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“Peer-to-peer recommendation is really important” – how to market to Gen Z this holiday season

a collection of gingerbread men

Last week, Student Beans Head of Brand and Comms, Will Weeks, and Key Account Manager, Ellie Simpson, led an insightful discussion covering all their top tips for marketing to Gen Z during the holiday season. Here, we’re bringing some of the key highlights and takeaways from the session – to help your brand have a very merry retail season. 

Students have a surprisingly high income and decent spending power year-round. Collectively they’re spending at least $300 billion a year in the US, £12.7 billion in the UK and 19.5 billion AUD in Australia – so they certainly have a budget for gifts and experiences. 

“It’s really important to think about Gen Z as a really lucrative and powerful customer segment that holds a considerable amount of spending power for us to leverage.”

In terms of when they’re spending on gifts, some students can actually start as early as August, however you’ll find the majority start thinking about their holiday shopping in October, with a lot of purchases being made in November around key events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Will points out that due to rumors around supply chain issues this year, you might find more consumers hitting up the shops earlier than usual to secure the gifts on their wishlists.

He explains: “You can use urgent messaging to make sure that people get things in time for the holidays. As we get closer to Christmas, you can focus on those things that have a 48 or 24-hour delivery time, maybe then moving to curbside pickup – which is obviously really popular in the US and getting a bit of traction in the UK as well.

Will also recommends marketing intangible gifts at the last minute: whether that’s a subscription, or something like travel, and things which you can give digitally to someone, the point is that it doesn’t require that delivery timeline.” 

Tip 1: capturing awareness

It’s no secret that December is the biggest gifting period of the year. As a brand, it is super important to ensure you are promoting your product in an exciting way that resonates with Gen Z across the platforms that they are familiar with. Of course, we’re talking about social media. 

Student Beans Key Account Manager Ellie Simpson recommends utilising the visual platforms that Gen Z love – TikTok, Instagram and Youtube. “On these platforms, Gen Z wants to see fun and really creative ads, especially something with a bit of humor that is really relevant to the times. Just by doing this, you’ll catch their attention and it will likely lead to them sharing content with their peers, which is important when you are looking to interact with these consumers.”


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“Revolution Beauty did a hashtag challenge on TikTok a few months ago where users were coming up with really incredible makeup looks which had a really amazing response. If they do like your brand and you are offering a really strong discount, this could lead to a purchase and recommendation, which is one of the really strong ways to convert Gen Z consumers, because peer-to-peer recommendation is really important.”

“TikTok is 100% the community commerce platform – it is all about end-to-end discovery and purchase and recommendation.”

“It’s also important to structure your campaigns or your activity here, thinking about how to leverage what Gen Z are using those platforms for, rather than building one blanket message,” Will points out. 

“Instagram is very much about the aesthetic – it’s got that aspirational, inspirational, longtail purpose that helps aid in the discovery of new trends or new products. Snapchat is all about peer-to-peer recommendations – you might be shopping for something and sharing looks with your friends via this platform to get their opinions first. TikTok is really straddling both ends of that spectrum – it’s all about end-to-end discovery and purchase and recommendation.” 

He adds: “YouTube is for those big-ticket items, when people are looking at getting into the detail and evaluation of products, And if you do have physical products, that’s a great place to get people to do hauls or unboxings or things like that, so they can get into them to review them.” 

Tip 2: path to purchase 

It’s important to remember that not all students’ paths to purchase look the same – especially where Gen Zs are concerned. As digital natives, Gen Zs have an app for almost everything, which means they have a number of avenues to go down.

“Cross-device usage amongst Gen Z is at an all time high,” explains Ellie. “The reason behind this is due to COVID-19. Even though they are out and about a lot more, people have got used to looking at their phones, and then going on their laptops to purchase.So it’s really important to ensure you have a full-funnel approach to your media, especially during this time of year. Ensuring that you’re seen across all verticals is what will make you stand out above the crowd over the holiday season.” 

student lying on the couch with her phone

Looking into best practices to take in order to achieve a well-rounded path to purchase during the busy holiday season, Ellie suggests implementing a string boosted offer, supported by a full funnel media plan. She adds: “Users are looking across different devices and channels to find the best discounts, so you’ll want to use CRM to push conversions through homepage and app, to make sure you’re seen. Social extensions are a great way to build brand awareness – you need to get as many eyes as possible on your offer.”

Tip 3: make Gen Z feel special 

Gen Zs love exclusivity, so one way to really make them feel special this year is incentives.

Q4 is a really competitive time, whereby a lot of our brands will be running exceptionally strong discounts to stand out”, says Ellie. “This is why it’s really important to stay competitive on site by running boosted discounts. It doesn’t necessarily have to be boosted, it can be stackable – something like a 10% student discount on top of your up to 50% off sale. You could run an exclusive offering, or you could do a gift with purchase, which is something students love. If your brand still hasn’t solidified its Christmas campaign, or what you’re doing in regards to your student offer, and you don’t want to boost too much, I’d certainly look at doing a gift with purchase, because it works really well.” 

“Students are really influenced by the best deal on site, so my top tip for this particular period is to really keep an eye out on what other competitors are doing.”

Will adds, “At this time of year, Gen Z are being competed for by lots and lots of different brands. What we want as marketers is for them to come back.” 

Will explains that surprise and delight tactics can bring a twofold benefit: “I’m sure you’ve seen brand advent calendars. Whether it’s a free gift, a competition you’re offering, or something else to keep people coming back, it’s a really important device. One of the things I saw last year, which I think was really clever, was brands encouraging those who had purchased with them to upload and share their order confirmation for the chance to win back their balance. And then there’s gamification – anything like this that engages with Gen Z consumers is going to make them feel special and drive high brand affinity and repeat purchases.” 

person holding a small gift with a big red bow

Tip 4: build your narrative 

Of course, to really win the hearts of Gen Z consumers around the holiday season (and beyond), it’s crucial to build up a narrative throughout the year – by getting involved in key events in the student calendar and running campaigns that consider the wants and needs of Gen Z consumers. 

“I work with a number of brands that run always-on activity and it’s these brands that have the strongest relationships with our users by far,” comments Ellie. “Guiding customers through the path to purchase requires a consistent media approach – and this is what makes the brands that I work with currently have such successful student campaigns, because their discount is always readily available for new and existing users.”

She adds, “Here at Student Beans, we run many campaigns throughout the year to engage our users. We have three big loan jobs that especially attract the UK audience, and we also have some other campaigns like Valentine’s Day, graduation, and Back to School in the US as well. Just after the holiday season, we have our January loan drop campaign in the UK, and our New Year, New Me campaign in the US. Both are an ideal time to reintroduce yourself to all the new users that onboarded with us over the holiday season.” 

Contact our student loyalty experts today to learn more about the opportunities we have for brands here at Student Beans. And don’t forget, you can watch the full webinar on-demand to delve deeper into all of our top tips for the marketing to Gen Z this holiday season. 

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