digital technology always produces positive effects in these up-and-coming generations.

Although full of promise, Gen Z has its challenges. And anxiety is a big one. 

Below, we’ll explore at least three big sources of anxiety identified by the Pew Research Center

Before we get into them, let me say that I have no doubt Gen Z will find its way. 

(My generation and many others have done so – and we have our fair share of challenges and flaws too!)

But for that to happen, I think we should be sensitive to these challenges in our Gen Z marketing efforts.

Honestly, I believe we can use positivity in our Gen Z marketing campaigns to both optimize our marketing results and make a positive change in the world.

Gen Z Marketing Can Be a Relief to Social Media Anxiety 

According to the Pew Research Center, the ever-increasing hours of screen time Gen Z is spending on their devices is connected to the rise of mental health problems. 

Some researchers have suggested that the growing amount of time teens are spending on their mobile devices, and specifically on social media, is contributing to the growth in anxiety and depression among this group.

Many prospective students recognize the harmful effects of social media on their emotional state. About 24% of those surveyed in the article say that time spent on social media has had a negative impact on them.

There are many reasons for such anxiety from social media.

For a lot of young people, the highly produced shots, lighting, editing, and filters create an unattainable beauty standard. 

Social media is also where everyone posts their accomplishments. It can be depressing if you’re going through a rough time and you see all your friends having a great time. 

The algorithms also contribute to intense polarization of political, religious, and cultural beliefs. This can isolate young people and make them feel vulnerable when exposed to new ideas.

So how can your Gen Z marketing efforts do anything about anxiety?

With all this negativity and poisonous public discourse on social media, crafting messaging which emphasizes the hope a higher education can bring is refreshing. 

In other words, positive messaging stands out like a candle in the darkness. 

Copy should be positioned to show hope for a better future.

Imagery should emphasize inclusivity, community, friendships, and mentorships to combat feelings of isolation. 

When you make your higher ed institution an oasis of hope, you’ll easily stand out from the noise of social media…

…and you’ll help someone feel a little less lonely.

Gen Z Marketing Can Relieve Climate Change Anxiety

Climate change has been an issue for some time now.  

But Gen Z seems to take environmental health concerns much more seriously than previous generations.

The survey finds that, when asked about engaging with climate change content online, those in Gen Z are particularly likely to express anxiety about the future. 

…nearly seven-in-ten Gen Zers (69%) say they felt anxious about the future the most recent time they saw content about addressing climate change. 

A smaller majority (59%) of Millennial[s]… report feeling this way the last time they saw climate change content; fewer than half of Gen X (46%) and Baby Boomer and older (41%)… say the same.

In a way, this is a very good trend. 

Gen Z may well be the generation that discovers a solution to the climate change crisis!

However, this concern over climate change is exacerbating the anxiety epidemic.

Anxiety about the future also is a predominant emotional reaction to climate change content among those who are most engaged with the issue on social platforms (those who follow a climate-focused account, interact with, post or share climate content themselves).

So how can Gen Z marketing help climate change anxiety?

Environmentally conscious messaging through copy, imagery, and video is an inspiring and hope-filled message for prospective students worried about the future of the planet.

Many campuses are great, natural backdrops to show prospective students a space where they can enjoy and care for nature. 

In your Gen Z marketing campaigns, share stories of how your institution is combating climate change in its own way.

For example, you can showcase student-led ecological organizations, recycling efforts, park cleanups, and other kinds of student activities that show concern for the environment.

Even if your institution isn’t particularly focused on climate issues, it’s important to realize that this is a big concern for many prospective students.

Remember: we’re not marketing to ourselves! 

We’re marketing to an audience that probably thinks very differently about the world than we do.

I’m not saying you should be a climate alarmist or even an activist. 

But showing good stewardship of the natural resources on your campus will go a long way to attract prospective students who care deeply about this issue.

Gen Z Marketing Can Help with Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic killed millions of people. 

Yet that number pales in comparison to the number of young people psychologically harmed by the two years of quarantine, stress over their family’s health, and worry about their own future. 

Another Pew Research Center article reveals some of the mental health damage done by the pandemic.   

Overall, 37% of students at public and private high schools reported that their mental health was not good most or all of the time during the pandemic, according to the CDC’s Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, which was fielded from January to June 2021. 

In the survey, “poor mental health” includes stress, anxiety and depression. About three-in-ten high school students (31%) said they experienced poor mental health most or all of the time in the 30 days before the survey. In addition, 44% said that, in the previous 12 months, they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row such that they stopped doing some usual activities.

Besides the existential anxiety felt by many who feel trapped by anxiety due to the pandemic, there is also the enormous economic fallout that Gen Z is dealing with as this article highlights:

There are already signs that the oldest Gen Zers have been particularly hard hit in the early weeks and months of the coronavirus crisis. In a March 2020 Pew Research Center survey, half of the oldest Gen Zers (ages 18 to 23) reported that they or someone in their household had lost a job or taken a cut in pay because of the outbreak. This was significantly higher than the shares of Millennials (40%), Gen Xers (36%) and Baby Boomers (25%) who said the same. 

Calling Gen Zers and Millennials “snowflakes” is a popular meme these days. 

In general, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. 

Good-natured fun can be a good way to identify what’s going wrong in our generations. But as higher ed marketers, we should take the emotional and psychological needs of our audience very seriously.

Gen Z has a lot of privilege. It’s true. 

Yet that doesn’t diminish the weight of the challenges they uniquely face as a generation.

Gen Z marketing can show hope for those suffering post-pandemic anxiety. 

Financial aid website pages or printed materials can be a place to encourage prospective students negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Highlight the counseling services that you have on campus. 

Be sure to showcase the security and any public health protocols you have on campus. 

Use your Gen Z marketing campaigns to exude confidence and care towards prospective students. 

Doing so will both attract them to your education brand as well as alleviate the overall anxiety they deal with from day to day.

For more insights into marketing to prospective students, contact us today!

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Featured image by Nicola via Adobe Stock

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