The year was 1997—scientists successfully cloned Dolly the sheep, Purel entered the consumer market, Seinfeld was the top show in the Nielsen ratings, and the first members of Generation Z were just born.
With birthdates roughly between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is the first tech-native generation, never knowing a world before the internet. Creative, culturally diverse, and entrepreneurial, they are concerned with the greater good, as well as financial security, having watched their parents’ experiences during the Great Recession.
The oldest in the generation are turning 24 this year, and these Gen Zers, or Zoomers, were the fastest-growing active renter segment in the U.S. in 2020—no small feat given the tumultuous past year.
“We’ve got an entire group of individuals who are trying to establish themselves,” says Barret Newberry, CEO of Seattle-based rental marketplace platform Leasera. “And it’s been a tough year. For Gen Z and landlords, this can be mutually beneficial.”
Projections show Zoomers will spend more on rent in their lifetimes than their millennial predecessors, according to a HotPads analysis. And as their influence on the rental market will only grow, shifting marketing to attract their attention is paramount. But it takes the right channels and messaging to do it successfully.
A mobile approach
As the most tech-savvy generation to date, it comes as no surprise that their phones are the best place to reach them.
Donna Schmidt, CPM, COO of Price Brothers Management in Overland Park, Kansas, says her company has zeroed in on reaching Gen Z this way through a number of digital strategies, including geofencing, a marketing strategy that involves digitally advertising to potential tenants within a certain geographic radius.
“Chatbots, virtual tours—everything we were forced to do in 2020—that all came very naturally to them,” Schmidt says. “Chatbots really seem to have immediate interactions. We’ve added them to most of our websites, and we’ve added stories to all of our social media platforms.”
Gen Z prefers images over text, and they lose interest more quickly than other generations, says Sherle Brown, an instructor and family and consumer sciences (FACS) faculty ambassador at the University of Georgia, who is involved in outreach marketing targeting Gen Z. “Images are good for grabbing attention, particularly images of something they emotionally connect with doing or that include celebrities or people their own age,” she says.
Brown says research at the university has found that Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube channels are the most effective for reaching this audience, whereas channels such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter are better for older generations.
She acknowledges that grabbing and keeping their attention through online marketing can be a challenge, though, thanks to all of the competing digital noise and their preference for completing transactions on phones, which isn’t always the most user-friendly method. “Messages must be powerful but short,” Brown says. “That is not easy. You must entertain first and then quickly provide a hook to get to the next step. Every step must be close to perfect.”
Newberry says marketing this way is a major shift for some industry veterans. “The industry was built on in-person tours and paper leases, and Gen Z has entirely different expectations,” he says. “For an apartment complex to not use Instagram for marketing is pretty crazy. People want you to sell them an experience, not just a unit.”
Show me the assets
Selling Gen Z on an experience means showing them the experience.
“This means virtual tours of the unit and building and a detailed peek around the neighborhood,” Newberry says. “Creative property managers are starting to do self-walk-throughs of the community.”
These walk-throughs could feature popular restaurants in the area, entertainment spots, or even services available, like a robotics company that can deliver food to your door contact-free.
“Give them the lay of the land,” Newberry says. “When I’m hungry in the middle of the night, where can I get food? If it’s Friday and I’m burned out, what can I do on the weekend?”
In Schmidt’s communities, they have played to the creative sides of Gen Zers with classes and activities, like a virtual class on growing a succulent garden, which she says was a great success.
As for appealing to their altruistic ambitions, Gen Z wants to feel like their community makes a positive impact. They will be interested in anything that gives back and gets them involved, such as food drives, Schmidt says.
Proving that your company serves the greater good—not just offering lip service—will go far in attracting this generation. “If you can prove that you’re actually part of a virtuous ecosystem, it will serve you incredibly well,” Newberry says.
And don’t forget to tell them about the tech. Just as technology is the way to reach them, it is also a major selling point.
“They get carried away just talking about smart technology in the home,” Brown says. “They love the ‘cool’ factor of technology, but much of the appeal is the convenience and control it provides to fit their lifestyles.”
She says students show the most interest in smart technology, such as voice-activated commands to lock doors, turn on lights, play music, turn on television, or control the temperature, among other tasks.
Along with the digital amenities, Gen Z wants to see upscale features. “When I asked a class what appeals to them with marketing, the first answer was ‘luxury,”’ Brown says. “This was surprising, because I had read that luxury is not something Gen Z finds appealing. Informally, I asked students for a show of hands if they agreed. It was unanimous!”
Don’t forget the perks
As a generation that has been able to shop around for the best deal literally at their fingertips, Zoomers love incentives and rewards programs.
Price Brothers, for example, offers a Pet Royalty Club, which offers exclusive access to special offers and discounts at local pet-related businesses for tenants with pets. “Anything with pets, that’s huge. It really speaks to them,” Schmidt says. During the pandemic, Price Brothers hosted contests and drawings for residential tenants in an effort to drum up business for some of their ailing commercial tenants, like pet bakeries or groomers. “That spoke to our Gen Z residential tenants and really said, ‘We’re all in this together,’ and they really formed a bond.”
Leasera, whose platform links prospective renters with available properties, offers a loyalty program for tenants to amass points and use them with partner companies for discounts or free offers on hotel bookings, car rentals, dog walking, food delivery, and more.
“From the moment you sign up on Leasera, you begin accruing points,” Newberry says. “Renters then accrue more points when they submit their background check or make their first rent payment.”
Offers featuring the words “free” and “giveaway” for items such as gift cards and iPads will catch their attention, Brown says. “But the positive will turn into a negative if it is difficult to take advantage of the offer,” she says. “They will repost to boost a message if it is easy for them.”
They also pay attention to reviews and ratings.
“If someone truly wants to impress and attract new [Gen Z] tenants, you’d better find a way to ensure your existing ones are happy,” Newberry says.
Mind the message
Two other things Gen Z loves: individuality and authentic messaging.
To craft the perfect personal message, property managers need to tap into the Gen Zers in their market. One aspect property managers should take into consideration is the diversity within Gen Z, as it creates differences in psychographics, Brown says.
“What is effective with one group within Gen Z may not be as effective with another,” she says. “Even geographic areas make a difference. For example, images of football may be extremely effective with Gen Z in the Southeast but not have much impact in another part of the country.”
Schmidt agrees. “This generation really does want to be talked to more personally, and they really want to be inclusive of everyone,” she says.
Every word and image of your marketing must be perfectly accurate, because these renters will point out any discrepancies, says Schmidt, who emphasizes how crucial this is, as it isn’t unusual for a Gen Z tenant to rent a unit sight-unseen.
“The times of having only pretty pictures and creative angles of your rooms are over,” Schmidt says. “You have to be very clear about the product. There is no hiding.”
Brown agrees. “They know things aren’t perfect, and they don’t trust language that comes across as manipulative or as a sales pitch,” she says.
A booming future
By 2025, about 45 million Gen Zers will be at the peak ages for renting (20–29), an estimation that cannot be ignored by property managers. Looking forward, property managers need to be open to adapting practices to not only attract, but also retain Gen Z renters. “To keep these high-value customers happy and loyal, you’re going to have to get with the digital, more personalized program,” Newberry says.
Fortunately, these high-value customers can be yours for the taking. With the right marketing tools and mindset, you can ensure that your properties are the top choices when these prized renters log on and search for apartments in your area.