Millennials taking a selfie

As far back as 2012 (also an election year, but a comparatively boring one by 2016 standards), there were more iPhones sold every day around the world than new babies born. And when you stop to consider that there are more mobile phone connections than there are people on the planet (8 billion vs. 7.3 billion), we’re left with an uncomfortable assumption:

Mobile phones will eventually become self-aware, acquire artificial intelligence, and morph into Skynet, leading to the inevitable destruction of the world as we know it.

Or, as a slightly less-cataclysmic alternative (albeit a no-less-painful one for those slow to adapt) calls for, mobile phones will simply continue their inevitable climb to the enviable position as the go-to channel for savvy marketers looking to get in front of – and stay in front of – Generation Z.

Small Screen, Big Implications

Just how important is effective mobile marketing to reach Gen Z? More than 50% of kids under 18 grew up in a home without a landline. And they just don’t have or own “any old” mobile phone: 85% use smartphones. What’s it all mean for student housing marketers?

  • Mobile Flips the Media Model – During this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, a participant in a Marketing Week magazine round table offered this bold observation: “Gen Z isn’t mobile-first, they are mobile-only“. Even if you choose to round off the edges of that lofty claim a bit, the implications don’t change much. Media buys in traditional categories are likely to shift more and more to digital, and more and more to mobile–to the tune of one-third of all ad spending in just a few years.
  • “Push” Pulls Hard – Push notifications (the official term for app-based alerts that pop up on your mobile device) have some oomph behind them: They have an average opt-in rate of 36% for real estate apps on Apple OS devices alone, and members of Gen Z are three times more likely to open a message received through push notification than an email. The promise of push notifications isn’t “on the way” – it’s already here.
  • Appy Goes Lucky – More and more, connected mobile isn’t about browsing, it’s about “apping”; 90% of mobile device time is spent in apps. (Even more jaw-dropping? The average consumer now spends more time in mobile apps per day than watching TV.) Rely exclusively on a responsive, mobile-friendly website to do your heavy online lifting and you might risk missing a good chunk of your Gen Z residents.
  • Micro Moments are a Big Deal – As we noted in a prior installment of this student housing blog series, Gen Zers are multi-screen users (though, being mobile-dominant, their proverbial “first screen” isn’t necessarily a TV or desktop like the generations that came before them). Thing is, they bounce back-n-forth among them – quickly (six-second Vine clips get 1.5 billion views a day, a majority from those under 24 years of age). If your content can’t engage them fast, they’re off to the next device.
  • Beacons Shine Brighter – “Contextual marketing” has become an especially buzzworthy buzzword, and it’s no wonder why. Location-based marketing (like – selfish plug ahead – the Beamly feature in our BrightDoor Mobile solution) can seamlessly and invisibly connect “the person” (i.e., your prospective residents) with “the product” (i.e., your student housing) and “the place” (i.e., your leasing gallery). Basically, it’s a digital “grabber,” allowing you to push different content to prospects’ mobile devices as they move through specific spaces in your leasing gallery. Contextual marketing is becoming such a target of innovation that some companies are building in location-based technology in everything from overhead lighting to cardboard end-cap displays.
  • Being Sociable Keeps Changing – It’s no huge surprise that Gen Zers spend tons of time accessing social apps on their mobile devices. The bigger challenge is staying on top of which social platforms are in play. While still used heavily, for example, Facebook seems to be losing some of its digital steam to Vine and Instagram, as well as Snapchat and other social apps that “don’t leave a paper trail.” Complicating matters? The half-life of emerging social apps can be frighteningly short. In 2014, the anonymous social platform Yik Yak was a hit among college students, peaking as the third-most popular U.S. iTunes app download; within two short years, though, waning user interest has pushed it down to #447.

Mobile Marketing Checklist

A Quick-n-Dirty Mobile Marketing Checklist for Student Housing

Gen Z is aging, acquiring more buying power, and evolving. Keeping pace requires keeping a firm grip on a mobile strategy that rests quite literally in the hands of prospective residents. Here’s a practical to-do list to help things click in place–and in your favor:

  • This almost goes without saying, but we’ll go ahead and say it: Ensure your mobile marketing strategy plays a prominent role within your overarching marketing strategy (and if it can integrate data seamlessly with all your other tools, you maximize your investment). Mobile marketing with Gen Z isn’t a luxury, but a necessity (and you’ll want to budget accordingly). Thankfully, it’s also a platform that offers rich opportunities to capture data in a way that helps you see–pretty much moment-to-moment–what’s working and what’s not.
  • While the average attention span of Gen Zers can be debated, their collective patience for buggy apps probably can’t. (As Will Seaton at AppMakr puts it, “To Gen Zers, nothing is more frustrating than a defunct, complicated, or unnecessarily over-designed app.”) Make sure your mobile app code is tight and battle-tested.
  • As we’ve already learned, Gen Zers will share content with friends through social platform. But since the popularity of those platforms can undergo seismic shifts in the blink of an eye (Exhibit A – Yik Yak, as noted above), ensure that your app is flexible enough to incorporate new social tools as they arrive on the scene and gain traction. Using an app with an open application protocol interface (API) can help ensure that your solution can make for an easier “technology handshake” with other apps you’d like to plug in to it down the road.
  • Video is the mobile medium of choice for Gen Z (no big surprise there). Since Gen Z’s crave authenticity, your best bet is to put real people – i.e., real residents in your student housing – front-and-center in your productions (more than 60% of Gen Zers say they prefer to see peers in ads than celebrities). In fact, Gen Z’s biggest influencers aren’t traditional Hollywood idols, but instead are self-made YouTube sensations.
  • Information control is also important to Gen Z – especially when it comes to sharing private data (unlike the Millennials who came before them). The desire for anonymity, in fact, is part of what’s driven them to adopt social platforms like Snapchat that don’t require disclosure of personal info. So as you collect data from Gen Zers, they’re going to want to know how you use it and how you plan to keep it secure.
  • As you weave your way through the intricacies of mobile marketing to today’s Gen Zers, keep in mind that “mobile” is quickly taking on different shapes, forms and textures. Gartner predicts that the number of Smartwatches in play will double from last year to 2017, Ringly jewelry lets wearers receive push notifications via rings, and Google Yarn (through partnerships with brands like Levi’s) is poised to weave touch-sensitive technology directly into clothing. For any emerging, non-fitness-centered wearable technologies that are fortunate enough to gain traction in the next few years, it’s likely that their makers will have Gen Z buyers to thank for it.

Jon Sharpe, the CEO of integrated ad agency RKCR/Y&R, made this somewhat-scary-but-true observation: “Mobile phones have made us all creatures of the moment. Like Pavlov’s dogs, our minds have been trained to salivate at every buzz, ping or vibrate in our pocket.”

The challenge for today’s student housing marketing pros, then, is to figure out how to ensure they get their fair share of those moments – and can create a Pavlovian response for their student housing in the process.

Editor’s Note: If you missed the prior installments of our Gen Z series, check them out here and here, and be sure to stay tuned for our future perspectives on “Digital Natives.” And if you’d like to learn more about how BrightDoor’s solutions are helping student housing leaders better connect with residents, contact the BrightDoor Sales Team for a no-hassle, complimentary web demonstration.