By Jessica Neville, Senior Strategist at Dagger, @Jess_Nev

In today’s ever-expanding digital landscape, it’s easy for brands to create and distribute content, but harder than ever to be heard. With the holiday season in full swing, many brands think the key to breaking through the noise is investing in new technologies like virtual reality or artificial intelligence, but is their audience even using the technology? Does your message solve the customer’s problems? Is your brand adding any value to their life? If marketers aren’t already asking themselves these questions, they should be. Especially, if they’re interested in connecting with Generation Z, more commonly known as Gen Z.

Gen Z makes up 25% of the U.S. population and is estimated to have $44B in purchasing power, a significant figure for retail brands to consider this holiday season and in the new year. However, Gen Z is not like other generations, and treating them as such would be a mistake. Here’s why:

  1. They live and breathe digital but still love the in-store shopping experience.

A whopping 98% of Gen Z are walking into stores to find what they’re looking for, making the in-store experience more important than ever before. They expect brick and mortars to be interactive and personalized, as well as for brands to be technologically savvy. Marketers can drive Gen Z into stores using localized beacon technology when they’re within walking distance of storefronts and use personalized offers to bring them inside — or brands can bring the in-store experience to Gen Z with pop-up stores. For in-store shopping, marketers can integrate technology that helps Gen Z find the right products for their personal needs like digital assistants or connected fitting rooms.

  1. They align with brands that share their values.

This group looks at personal value rather than demographics, with 85% of Gen Z reporting that they aren’t concerned with things like gender orientation. They consider themselves to be more open-minded than other generations and expect brands to get on the same page. As they begin to reject gender and sexual norms more openly, it is important for brands to understand and accept their stance, and prove they are aligned if they wish to gain Gen Z as loyal customers.

  1. They are a group of makers, creators and self-starters.

Gen Z are digital natives who learned how to build websites and create videos before they graduated high school, making them incredibly independent and entrepreneurial. Traditional marketing tactics don’t appeal to them. They prefer to be a part of the creation process so consider ways to let them be involved in your brand, whether through crowd-sourced content or products, or contests that involve problem-solving and creative thinking. Starbucks is a master of this strategy, demonstrated most recently with their holiday cups which are designed to encourage customers to create and share their own.

  1. They are innately distrustful, but value corporate social responsibility.
  1. They cherish the chance for human connection.

Despite all the time they spend on digital, Gen Z enjoys activities that bring them together with other people. 80% of those surveyed prefer spending time with their friends in person rather than on the phone or online, as face-to-face interactions are harder and harder to come by. As we head into 2018, create ways for your brand to bring people together physically within the in-store experience, and plan events designed to build new relationships and connect people in emotional, innovative ways.

Brands who do not meet the demanding, tailored needs of this generation this holiday season and into 2018 will simply not be considered. Brands who get it right and demonstrate they understand Gen Z’s needs can gain valuable brand champions and create relationships that last far beyond the new year.