Marketing your communities to Gen Z

How to leverage tech for the toughest crowd

When you’re trying to strike a chord with digital natives, “authenticity” is just the tip of the iceberg. HappyCo dives into the nature and needs of Gen Z renters, revealing how operators can transform their marketing strategies to win over a skeptical generation.

When you’re trying to strike a chord with digital natives, “authenticity” is just the tip of the iceberg. HappyCo dives into the nature and needs of Gen Z renters, revealing how operators can transform their marketing strategies to win over a skeptical generation.

Marketing your communities to Gen Z
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When you’re trying to strike a chord with digital natives, “authenticity” is just the tip of the iceberg. HappyCo dives into the nature and needs of Gen Z renters, revealing how operators can transform their marketing strategies to win over a skeptical generation.

Move over millennials” is the less-than-subtle message Bisnow delivers at the start of a recent piece on Generation Z. Stressing that this age group boasts “an estimated $143B in buying power” and a global population of roughly 2 billion, writer Joseph Pimental makes clear: “this demographic is slated to be the single largest group of consumers worldwide in the next five to seven years.”

If this time frame seems to offer breathing room, a recent piece from the Washington Post implies just the opposite is true, noting Generation Z’s “oldest members are now graduating college, entering the workforce and seeking apartment homes of their own.” So, what exactly does Gen Z want in multifamily housing? And, how can you market your amenities so the messaging strikes a chord? HappyCo explains.

The tech short list: what Gen Z wants.

guy on laptop

“Millennials have two screens in front of them, while Gen Z will have eight.” Kate Good, a 2019 NAA Apartmentalize speaker, confirms for Multihousing News what many multifamily operators may already suspect: commanding the attention of digital natives won’t be easy. Adding to the burden, operators should ensure the whole story arc of multifamily renting (from leasing stage to resident complaints) is a mobile one. Indeed, Forbes notes that Gen Z expects: “every aspect of life to be easily accessible through their smartphones.”

Not surprisingly, this group will demand the latest in tech amenities: from high-speed internet and wireless sound systems to tech-syncing capabilities and wired furniture. On the safety front, tech is also set to play an important role, with “biometric systems,” key-fob entry, and around-the-clock monitoring recommended as must-haves for multifamily communities.

The Washington Post also highlights the importance of green appliances for this age group. It cites a study revealing “76 percent [of Generation Z] report they are concerned about the impact humans have on our planet.” Thus, multifamily operators would be wise to up the ante on all they’ve done to go green for millennials: from efficient appliances to walkability and bike storage.

Beyond speedy wifi: leveraging tech meaningfully.

selfie taker

Having covered the amenities Gen Z looks for in multifamily housing, it’s critical to break down the why behind their wants — so that your marketing strategy strikes a chord. Fortunately, an in-depth study conducted by Google’s Brand Team for Consumer Apps offers a valuable window into Gen Z’s instincts, empasizing: “they never knew the world before terrorism or global warming. As a result, Gen Z is the most informed, evolved, and empathetic generation of its kind.”

Google’s Brand Team stresses a critical divide between Gen Z and the notorious generation it follows, arguing: “unlike millennials, this group is ambitious, engaged, and feel like they can change the world.” This means multifamily operators will have to give Gen Z renters at least the sense that they have agency, some voice — in shaping the nature of their community’s events, amenities, and other offerings.

Multifamily operators will also need to accept a significant sea change when it comes to corporate social responsibility. In other words, their efforts (or lack thereof) will truly be under the microscope with Gen Z, as opposed to casually observed by millennials. Farla Efros of HRC Advisory spells out the high standard this generation is setting for companies (multifamily or otherwise): “brands and retailers will be rewarded for embracing transparency, ethical practices and for promoting causes and values that Gen Z holds in high regard.”

girl texting

Indeed, Mickinsey’s detailed study on this generation reveals that “about 65 percent [of Gen Z] try to learn the origins of anything they buy — where it is made, what it is made from, and how it is made.” Consequently, there’s little room for major error, as the same Mckinsey study suggests: roughly 80 percent of Gen Zers refuse to buy anything from companies linked to scandals. On the upside, this strong preference for transparency offers multifamily operators an unprecedented opportunity to pull back the curtain and start conversations on all they’re doing well — from detailed maintenance inspections to volunteer events.

Finally, Gen Z marketer Madison Bregman adds one more valuable twist to the mix multifamily companies should keep in mind before they refine marketing messages. Bregman distinguishes Gen Z from other groups by noting: “while older generations use technology and social media to escape from the ‘real world,’ we’re so immersed into the digital world that face to face communication is our ‘escape.’”

All told, operators have a powerful opportunity to reach Gen Z renters if they leverage tech in the two ways these digital natives relate to most: as a tool for advocacy and a forum for connection. With these goals in mind, let’s cover how operators can meet Gen Z where they are on social media — and create messaging and events that truly resonate.

Goodbye Facebook, hello YouTube — where to find Gen Z.

group selfie

Discretion appears to be a key driver of Gen Z’s preferences in the realm of social media. As Oberlo stresses, Gen Z “cares about maintaining their privacy online, shunning open networks like Facebook in favor of direct messaging apps like Snapchat.” According to the Google Brand Team’s thorough study, more than 56 percent of Gen Z uses Snapchat and nearly 60 percent of the age group turns to Instagram. While Facebook usage totals nearly 53 percent, Google’s study concludes that the social platform: “is still a daily habit for most teens for consumption and stalking, but they rarely post.

Yet, discretion isn’t the only reason for Snapchat’s allure. The app’s speedy presentation of images may be a major part of the equation. Oberlo cites a study revealing the average attention span for a millennial is 12 seconds while Generation Z clocks in at just eight seconds. As a result, members of Gen Z “loathe non-skippable ads and pop-ups and avoid long-form content.” Multifamily websites are is no exception; the Washington Post cites a report from IBM and the National Retail Federation (NRF)” which “found that 60 percent of Gen Zers will not use an app or website if it is too slow to load.”

Not surprisingly, YouTube is right up the alley of a generation longing for fast-paced presentation and wide-ranging content. Indeed, Google’s study argues: “from DIY to makeup tutorials to news, YouTube keeps Gen Z connected and in the know.” As 54 percent of Gen Z visits YouTube every day, now’s the time for multifamily operators to share their stories in bite-sized video formats.

With little time to grab eyes and a higher bar than ever before to create “authentic” messaging, companies should keep in mind a fundamental finding in Google’s Gen Z study: that this generation believes “social media is for consuming and connecting, not sharing.”

Spark debate, encourage feedback: Gen Z social strategy.

group texting

Critically, Gen Z marketer Madison Bregman pushes back about just what the notorious attention span statistics express about her age group. As Bergman tells Forbes, “in reality, that’s a BS meter where we’re able to determine within those first few seconds whether or not something is worth our time.” What, then, are Gen Zers doing with their time online? Fortunately, Farla Efros of HRC Advisory has an answer: they’re “often advocating on behalf of issues they care about.”

Thus, multifamily teams would be wise to translate their environmentally-conscious efforts into tight, compelling video posts on Instagram or YouTube. Maintenance techs could give six-second, close-up demonstrations of your property’s latest strategies to save electricity or prevent water waste. Custodial staff could expose why the week’s high volume of recyclables reveal that residents in your community care about the fate of landfill.

Combining this kind of narrative with a hashtag that’s gaining traction from a global warming headline, such as #prayforamazonia, would showcase that your marketing team keeps tabs on pressing climate issues. Similarly, this kind of social strategy indulges Gen Zers in their hope to consume information and feel they have a chance to change the narrative — personally — just by tapping their screens.

group exercise

Similarly, you could quench Gen Z’s thirst for a compelling origin story in a number of ways. For example, your teams could find out why your company’s interior designers chose certain curtain colors or lighting effects for resident comfort and explain the significance in a short YouTube clip. Additionally, your marketing teams could publish a short Instagram video with a physical trainer explaining memorable tidbits about exercise and nutrition ahead of a group workout in the fitness center. But the chance to pique Gen Z’s interest doesn’t end there.

Your marketing teams could ride the engagement wave a little further by asking viewers in the comment section if they have any suggestions for healthy meal tips or scenic hikes. As a thorough IBM-National Retail Federation study makes clear: “44 percent of [Gen Z respondents] said that, if given the opportunity… they would like to participate in a product review, and 42 percent indicated they want to participate in an online game for a campaign.” All told, “60 percent of Gen Zers said it is important for brands to value their opinions.”

Importantly, as IBM’s study notes, providing timely and diplomatic feedback to Gen Zers’ comments is an absolute must. As this age group is highly active on digital platforms, they expect “brands to be ready to interact with them 24⁄7 on their choices of channels and devices.” With only 35 percent of Gen Z clocking in at “somewhat satisfied” in the feedback arena, there’s clearly room for your marketing team to shatter expectations and secure a loyal following.

Inclusive and conversational: transform your events.

pizza party

Referring to Generation Z as “the most diverse generation” and one that “demands inclusivity,” Multihousing News paints the picture of a generation that craves differing perspectives. Indeed, a detailed McKinsey study illustrates that 60 percent of Gen Zers believe “communities are created by causes and interests, not by economic backgrounds or educational levels.” This figure, McKinsey’s research suggests, “is well above the corresponding one for millennials.”

Thus, multifamily operators must step up their game to organize events that inspire lively debate around culture and identity. The best source for their research? Gen Zers. Indeed, marketer Madison Bregman goes on to tell Forbes which companies are striking the right chord with her age group: “Netflix is a company that’s doing a great job. Their shows are ingrained in culture and start conversations.” She describes how 13 Reasons Why and Orange is the New Black provoke significant discussion on social media, and notes that “throwback” options like The Office and Friends offer “a sense of nostalgia” those in their early twenties find quite appealing.

From the edgy to the endearing, Netflix and other streaming services offer a range of binge-able content that operators would be wise to program in bulk and promote as community-building. Additionally, organizing a lecture series or a cluster of museum outings could serve as valuable ways to get Gen Z residents connecting over the issues that energize them most. To make events like these especially memorable, operators would be wise to organize some interactive post-show or post-talk trivia. Gen Zers, after all, are especially keen to make their opinions heard!

While it won’t be easy to satisfy Gen Z residents’ calls for cutting-edge tech and nuanced messaging, this age group presents a range of creative possibilities for multifamily teams. If companies manage to step up to the plate and incorporate lively video posts and conservation-starting events into their marketing routine, they’ll have great odds of winning over a skeptical generation. Along the way, multifamily marketing teams will get the chance to share and appreciate all the hard work they’ve been doing to meet resident expectations — from diligent inspections to energy efficiency.

Glennis Markison
About the Author
Glennis Markison
Senior Content & Webinar Producer

Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2013, she worked at CBS San Francisco as a program coordinator, public affairs producer, and ultimately full-time news writer for the KPIX 5 Morning News. She’s excited to enter the bustling startup world and tell HappyCo’s stories across channels.


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