Hannah Harshe: Marketing to Gen Z

Thursday, October 18, 2018 - 4:46pm

Hannah Harshe

Hannah Harshe Buy this photo
The Michigan Daily

It seems that all people can talk about lately are those pesky millennials and their consumer habits, whether it means buying avocado toast or Kylie Jenner lipsticks. What we often seem to forget, however, is that the millennial generation is now comprised of adults and Generation Z is no longer comprised of babies. In fact, Gen Z, or the demographic group made up of those born between the late 1990s and around 2015, will account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. This means that we’ll likely see a vast change in mainstream forms of advertising in the next few years as Gen Z’s consumer preferences are fundamentally different to those of millennials.

One example of such strategies is Dote, a shopping app that’s targeted mainly at Gen Z consumers. Dote works as a virtual mall: It allows users to select items from over 140 retailers, pay only one time (rather than pay separately to each retailer) and receive all the items in one package. According to Fashionista, “the typical Dote user is a female between the ages of 13 and 22 years old. She visits the app about four times a day and spends an average of 40 minutes on it.”

How did these users find out about Dote? It wasn’t through traditional advertising. I learned about Dote through my younger sister, Brianna Harshe, who, at 12 years old, is smack in the middle of Gen Z and an avid user of Dote.

“I watch a lot of YouTubers like Hannah Meloche and Summer Mckeen,” Harshe explained to me. “I got Dote because I saw them talking about it. They went on a bunch of trips because of Dote and they would advertise for Dote on their trips. It didn’t really matter to me that it was advertising because they were still going to Fiji and stuff because of it.”

What is she talking about? Well, Meloche and Mckeen are high-school-age social media personalities who avidly post on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube about everything from their makeup routines to their inside jokes with their friends. They recently went on a luxury vacation to Fiji with several other social media personalities. All expenses of the trip were covered by Dote. As members of Gen Z tend to do, they posted countless photos on Instagram and videos on YouTube of their trip. In every photo and video, they made sure to tag Dote, or at least thank them for the trip. Boom: Every Gen Z member who already watches Meloche’s and Mckeen’s videos has now been exposed to Dote. This isn’t the first trip that Dote has sent girls on. In the past, the “Dote Girls” have been to Miami, Aspen, Colo., Malibu, Calif. and even the music festival Coachella (or “Dotechella”).

The reason that Dote appeals so much to Gen Z is that its founder and CEO, Lauren Farleigh, chose to advertise in a way that truly reached this segment. Gen Z is often called the iGeneration because it’s the first generation that can’t remember a world without smartphones and social media. Because of this, according to Forbes, “While traditional celebrities once had a monopoly on influence, ‘regular’ people are now gaining influence online based on their unique voices, opinions and perspectives.”

Harshe affirms this sentiment: “I trust the YouTubers I watch because they’re a lot more genuine. It seems like they’re showing their true selves. With a lot of celebrities, it seems like they just put on a mask to please people. … I usually find out about products from YouTubers, even if it’s on Instagram or another app. It’s more like a friend recommending me a product than a commercial.”

Members of Gen Z are generally cognizant of this generational gap. They see traditional advertising techniques and celebrity endorsements, but they tune them out fairly easily. Dote was able to catch onto this difference and use it to its advantage. “From our perspective, we see these retailers who haven’t fully identified or caught up with that shift,” Farleigh told Fashionista. “They really are trying to use old marketing techniques for this new generation, but not authentically engaging these social creators and their Gen Z followers.”

A good example of Dote’s ability to market to Gen Z is its partnership with 17-year-old YouTube sensation Emma Chamberlain, who is practically a household name among Gen Z, thanks to her sarcastic personality that shines through in her videos about thrift shopping, going to school and drinking coffee. According to Forbes, “(Chamberlain’s) social media engagement — the amount of likes and comments of a post divided by the total amount of followers — is averaging around 25 percent on Instagram. If you’re not in the social media world, you might not understand how mind-boggling that is. To give you a comparison, Kim Kardashian and Selena Gomez are averaging 9 percent and 5 percent engagement, based on their last five posts.”

Chamberlain might not be a typical celebrity, but she has an incredibly loyal following, and Dote made a smart but unusual move in partnering with her. Chamberlain’s store, which is called High Key by Emma, was the first brand to be sold exclusively on Dote and sold out in just two hours. Clothing lines by celebrities don’t usually have that kind of success rate, but the personal connection that Gen Z members feel with YouTube stars creates an indescribable loyalty.

Harshe confirms, “I follow YouTubers more than celebrities because they’re more relatable. Like Hannah Meloche lives in Michigan and she just lives a normal teen life and goes to school, which is attainable for kids like me if we wanted to follow in her footsteps.”

Sending a group of teenage girls on a trip to Fiji might seem like an odd way to advertise your product, but if you know Generation Z, then you know how important social media is to them. Put a group of teenage girls in Fiji, and the Instagram photos will come automatically. As long as they know to tag Dote, that’s all the advertising you need.

Hannah Harshe can be reached at hharshe@umich.edu.

More like this