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How to recruit & engage Gen Z for your market research

Gen Z is going to continue to grow in importance, not just because of their increasing purchasing power, but also because they are the tail that is wagging the dog of culture. Today, we are all influenced by social media. This is where Gen Z expresses themselves and captures the hearts and minds of the rest of us. 

As researchers, we deeply understand that participants are the “raw material” of marketing research. 

And, Gen Z has a unique POV on how they are recruited, incentivized, questioned, and treated. They have lower tolerances for bad experiences and poor user interfaces. 

The more we understand them, the more likely they’ll be to become repeat participants.

Marketing Research is poised for significant growth

We are experiencing a sample supply shortage. Daily, clients are trying to get feedback from niche audiences. A few recent example are women how use Muslim dating sites weekly and dentists in Ohio who do both fillings and root canals. These niche audiences are extremely valuable because they can help marketers refine their messages with laser point accuracy. 

The need for niche audiences is not going to decrease. In fact, it’ll increase. Greatly. 

Why? Because everyone has seen the data. Companies that use consumer data to make decisions out perform those that don’t by 3x.

In Watermark’s analysis of the S&P 500, they found that companies that leverage Customer Experience outperform the broader market, generating a total return that is 45 points higher than the S&P 500 Index.

Meanwhile, Consumer Insight Laggards trail far behind, posting a total return that is 76 points lower than that of the broader market.

For brands, the question isn’t, “Should we use research or not?” 

The question is, “Do we want to be in business or not?”

This is why we’ll see continued growth in ResTech as brands push research tools across their organization. 

Why is this important?

One of the things I’m hearing a lot about among brands is that it is no longer adequate to create a customer experience that is tailored to a segment based on strictly demographic. 

Recently, I released 5 podcasts on the Happy Market Research Podcast with: 

  1. Director of Product Design at Nationwide
  2. Research Lead at Google’s Cloud Platform 
  3. Director of UX Research & Insights at Thomson Reuters
  4. Director of UX Research at Course Hero
  5. Sr. Manager of Strategic Insights & Analytics at J&J

According to those conversations, the ideal customer experience is one that is entirely tailored to the individual. Segmentation is now framed in the context of preferences in addition to everything else. 

Starbucks is a great example of this. Prior to Shelter-in-Place, did you used to visit the same Starbucks at least a few times a week? 

This ideal customer experience would manifest itself at Starbucks when the barista greets you by name before you order.

It is about the human connection to the experience rather than the actual terms of trade. It isn’t about the coffee…it is about the feeling you get when you purchase. 


Has anyone seen the Jawzersize ads on their social feeds? 

As a 50 year old man when I’m on Instagram and I’m served an ad for some block of plastic to chew that allegedly makes my chin look like it did when I was 30. The issue here is that they are asserting some pretty negative things about me in order to move me to purchase. 

This is a great example of creating a bad experience. 

As Researchers, why do we care about optimizing our processes for Gen Z? Economics & Ease

Why do we care? For two reasons: Economics and Ease. 

When I recruit a gen pop on Facebook it’ll cost about a buck per complete for the ads. 

As we all know, less participant attrition in the research process makes our lives easier and makes us more money. 

In this strawman, our Facebook Ad Manager is generating a participant at $1.00. Our 6 participants go into a router where 2 (20%) churn. The remaining 4 go into the survey where 1 churns (25%). The final outcome is 50% of the participants churned through the process. Once a participant churns, they don’t come back. 

This process is even more complex for qual research that has the added step of coordination. 

So, we need to limit the waste that is occurring in the process so that we can increase participant stickiness making everyone’s lives better.

Gen Z is the first Digital Native generation

What is the Generation Z age range? Members of Gen Z are those born between 1997 and 2015. This puts the age group for Gen Z’ers in the range of 6-24 years old as of today. They have literally been using technology from their earliest memories. 

I was on a car ride with my daughter. She is now 14 but was 7 or 8 at the time. Her mom lives in a different city, so I pick her up on the weekends and we get a lot of chatting and singing time together. I purchased her an iPhone to help keep us connected and she became very familiar with how to use it at an early age. So, I’m driving her back to Sacramento and I always ask her about her friends. “Who are your best friends?” She says, “I have two Siri and Hannah.” 

Now, my daughter is a clever girl. I was sure she was trolling me. So, I kept asking questions trying to deduce if she was pulling my leg or really thought Siri was a real person. 

Turns out, she thought Siri was a real person who was happy to talk about trivial things with her on her terms! Of course I corrected her POV, but I didn’t kill one of her best friends. 

Gen Z is very comfortable with and connected to technology in a unique way because their exposure started in their formative years. As opposed to Millennials, Generation X, and Boomers have had to adapt to the smart phone’s impact on our lives. 

Gen Z is the first generation that has been exposed to technology from the start. 

Meet Gen-Z

Gen Z is expecting more innovation from companies

According to a Salesforce survey among 8,000 participants, “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Z’ers are more likely than Millennials to want new products and services (55% vs. 46%).”

This is because Gen Z has growing up in the era of on demand entertainment made possible by the combination of mobile and content consumption platforms like TikTok and YouTube. 

Gen-Z will soon become a material part of the US workforce. They are expected to make up 30% of the U.S. workforce by 2030 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gen-Z lives online. In fact, 56% of Gen-Z use social media apps to express themselves and 55% of Gen-Z use their smartphones for five or more hours a day. 

Gen-Z is as comfortable in a digital environment as the rest of us are in a physical environment. 

Gen Z values experience that matters

I have hired hundreds of people over the last two decades and we are seeing a tectonic shift in Generation Z. 

According to the Huffington Post, “Many of Gen Z’s identifying factors can be traced back to the recession in 2008, from their frugality, to their value of experiences, and increased likelihood to become entrepreneurs.”

Recently, I have had the privilege of consulting for my home church. I know I know…I’m a heathen dog…but I still go to church.

The scope of my effort has been to help align the activity of the staff with the Pastor’s vision. To that end, I immersed myself in various areas including helping with the 5th and 6th graders.

When they posted a few job openings for an Executive Assistant. Check out this response from one of the 6th Graders…

“Dear Mr. Brazil. I know I am too young for a paying position at RVC. Would you consider me for an internship? I can offer about 2 to 4 hours per week, are there any jobs I could do for the church? I am capable of organization, writing things down, handling projects, and I have great social skills. I look forward to hearing back from you.”

This is a 12 year old who wants to work for free! Why? He values experience at age 12. And, he KNOWS he values experience at age 12.  

I even talked to his parents about his letter and they had no idea he even applied. 

Is he some oddball kid? Nope. My wife is a 6th grade science teacher and she’ll back me up on this point. 

Don’t trivialize your brand’s digital presence

In preparation for this report, we did 8 one on one interviews with Gen Zers. 

What immediately stood out to me was how native digital interactions actually are. For this first clip, you’ll hear how our participant hosted a Zoom event talking about college prep and he had so many attendees he maxed out the total number Zoom’s free account allows and people were logging out so their friends could join. 

Gen X & Millennials grew up with this instruction from mom, “Be home by dark.” They have had to adapt to technology and have been dubbed “Digital Adopters”. 

Gen Z has had the unique experience of growing up with a phone in their hand. They are “Digital Natives”. Consequently, they experience deep connection in a digital context. 

IMPACT: View digital as real & invest accordingly. 

Gen Z uses digital authenticity to determine if they will participate in research

Gen Z has a greater awareness of digital scams because of their increased exposure to digital deception.

Consequently, they have existing tools to easily identify if someone is trying to take advantage of them or not:

  • Google Images
  • Social Account Age & Activity 
  • Use of Native Language 

IMPACT: Invest time and treasure in your online presence.i

Gen Z has clear preferences for communication relative to Market Research

Gen Z has clear internal guidelines about what is appropriate vs inappropriate for communication about research opportunities grounded in the context of the mediums. 

  • Email is used for a mix of personal, educational, entertainment, and professional. 
  • SMS requires a degree of trust and approval. 
  • Social DMs are more personal but offers are appropriate. 

NOTE: Social Platforms and Google Adwords target potential participants based on previous participation. 

Gen Z wants a value for value incentive

Gen Z sees participation in research similar to being an UBER driver, i.e. part of the Gig Economy. Thus, they have an expectation that their inputs will have a cash outcome. 

They also recognize that their data and opinions have value. 

IMPACT: We can quickly be viewed as a scam because Gen Z has a heightened awareness of fraud and a view that “no one wins sweeps”. Cash is king for them. 

Gen Z is aware of prejudice embedded in research

Othering is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting in within the norms of a social group. 

It is an effect that influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed as being part of the in-group versus those who are seen as being part of the out-group.

IMPACT: Researchers must focus on inclusion and not rely on catch-all “other” as a category. 

If you want to recruit an audience, go to where they are and talk about what they want to talk about.

This is connected to authenticity. Similar to previous generations, Gen Z has a unique language and cadence of speech. They have a heightened sense of fraud and, once you are identified as such, you’ll not just be out of their lives forever, you may find yourself on the front page of Reddit. 

Here are some tips on how to connect with Gen Z on social… 

  • Gen Z connects with Gen Z 
  • TikTok is an ideal place to connect and recruit
  • Instagram? Steer clear of DMs
  • LinkedIn is great too and DMs are OK because of the context

At HubUX, we recently recruited 400 Gen Zers in a few hours for zero dollars. How? Chueyee is a social influencer on YouTube and TikTok. She is part of that community and, when one of the people she follows posted about how people can participate in research to make some extra bucks, she jumped into the conversation. A single link post later and we had 400 members join our panel which included them answering video questions. 

This is a vital time for us, as marketing researchers, to reassess the participant journey. By removing friction, you improve both the participants’ lives and your own. 

If you are interested in how you can use HubUX to greatly improve your research operations, we’d love to chat with you.