By Alex Gallagher, UNiDAYS
When it comes to the 22 and under set, QSR marketers have their work cut out for them. This group of individuals born after 1996, and referred to as Gen Z, represents one-quarter of the population and already wields an estimated $44 billion in spending power.
Not only are their numbers daunting since they will make up the largest single generation of consumers in less than two years — but this age group is expected to challenge even the savviest restaurant marketer. Gen Z has, in fact, been described as "elusive" and "unmarketable," primarily because this is a digital-only generation.
Members of this generation cannot imagine life without a smartphone, never knew a time when people were "forced" to watch an ad and grew up curating their own entertainment. Where many of us knew a time when TV was a box with three channels, Gen Z-ers might have 333 channels in the palm of their hand anywhere and anytime.
Suffice to say, traditional advertising just won't work on this group, but we have found what works based on a recent survey of 1,800 Gen Z students in the U.S.
1. Make it social.
Of those surveyed, 41 percent said they learn about new menu items in the restaurant. The rest rely on social media networks (20 percent) and friends (19 percent). These customers are already loyal or depend on their friends and community for recommendations.
How to reach the 60 percent who aren't yet loyal customers? Go to the people they trust. The opinions of peers and family play a big part in Gen Z decision-making. So, if a brand can't get one-on-one with Gen Z-ers, the next-best solution is to get "grouped" through affiliations they trust. Word of mouth can be effective if student groups, organizations, clubs and even affinity networks deliver the message.
Brand interaction through such venues can give chain leadership accurate ideas about their opinions on food items and service, while opening a two-way channel that can lead to target offers, for instance.
2. Skip tradition.
Gen Z is an interesting dichotomy when it comes to visual advertising. The group speaks in visuals but doesn't listen to them. Likewise, only 8 percent of survey respondents find out about new menu items from TV advertising, since Gen Z's broadcast TV and movie-watching habits are practically nonexistent.
Restaurants waste valuable resources trying to reach this generation through display advertising, too, with a measly 4 percent of students finding out about new restaurant offerings from this form of ad.
They also proactively block digital ads. In fact, 69 percent of Gen Z said the best ads are ones they can skip, according to 2017 information from Kantar Milward Brown.
While these stats may be intimidating, brands can take advantage of authentic photos of menu items and experiential videos posted where Gen Z-ers are — on social media. Likewise, restaurateurs can also encourage user-generated content through influencer campaigns or contests.
But remember: Those images have a mere 8 seconds to make mouths water and get that Gen Z-er in the door. Which leads us to our final point...
3. Be spontaneous.
Gen Z-ers are spontaneous by nature. Almost half said they try a new QSR chain monthly, but only 5 percent said they plan their meals.
Restaurants can take advantage of Z-ers' willingness to try new things with tactics like mobile push alerts to promote menu items and pricing. Gen Z-ers rarely leave home without a mobile device, which opens opportunities to reach them anytime and anywhere they're hungry.
Brands can capture the attention and data of Gen Z by creating playful, Tinder-like campaigns around food items that engage them with your menu, while simultaneously gaining new customers and insights that feed into member profile data. That, in turn, allows brands to deliver more personalized messages quickly and visually.
If a brand can add a discount to its Gen Z communication, that's even better. Nearly 93 percent of survey respondents said they "are more likely to try a restaurant that offers discounts."
Brands unwilling to discount might consider a student happy hour or other off-peak promotion. Some 91 percent of students are willing to eat at an off-peak time if it means they get a discount or special offer.
4. Make it quick.
With an average attention span of eight seconds, Gen Z-ers favor streaming content in snack-sized bites, like that offered through YouTube or consumed on phones and through computers.