Forget their reputation for being lazy, self-centered kids. The members of the generations known as millennials and Generation Z currently account for about 40% of the U.S. population, and the oldest millennials, born in the early 1980s, are entering middle age while the oldest members of Gen Z, born in the mid-1990s, are entering the workforce, graduating college, and starting careers or businesses of their own. Gen Z alone now have an annual purchasing power of $143 billion.
These generations make up a growing portion of the customers businesses are serving now. In order to reach and keep these customers, Businesses must understand what makes these generations different from previous ones, including their values, purchasing habits, and relationship to businesses and brands.
Both generations—let’s call them, collectively, consumers under 40—have a different relationship to sales and marketing than previous generations. They are, first and foremost, independent, and prefer to find products and answers to questions on their own. IKEA is the ultimate under-40 shopping experience: no salespeople on the floor, no one asking them if they need help, no one trying to sell them anything. It may seem counterintuitive to a small-business owner eager to take a more hands-on approach to customer service, but overly aggressive sales tactics will turn off these young consumers.
Rather than seek out help in the store, Millennial and Gen Z shoppers will research a purchase online before going to the store. While this is a growing habit among all generations, it is the default approach for Millennial and Gen Z shoppers. They are the “extremely online” generations, and will pick up their phones and turn to customer reviews, influencers on Instagram and TikTok, knowledgeable communities on Reddit, and video tutorials on YouTube as they immerse themselves in their interests, develop their tastes, and track down products and brands that meet their needs and reflect their values.
Rather than being a barrier between you and your customer, these online channels are your link to consumers under 40. These consumers have far less brand loyalty than previous generations, but will connect with brands and businesses that engage them authentically and reflect their values and identities in a positive way.
Gen Z consumers in particular will purchase just about anything online, and the ability to make purchases directly from Instagram without ever leaving the app has made online shopping easier than ever. Reaching these consumers means incorporating a social media strategy into your broader marketing strategy, which means knowing where they hang out online. It’s less about Facebook and more about Instagram and TikTok.
Instagram in particular has a robust houseplant community. Internet articles list “the most Instagrammable houseplants.” Searching the hashtags #plantsmakepeoplehappy and #plantsofinstagram, which yield about 10 million posts each, allows users to scroll endlessly through well-lit pictures of monsteras, fiddle-leaf figs and succulents, some of them posed beside their proud owners (some even refer to themselves as “plant parents”). The diversity of these houseplant enthusiasts reflects the diversity of Gen Z and defies stereotypes about the types of people who surround themselves with houseplants.
“Plantstagram” is emblematic in some ways of the intersection of aesthetics and consumerism that exemplifies the online life of millennials and Gen Z. Online-only houseplant retailers Bloomscape and The Sill boast followings on Instagram of over 100 thousand and nearly 1 million respectively, both accounts presenting pictures of products, customers and influencers, as well as plant care tips, the latter presented in the clean, minimalist aesthetic associated with these generations.
Brick-and-mortar businesses can glean lessons from these social media success stories. A strong brand identity that expresses your business’s values should be on display across all social media channels. And if consumers under 40 aren’t as keen on interacting with you in the store, they will be eager to engage with you on social media if your content is compelling. Short videos on TikTok or Instagram can establish your credibility, expertise and personality. “Relevance” and “relatability” are important to Gen Z in particular, and engaging with them on social media means more than advertising to them. It means building relationships and helping them solve problems. This is where your knowledge and passion can shine, if not in face-to-face conversations with these consumers.
Millennials’ love of houseplants is well-established at this point and it’s a trend that’s not going away any time soon. In fact, Generation Z are continuing young people’s fascination with all things green. Both generations are health-conscious, searching for new ways to care for themselves mentally and physically in an increasingly stressful world. Watering a plant routinely, watching it grow, and enjoying the peace and stillness of plant life becomes a meditative self-care practice.
Another factor in the houseplant boom is the fact that Americans are waiting longer to have children. For these consumers, caring for a plant is not just about self-care; it’s about the satisfaction that comes with caring for another living thing. According to a 2020 CivicScience poll, 21% of Gen Z-ers own houseplants because they like to take care of something alive, compared to 9-11% of older generations.
But it’s not just houseplants that will bring Millennials and Generation Z to the garden center. They are gardening at greater numbers than ever, in backyards as well as on patios and balconies. It’s all part of their health-conscious, environmentally-friendly ethos. Gardening allows them to get exercise, replace resource-heavy lawns with productive and attractive plants, and grow their own food—and it offers the same mental health benefits as caring for houseplants.
While some articles and memes on the subject seem to suggest that young people are spending profligately on houseplants, the fact is that Gen Z and younger Millennials tend to be quite frugal. They grew up during an economic downturn and watched their parents struggle through rising housing costs, food prices, student loan debt, medical bills, unstable employment, financial insecurity, and one of the worst recessions in history, and now they are experiencing some of those same struggles themselves. As a result, these young consumers tend to be more conservative with their personal finances. It seems as though they’re asking for the impossible—high quality, ethically sourced goods at low prices—but the truth is that they are concerned mainly with getting value for their money, a trait they share with older consumers.
Fixated on relatability, interested mainly in businesses that share their values, highly demanding and not afraid to leave a bad review, reluctant to spend money: all of the above probably makes Generation Z sound like a nightmare to deal with. But they’re not all that different from previous generations in that they want value for their money and they seek social connections through consumption. The main difference is that these connections tend to take place online. But understanding what they want, and how they want to get it, will help you establish those connections that they crave and turn your business into one that is relevant to their interests.
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