Gen Zers — Get Em’ While They’re Hot!

By Jonathan Kay, Marketing Intern

In recent years there has been a lot of focus and conversation around bringing more Millennials into arts organizations – but what about Gen Zers? As a 23-year-old born in 1996, I find myself on the cusp of two generational groups: Millennials and the increasingly prevalent Generation Z (or Gen Z for short). Gen Z includes people born between 1996 and 2015 while Millennials were born between 1980 and 1995. This up and coming generation is  spending money, engaging with brands, and consuming arts and entertainment in different ways than Millennials. By engaging this audience now, arts and non-profit marketers like you can get in on the ground floor and put yourself in a position to retain their loyalty for years to come.

In discussing how arts and non-profit organizations can reach Gen Zers, I want to apply both my experience and some related studies and analysis conducted within the last few years. For legitimate data, I referred to the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, a study from the National Endowment for the Arts that measures adult attendance at performing arts events across many categories and genres. Two areas that caught my attention were opera and ballet. In 2017, at a population of 29.7 million, Gen Zers occupied just 1% of opera attendance and 1.3% of ballet attendance. The percentage of Millennials attending these events were higher, but also leave room for improvement.

If you work at an opera or ballet company, this isn’t meant to be discouraging! Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity for you to gain an understanding of the needs and wants of this emerging demographic and begin targeted efforts to bring them into your venues. 

For insight into the habits of my generation, I found two resources that dig into Gen Z behavior; a blog post published by Salesforce comparing Gen Z and Millennials, and an article written by Stanford professor Mary Ittelson, specifically discussing the challenges traditional arts organizations face with Gen Zers. Three points stuck out to me between these analyses:

  • Millennials like authenticity, but Gen Z takes it to a new level by gravitating towards things that are attainable and not over polished. You can see this in the strategic use of social media influencers that companies hire to make their product or service seem relatable to a particular audience.
  • This younger generation is more pragmatic, which can be linked to their growing up during the 2008 recession. Gen Z is looking for affordability or at least a good deal! 
  • Gen Zers are attracted to an “active rather than a passive experience with the arts.” Meaning the more experiential, out-of-the-box, and Instagram-able — the better. 

I see all of these points exemplified in my own life, like when my friends and I talk about what summer music festivals to attend. We’re drawn to these types of events because they are more than just outdoor concerts, they are larger experiences with unique food and drink selections, merchandise, and even exhibitions like you see at South By Southwest. Thinking about this example from my own life, I found it interesting that in the National Arts Survey I mentioned above, the category where Gen Zers and Millennials had the highest percentage of attendance was none other than Outdoor Performing Arts Festivals

This made me think: what can traditional arts organizations do to bring in more of the “festival crowd”? I came up with an idea for a model of how you could find and nurture this audience: 

  • Apply for a booth at a local Summer music and arts festival. Use this time to promote your organization through some fun activities or Instagram-able opportunities, aiming for some in-person interaction with Gen Zers. Collect their information (including the specific types of events that they’re interested in) to further the conversation. 
  • With that information, use your CRM system to your advantage. Create a way to tag Gen Zers and use their interests to target them with specific, personalized email campaigns. 
  • Using these emails, invite them to unique events at your organization prior to a performance, like an “Under 25 Night” that includes a pre-show party with beer and snacks. Maybe even invite local food trucks to park outside your venue, or host a pop-up holiday market that showcases local artists and businesses. Whatever you choose, it should transform a single performing arts event into an experience!

The point here is that in order to make your organization stand out to Gen Zers, you need to step out of the traditional way of promoting your events and be innovative. Try to reach out to them in person, and invite them to your event in ways that they find meaningful. This will show them that your organization wants to connect with and provide Gen Zers the active experiences they are looking for.

While we are a technology-consumed generation, there is only so much an arts organization can accomplish through digital marketing alone as most people are flooded with targeted ads every day. As your pragmatic, experience-seeking Gen Z representative, traditional performing arts and non-profit organizations should start testing ideas to cultivate a relationship with this generation through implementing, well – non-traditional methods of marketing!

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