3 Tips to capture Generation Z on a mobile app


By: Morgan Ho 

Smartphone usage has increased steadily in the last four years. Now, nearly 7 in 10 Americans own one. Not surprisingly, mobile app usage has also exploded. 200 billion+ downloads are projected for 2016.

The Spiegel Research Center (SRC) has quantified the importance of mobile apps in relation to purchase behaviors, showing that app adopters have a 16% greater purchase frequency than non-adopters. But companies should be cautious not to develop an app too quickly: SRC discovered that a bad app can damage a brand. Spiegel research has shown that a customer who disengages from an app spends less than they did before adopting the app.

 These findings have strong implications for marketers striving to engage with customers via mobile apps, But what can a marketer do if he or she wishes to engage a more specific demographic – namely, Generation Z, the newest cohort just coming of age?

 At 85%, smartphone penetration among Gen Z is even higher than that among average Americans. While a universal definition of Gen Z is still evolving, most agree that this generation is composed of individuals born between 1996 and 2010. Gen Z is especially important to marketers as both an opportunity - it currently represents 25% of the U.S. population and controls $44 billion dollars in spending - and a challenge.  This is the first generation of true digital natives. Its members don’t remember a world without the internet, smart phones or social media. Growing up surrounded by technology has made the Gen Z customer a particularly discerning one with early studies showing they are less swayed by traditional marketing tactics.

A report by consulting agency Sparks & Honey revealed a variety of emerging characteristics of this generation. Here’s how marketers can set up their mobile apps for success among these young consumers.

Characteristic # 1 – Prioritizes privacy over attention-seeking

Unlike Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995), who seek validation and attention on “broadcast” social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, members of Generation Z have developed a sophisticated understanding of how their online personas reflect on their personal brands. Gen Z prefers anonymous platforms such as Yik Yak. Since its founding in 2013, Yik Yak has gained millions of users across more than 1,600 college campuses. Yik Yak differentiates itself by offering users the ability to anonymously post status updates to other users within a certain mile radius. While Yik Yak recently introduced the option for users to create identifying handle names, the most important takeaway from Yik Yak’s popularity among Gen Z is the choice it gives its users to have a specific identity associated with them or not.

Action item for marketers: Give Gen Z the control they want

Marketers and app developers should offer Gen Z a lot of user controls, such as the ability to go incognito or turn off geolocation features. On apps with social media components, users should have the option to share either through a public social media or private social messaging.

Characteristic # 2 – Extremely short attention spans

Generation Z has a notoriously short attention span – at just 8 seconds, a full 4 second shorter than the average Millennial’s. Snapchat, the visual social messaging app popular among Gen Z’s, reflects this trend. Not only does Snapchat, like Yik Yak, preserve Gen Z’s desire for privacy, it also appeals to their short attention span for content. Snapchat allows users to take photos or videos that disappear once recipients have viewed them, and only allows a recording a maximum 10 seconds of content at a time.

Action Item for Marketers: Create a feature that allows quick sharing of content

Marketers and app developers should create features in apps that allows the sharing of content in short chunks. For example, video content should be embedded into the app and auto play to give Gen Z a quick preview of the content without going through the trouble of having to press play or to leave the app to view the video on a website like YouTube.

Characteristic # 3 – High expectations

Gen Z has high expectations for their digital devices. Because they are digital natives, Gen Z does not remember dial-up internet or long-buffering video streams.  They assume their technology will immediately “work” for them. If it doesn’t, as the failure of the app Slingshot showed, they’ll stop using it. Like Snapchat, Slingshot let users send disappearing visual messages. However, unlike Snapchat, it did not allow users to open a received messages unless they first responded to the sender by “sling shotting” a message back to the sender first.  Requiring reciprocation in an overly involved messaging process was likely a turn-off to the short attention spans and high expectations of Gen Z.

Action Item for Marketers: Streamline for user efficiency

Marketers and developers should avoid creating an involved process for the app user experience.  Don’t have users click through too many interfaces to access an app’s core function. Nor should they have overly intrusive advertisements on apps. Both would immediately turn off Gen Z users.