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As the digital landscape evolves, so does the science & art of marketing, particularly with the younger generations like Gen Z and Gen Alpha. 

Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, are now 18 to 25 years old and have matured right alongside the evolution of digital platforms. This experience has turned them into discerning consumers who prioritize authentic interactions. 

Meanwhile, Gen Alpha, born from 2010 to 2024 and still under 17, are growing up in a world even more integrated with technology from their earliest years. Their engagement goes beyond passive consumption; these young users see digital platforms as realms for exploration, creativity, and self-expression. 

For brands aiming to leave a lasting impression, it’s vital to understand the unique digital behaviors and preferences of these emerging demographics.

Gen Z

Generation Z are now making their mark as they enter the workforce. Representing 22% of the global population and 27% of the global workforce, this cohort is not only substantial in size but also distinct in its characteristics and expectations.

Members of Gen Z are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet. They are also digital natives who have little or no memory of the world as it existed before smartphones.

Insights from a 2018 Pew Research Center survey reveal the deep relationship American teens— a substantial segment of Gen Z—have with technology: 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone, and nearly all of them (97%) engage with at least one of the seven major online platforms. YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are among teens’ favorite online destinations. Some 85% say they use YouTube, 72% use Instagram and 69% use Snapchat. Facebook is less popular with teens – 51% say they use this social media site. Some 45% of teens say they are online “almost constantly,” and an additional 44% say they’re online several times a day.A significant 45% of teens report being online “almost constantly,” which highlights the pervasive role of digital technology in their daily lives.

Gen Alpha

Generation Alpha is emerging as the largest cohort in human history, projected to surpass 2 billion individuals. As they move through their schooling years, they are set to redefine the educational landscape and beyond, profoundly influenced by their experiences growing up in a world saturated with digital technology.

Gen Alpha exhibits an unparalleled comfort with technology from a very young age. Insights indicate that many in this cohort are interacting with digital devices before mastering verbal communication skills. Their interaction with social media and digital content goes beyond passive consumption; they view these platforms as spaces for active exploration, creativity, and expression. This generation's early and adept use of technology, including tablets and smartphones, shapes their expectations for digital engagement, with gaming emerging as a significant aspect of their online activity. Moreover, their lives are entwined with advanced content personalization algorithms, setting their expectations for highly customized interactions. This is true not only for their social media and entertainment experiences but also extends to their educational content.

The Key to Connecting with Gen Z and Gen Alpha

Engaging Gen Z

  • Gen Z values transparency and authenticity above all. They can quickly detect inauthenticity and are more likely to engage with brands that represent real, relatable people and stories. Authenticity extends to acknowledging mistakes and taking clear actions to address social and environmental issues.
  • Known as 'edutainment', content that educates while entertaining is highly appealing to Gen Z. They value learning new things but in a way that is enjoyable and engaging.
  • As digital natives, Gen Z spends a significant amount of time online. TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram each draw roughly 80% of Gen Z social network users, but only Snapchat draws a higher share of Gen Z teen users (ages 12 to 17) than Gen Z adult users (ages 18 to 24). Marketers should focus on creating content that is optimized for these platforms, embracing the formats that perform best, such as short videos and interactive content.
  • Gen Z values efficiency in their interactions with brands. A seamless user experience, quick customer service responses, and fast shipping options are important to keep them satisfied.

Tailoring Strategies for Gen Alpha

  • When marketing to Gen Alpha, it's important to focus on content that is not just entertaining but also empowering. This generation has a heightened sense of purpose and is drawn to content that encourages them to impact the world positively. They value sustainability, inclusivity, and a broad-minded view on global issues, and they prefer brands that mirror these principles.
  • YouTube stands out as a primary platform for Gen Alpha’s digital activity. It serves as a hub for "slime" tutorials, how-to guides, and popular content creators, making it a significant source of both entertainment and brand discovery for Alphas.
  • Short-form video content reigns supreme with Gen Alpha, suited to their shorter attention spans and providing an opportunity for brands to capture their interest quickly and effectively. 
  • From a young age, Alphas are selective about their content and brand choices, emphasizing the need for authenticity in marketing efforts. Despite the prevalence of polished content, a remarkable 92% of Alphas prioritize staying true to themselves.
  • Mental health is also a key consideration for this generation, influencing how they view brands and their purchasing decisions. Marketers should create content that not only recognizes but also supports this focus, offering meaningful experiences that resonate both online and offline.

Gaming is the New Social

Younger generations are increasingly shifting away from traditional social media platforms, gravitating instead toward gaming as their preferred method of staying connected. Notably, 52% of Gen Alpha and 48% of Gen Z report that gaming enhances their connections with friends and family, highlighting its importance in their social lives. While gaming holds a special place for Gen Z and Gen Alpha, each generation interacts with it uniquely. Gen Z turns to games mainly for relaxation and a break from reality, while Gen Alpha sees gaming as a space for creativity, taking pleasure in building and personalizing their virtual worlds. This shift marks gaming as not just entertainment but also a medium for Gen Alpha to express their creativity.

Gaming has become more than just a pastime; it's a pivotal part of how younger generations interact and define themselves. These individuals engage with gaming not only as players but also as avid viewers, active community members, and enthusiastic followers of gaming culture. A significant portion of them identify as gaming enthusiasts—consumers who participate in gaming through playing, viewing, collecting, and socializing within gaming contexts.

The statistics are telling: 79% of the general population consider themselves gaming enthusiasts, with the numbers jumping to 90% for Gen Z and 94% for Gen Alpha. When it comes to specific gaming behaviors, 92% of Gen Alpha and 88% of Gen Z actively play games. Watching gaming content is also popular, with 70% of Gen Alpha and 68% of Gen Z engaging in this activity.

Beyond playing and viewing, 48% of Gen Alpha and 44% of Gen Z interact with games through various other channels. This includes following gaming channels, participating in online gaming communities, socializing with other gamers, listening to gaming podcasts, and attending gaming events and conventions.

Why Fortnite and Roblox Matter

Fortnite and Roblox are not just video games; they are integral parts of the daily lives of Gen Z and Gen Alpha, serving as platforms for creativity, learning, and socializing. These platforms offer unique opportunities for brands to engage authentically and build lasting loyalty among young audiences.

Fortnite: A Cultural Phenomenon

Fortnite has captivated the younger demographic, particularly those aged 18 to 24, who make up over 62% of its players. The game is celebrated for its vibrant events, iconic dances, and extensive customization options. It also promotes user-generated content, empowering players to not only engage but also create within the game's universe. This level of interaction has cemented Fortnite's position as a staple in youth culture.

By the end of 2023, Fortnite had amassed a staggering registered user base of over 650 million. However, the real testament to its success is its active engagement. Fortnite continues to hold its appeal, maintaining a consistent monthly active player count of around 230 million between January and February 2024.

Roblox: A Creative Outlet for the Young

Roblox targets an even younger audience, with 60% of its users under 16. The platform is renowned for its user-generated games, allowing players to design, build, and share their own experiences. This capability makes Roblox a powerful tool for fostering creativity and collaboration among young gamers.

Roblox brands itself as one of the most significant virtual economies globally, with daily logins from 68 million daily users across 180 countries, leading to substantial earnings for its creators. 2023 marked a monumental year for Roblox and its developer community. A recent company report revealed that the 18-year-old sandbox game distributed $741 million to its creators over the year, with 100 individual games each generating over $1 million in sales.

Strategic Brand Integrations

Recognizing these platforms' roles in the daily routines of young people, savvy brands have successfully integrated into these virtual environments to blend entertainment, learning, and social interactions. Major brands like Samsung, Nike, Dove, McCain, and L’Oréal have leveraged this integration to engage audiences and enhance their market presence through immersive experiences.

A notable example is Spotify's launch of Spotify Island on Roblox, aimed at connecting more deeply with young users and expanding its subscriber base. The campaign specifically targeted active gaming creators within the Roblox community, offering them early access to explore, interact, and share their experiences across various social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok.

The campaign highlighted the unique aspects of Spotify Island, such as potential encounters with celebrity gamers like Mr Beast, a top influencer with 248 million subscribers as of March 2024. His participation drove immense popularity, drawing nearly 3 million views in just over a day on TikTok alone, and even caused a temporary crash of the site due to the high influx of fans.

Influencer Marketing: Bridging Brands and Generations

The role of influencers in marketing to Gen Alpha and Gen Z is more critical than ever. Influencers act as trusted guides, making them a powerful force in shaping purchasing decisions. 

Gen Z's interaction with influencers is extensive. With nearly two-thirds of Gen Z follow influencers, with 50% trusting their recommendations, it's clear that this generation favors ads with relatable influencers over traditional celebrities, underscoring their pursuit of authenticity. They view influencers as peers rather than distant figures, valuing their relatability, transparency, and direct interactions that range from meet-ups to live-streaming their daily lives. Remarkably, 44% of Gen Z have made purchasing decisions influenced by these endorsements. This level of active engagement builds deep loyalty and trust, establishing influencer marketing as a critical strategy for brands aiming to connect with this demographic.

For Gen Alpha, influencers play an even more crucial role. Over half of this generation is influenced by their favorite digital personalities to make purchases. They value authenticity so highly that 25% cite influencers as their primary buying motivation, surpassing even family recommendations or traditional celebrity endorsements. Influencers who share content relevant to both Gen Alpha and older groups, like Millennials and Gen Z, resonate particularly well, establishing themselves as part of Gen Alpha's daily media mix—much like television did for earlier generations.

Gen Alpha views these influencers as integral to their media experience, a trend that highlights the shift towards more personal and direct forms of engagement. This intimacy with digital creators sets the stage for future marketing strategies, where brands will need to present themselves authentically and integrate seamlessly into the influencer-driven content landscape.

As both Gen Z and Gen Alpha demonstrate significant receptivity to influencer marketing, brands must recognize and leverage influencers not merely as promotional tools but as central figures in their target audiences' daily digital interactions. By doing so, brands can tap into the immense trust and loyalty these influencers cultivate, ultimately enhancing their relevance and impact in the evolving market.

Ethical Marketing: A Cornerstone for Engaging Younger Audiences

In today's digital age, marketing to younger audiences such as Gen Z and Gen Alpha requires adherence to strict ethical standards. As marketers, we must prioritize integrity and ethical principles to foster a healthy marketing industry and responsible consumption among young audience

Responsible Content and Community Building

Marketing strategies should focus on creating content that is not only engaging but also appropriate for young viewers. This involves avoiding sensitive content and ensuring that all communications are age-appropriate. Building a positive community around your product can contribute significantly to ethical engagement, particularly when it involves a young audience.

Data Protection and Privacy

Protecting the privacy of young gamers is paramount. Ensuring compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and other relevant data protection laws is essential to avoid the pitfalls of data misuse. Transparent data handling and respecting the privacy of young users will shield your brand from potential reputational damage.

In-Game Purchases and Transparency

The ethical handling of in-game purchases, especially those involving loot boxes, is critical. These transactions, often akin to gambling, must be clearly communicated to avoid misleading young players. Adhering to guidelines set by regulatory bodies like the ESRB and PEGI ensures that your game's monetization strategies are transparent and responsibly managed.

Ethical Influencer Marketing

Selecting influencers who produce kid-friendly content and ensuring that their messaging aligns with ethical standards is paramount. Thoroughly vetting influencers for past controversies and setting explicit content guidelines in contracts are necessary steps to maintain the integrity of your marketing efforts.

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