A Clearer Image of Generation Z for Student Housing

By |February 24th, 2016|

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with The Visual Generation

More and more, student housing marketing and sales teams are coming face-to-face with Generation Z, meaning they’re encountering a buying behemoth that already represents nearly a quarter of the U.S. population (all born after 1995) and that is expected to represent 40% of all consumers by 2020.

Thing is, merely standing face-to-face with Gen Z’ers represents a bit of an irony in and of itself, since it’s a generation that receives around 3,000 text messages a month and spends more than 15 hours a week with faces firmly planted in front of a mobile device. So when you can get them to look up and pay attention (which they will – but only for eight seconds at a time), you need to hit ’em with what really resonates – images (or, better still, moving images).

Young Habits Die Hard: Absorbing Visually…and Blissfully

Gen Z’ers are also known as “digital natives” because they’ve had their perpetually sticky fingers stuck to electronic devices since they were fresh out of the crib (and, no doubt, some even before leaving its confines). As early as they can remember, they learned the “three R’s” by mastering a new special trio of skills – tap, swipe and pinch.

For student housing sales and marketing pros, connecting with Gen Z’ers on their terms means connecting visual. And that, more and more, looks something like this:

Think Symbols: Emoticons? Out (think “My-Aunt-Gladys-just-friended-me-on-Facebook” out). Emojis? In – really in. Gen Z’ers are used to parsing mountains of meaning out of simple ant-sized symbols. And savvy marketers are already capitalizing on that variable:

  • Mint-maker Mentos launched a mobile app that lets users download a cadre of custom characters (called “ementicons,” naturally) that can be embedded in text messages.
  • GE has locked in its appeal to Gen Z’ers through a clever website aimed at communicating how its portfolio of companies and products engage with Gen Z’ers’ everyday lives.
  • Bud Light – which promotes a product Gen Z’ers can’t even legally consume yet – is already talking their language, tweeting out an Independence Day flag made of emojis.

Think Multiple Platforms: Unlike their Gen Y predecessors who typically multitask across just two screens, Gen Z’ers are typically tied to five at any given time: Their phone, laptop, desktop computer, TV and either a tablet or gaming device.

Think Motion: For a visually-focused generation, you’d think the 350 million images uploaded to Facebook everyday would make it a natural magnet. Yet Gen Z’ers visit YouTube more than any other site. They prefer to watch a short video on a concept than read a text summary of the same information. And they don’t just want to consume video, they want to make it: Half are exploring video editing and production.

Generation Z Love Multiple Devices

Digital Natives Made Less Restless

Thankfully, student housing sales and marketing pros don’t need advanced degrees in visual literacy to begin making inroads with Gen Z’ers. Instead, they can take small, simple steps today to stand out from competitors:

Embracing Emojis: Explore how your communities could capitalize on custom emojis in campaigns – both those initiated by your organization and those initiated by your existing renters. Emojis could be used as visual stand-ins for special events (think “movie night”) or calendar cues (like the seasonal opening or closing of your pool, move-in and move-out days, renewal deadlines, etc.). More importantly, they can give your renters a custom lexicon – one tied inexorably to your brand – that they themselves can use when communicating with their friends (your would-be future renters).

Stretching Across Screens: Ensuring your digital media can bend to fit the size and shape of any device has never been challenging (consider the fact that as of this writing, there are 232 unique screen resolutions you can design to). But it’s also never been more important, and responsive design protocols are becoming an ever-more-reliable ally in ensuring that your renters can get a consistent brand experience across whatever devices are in their hands at the time. And while most student housing marketers don’t think of gaming platforms as a potential branded-content venue, consider this: More than 65 percent of Gen Z’ers list gaming as their primary hobby and a third report that online gaming is where they make friends. How could your community reach its brand across every relevant device, including less-conventional yet highly popular platforms like gaming?

Amplifying Video Channels: In not so many words, Gen Z’ers are telling us all, “If one video about your community is good, fifteen is even better.” We’ll cover this in more detail in future blog post, but the basic premises are these:

Consider how even the most mundane information you have to present (like lease guidelines, for example) can be shared as video narratives.

  • Ensure your videos are mobile-friendly, since Gen Z’ers are likely to view them on a smartphone or tablet.
  • Make it easy for prospects and renters to share your videos with their friends.
  • Refresh your video reservoir regularly to ensure that would-be renters don’t paint your video library with a “been-there, done-that” brush.
  • Embrace brevity – make each video just long enough to tell the story in an entertaining way, and not a single frame longer.

Generation Z is Visual

Lights! Camera! Traction!

Baby Boomers were the first generation of young adults to have video content as an essential ingredient in their everyday lives. Generation Z carries forward that tradition…only executed on an exponentially larger scale (especially when you pause to consider that a single Gen Z’er armed with a smartphone, an editing app, and a YouTube account can produce higher-quality video content – and potentially put in front of more eyeballs – than any of the major TV networks could’ve in 1959). Connecting with Gen Z’ers through the visual symbols they recognize, on all the screens they attend to, and in a storytelling medium that’s been familiar with them since birth can position your community to attract and engenage next-gen renters on the terms they like best – their own.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of perspectives from BrightDoor on maximizing digital marketing in the student housing market. Stay tuned for our next installment.