An A+ Guide to Gen Z Marketing

Created by Online Optimism’s 2021 Spring Specialist Class

Marketing accommodates every discipline, every skill set, every talent and art form. That’s what makes the field so versatile and exciting—the incredible capacity for diversity inside the industry. Clearly, it’s not just a numbers game anymore; modern digital campaigns are a far cry from the must-be-18-or-older-to-call commercials of aughts. The industry is being transformed on a daily basis in new and remarkable ways.

Gen Z is at the forefront of it all. This comes at no surprise to anyone—the Internet and Gen Z practically grew up together. Each has shaped the other in miraculous and formidable ways. With an innate knowledge of the digital world, our generation is incredibly resourceful when it comes to using technology to our advantage. To outsiders quick to lament our “short attention spans,” we sure know how to get attention online, and more importantly, how to keep it. 

In 2021, more Gen Z grads than ever are graduating from university and entering the workforce, becoming one of the largest resources for companies across the world. But not all Gen Z-er’s know what they want (notoriously so, according to some critics), but that’s not necessarily to our detriment! Exploration and adaptation are this generation’s unique strengths—and marketing agencies are taking note. 

The fact of the matter is, marketing agencies contain multitudes. Personnel in digital advertising use their keen analytical expertise to devise brilliant business strategies online. Those well versed in mathematics and coding might find themselves building websites on the back-end. Writers—from every genre—are finding solid work in the realm of content marketing and SEO. Social media aficionados and influencers are helping businesses connect with and expand their target audiences. Digital artists and designers help sculpt the cutting-edge aesthetics of the commercial world. 

TLDR: When it comes to marketing, there’s a seat at the table for everyone. Fresh out of college and searching for a new career path? Excited to try your hand at something totally new? Read on to discover how you can play a part in transforming the industry. 

Welcome to 2021, the year that Gen Z takes the marketing world by storm.


Content Marketing 

Content Marketing: An Abbreviated History

Believe it or not, content marketing has been around for hundreds of years. Over time it has taken different shapes and forms and has evolved into what it is today. Content marketing got its start around 1888 when one company decided they wanted to target their consumers specifically. They used their publication to spread awareness about the product they were selling. As time went on, more businesses started this practice and in 1996 the phrase “content marketing” was coined. In the 90s blogging became increasingly popular; at the time it was used as a personal diary but now it is a helpful business tool. 

Content Marketing Today

Today, content marketing is much more than just blogging; content marketing is an amalgamation of many different things and practically everyone is using it. The number of businesses using content marketing increased from 70% in 2019 to 82% in 2020, and the industry is projected to grow by $417.85 billion. Content doesn’t just have to be writing it can also be a video, a podcast or even a newsletter. Content marketing also goes hand in hand with SEO (search engine optimization). When you’re writing a blog or a new service page, you want to target your audience with optimal keywords so that you’re reaching the right people. 

A lot of different factors go into what a business needs to boost sales and what kind of content they’ll use to get there. Daily activities while working as a content marketer could look like writing a few blog posts a day, or doing keyword research for a blog post. You will also probably spend time researching various topics for your company’s clients. When you’re a content marketer, you become a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to information. 

Digital marketing agencies often have many different kinds of clients that you’ll be writing for, one day you may be an expert in truck driving and the next cryptocurrency. In addition to writing, you’ll also be responsible for editing your blogs after they’re written in response to client feedback. 

People in the content department are often analytical and maintain a deep love of research. Unofficially, content marketers may be known to their peers as incessant googlers, elaborate storytellers, dictionary.com aficionados, and that one friend that always ends up editing everyone else’s med school personal statements because they “genuinely enjoy the process.” 

Content Marketing: Who’s in the Room?

Most of the professionals who find themselves in content marketing do so by happenstance or surprise—and this is no coincidence. In fact, there’s a critical lack of intersectionality between the financial world and the realm of language arts; most collegiate institutions fail to adequately represent the important marriage between written language skills and modern marketing due to discipline-specific distribution requirements. 

While some students may come away with a few credits from a Business English class, they often won’t be required to pass any intensive writing courses, leaving exposition and argumentation by the wayside. So if the marketing majors aren’t filling content writing positions, the talent pool becomes an amalgamation of unsuspecting grads who may have majored in english, journalism, communication, or creative writing. 

Content writing involves an internal reassessment of skills that may not seem immediately “marketable.” When applying for a content department position, your portfolio can include a vast array of samples that differ in style, tone, and form. For example: 

  • Expository or persuasive essays demonstrate one’s ability to invoke ethos, pathos and logos in service of a greater goal or thesis. 
  • Poems may reveal a keen eye for diction and attention to detail. 
  • Intensive research papers exhibit proficiencies in analytic prowess and an ability to synthesize and translate complex source material(s). 
  • Journalistic pieces are a testimony to the power of knowing one’s audience and catering to them accordingly.

Content marketers harbor a genuine excitement when it comes to time to face a blank page and transform it in service of their audience of readers—their clients—or their client’s clients. Content marketers relish in a good challenge, finding hidden doors into their topics that make even the densest subject matter appear accessible, original and engaging. 

When beginning your search for content marketing jobs, it’s a great idea to reach out on LinkedIn. Find the company you plan to apply to and connect with their employees. By doing this, you demonstrate that you’re eager and interested in the job. Reach out to the people in the department and introduce yourself, you can even ask them if they have time to talk about the company.  You want your name to be on their mind when they’re considering candidates. It’s also good practice to keep your Linkedin profile up-to-date, when you reach out you want to make sure that your profile represents who you are and why your writing skills are not to be forsaken. 

Helpful Resources

Certifications and webinars are great tools that will inform you about the industry. The following resources will help you stand out as well as become a better content writer: 

  • Hubspot Content Marketing Certification: This course is a great introduction into content marketing. It touches on blog posts, social media, and how to optimize your content. 
  • Hubspot Inbound Marketing Certification: This course informs you on the ins and outs of inbound marketing, content creation and how to nurture leads. 
  • Moz Newsletter: Moz is a website that provides a lot of insight into digital marketing. This newsletter will keep you up to date on all trends.
  • Search Engine Journal Newsletter: This website provides a lot of information about all aspects of digital marketing and this newsletter will also keep you up to date on trends. 


Digital Design

Digital Design: An Abbreviated History

Design in the past relied on print materials mostly to do most of the “heavy lifting” in business advertising. However, over the course of the 1980s and early ’90s, rapid advances in digital computer hardware and software radically altered graphic design according to Britannica. The shift created a large gateway to accessibility in design that people didn’t previously possess—and it brought various new design trends and skills along with it. Today, many digital designers looking to create and innovate for their clients turn to the wide range of applications Adobe Creative Cloud has to offer. With new technologies and designers entering the marketplace, design aesthetics and styles have also undergone seismic shifts, due to the elevation of new voices and the natural passing of outdated trends, such as cheesy typefaces and harsh 3-dimensional shapes.

Digital Design Today

Design today is an ever changing world. From minimalism, to retro futurism, to authentic representation, there’s many trends that designers should be aware of. It’s key for designers to stay up to date on the world so that your art can adapt from what people know, and are familiar with.

Digital Design: Who’s in the Room?

As a successful designer, you need a keen eye for detail, a deep knowledge of current or dated design trends, a willingness to accept feedback/critique from others, and a collaborative spirit. Most of the time, you’ll likely be working with a client one-on-one. Being able to accept feedback or critique is vital to a successful partnership; It allows the client or team to understand that you can listen, respond, and work with them smoothly.

While society progresses past the need for formal education, candidates looking to enter the field of design simply need ample training and practice. Though going to college is important, a degree can only teach you so much. Hands on experience is by far the best way to advance yourself as a designer. When you work in design, you don’t always get overly affirmative feedback such as, “I love it,” or “Keep going!” Sometimes you have to change things multiple times in a relatively compressed timeframe and you have to hustle to make it work. This process can often be arduous, but when you finally receive client approval it makes it all the legwork worth it. Working in an agency that focuses on digital ads and marketing makes it necessary that things be done quickly and effectively.

To better stand out on LinkedIn as a designer, you should highlight your achievements and experience.  Always be open to new experiences as well connecting with people who may be able to help you learn new skills. It’s important to find people who have similar interests as you as their posts can help you find new opportunities in the world of marketing. 

A great strength to have as a designer is the ability to properly convey an idea to a client or helping them know what would work best for them. Clients tend to come with lots of preconceived ideas or concepts, as well as a set way of executing those visions. When you’re a designer, it’s important that you’re able to ease clients into what you know will be most effective. Ultimately, it’s gratifying to ease them into something different and in the long run, it’s usually more beneficial to their business. Oftentimes, they love it more than their original idea.

Helpful Resources

Today, many companies are looking for motion graphics skills and having this under your belt can help you stand out amongst other design candidates. The following resources will help you better stand out as a design candidate and educate you about the world of digital design. 

  • AIGA: AIGA  is the profession’s oldest and largest professional membership organization for design.
  • Eye on Design: This website helps you stay on top of design news also new/ old trends
  • How To Charge for Design— Value Based Pricing: This is a Youtube video that will help you get into freelance design as well as help you understand how much you should charge. 


Social Media

Social Media: An Abbreviated History

In less than a generation, social media has evolved from direct electronic information exchange, to a virtual gathering place, to a vital 21st century marketing tool. 

We tend to think that before Facebook or Myspace social media wasn’t really a phenomenon. What if we told you it dates much further back than that? In a sense, social media began on May 24, 1844, with a series of electronic dots and dashes from a telegraph machine. The first electronic message was by Samuel Morse who wrote “What hath God wrought?” 

Most contemporary accounts of modern social media point to the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). This early digital network allowed scientists at four interconnected universities to share software, hardware, and other data resources. 

In 1999, LiveJournal was invented and allowed people to blog as well as share what they were up to in their digital lives. In 2003, LinkedIn the professional virtual networking service was founded. The year 2004 brought us Facebook, and right after in 2005 we got Youtube. Twitter and Instagram were both founded in 2010 with Snapchat being founded in 2011, shortly thereafter. Since then, many more niche networks have come and gonie.

Social Media Today 

Social media is defined by its interactivity, connectedness, and user-generated content. In today’s society, the use of social media has become a necessary daily activity. It is a valuable form of communication. Social media changes not only how we communicate but also our ability to form relations, access and spread information, and make decisions. 

At first, social media existed to help users connect with friends, colleagues, and like-minded individuals. Now, B2B (business to business) companies are using this as a tool to easily serve their customers new, simpler methods of interacting — and new ways of buying goods and services.

Here is an overview of the most prominent social media networks of 2021: 

  • Facebook
  • Instagram 
  • Twitter
  • TikTok
  • Pinterest 
  • Snapchat
  • Reddit 

Social Media: Who’s in the Room?

If you love social media and spend your waking hours liking, loving, sharing, commenting and creating social media posts, you may be able to turn your social enthusiasm into a full time job. Social media workers come from many different backgrounds. If you have a degree or prior experience in marketing, communications, business, graphic design, web design, public relations you have the skills needed to land a job in the social media industry! Social media covers a wide range of individual factors that you can specialize in, but here are just a few: 

  • Social Media Specialist
  • Digital Media Supervisor
  • Content Manager
  • Digital Marketing Manager
  • Brand Manager
  • Social Media Marketing Manager

Right now, careers in social media marketing are booming to the point where they’ve made CNN’s top 100 careers with big growth. 

These jobs are not just a temporary boom. The COVID-19 pandemic proved that businesses need social media to stay on top of increased virtual and social media communications with their clients and future customers. Brands recognizing the importance of organic and paid social media campaigns geared towards their target audience. While a lot of time is spent on computers, smartphones, and social media programs, you also must be creative, flexible, assertive and have a basic understanding of how marketing and trends work in order to be successful.

If you are interested in an industry that utilizes creativity, breaks barriers, and rapidly changes, social media is the right industry for you!

Helpful Resources

The skills you need to be the best social media marketer you can be are always changing. Here are the best courses you can take to stay in the game:

  • Udacity: Digital Marketer Course: This 3 month course teaches you the ins and outs of digital marketing and it has 2 sections that focus specifically on social media marketing. 
  • Twitter Flight School: Twitter Flight School gives you a run down on how to best advertise your brand on Twitter. 
  • Facebook Certification: Facebook Certification helps you stand out in the field by showing that you’re well versed in Facebook marketing.
  • LinkedIn Learning: Formerly known as Lynda, LinkedIn learning has many different programs that can help you learn how to navigate the backend of websites.  


Business Development 

Business Development: An Abbreviated History

If you ask ten people what business development is, you’ll get ten different answers. In a nutshell, business development is the process of creating growth opportunities and long term value for an organization. As marketing tactics have evolved over the years, so have the tactics regarding business development. In the past, business development has been perceived as a “just sales” department under the guise of door to door selling, cold calling, and an image of Matilda’s dad—the pushy used car salesman—cutting reckless deals. Business development and sales used to be all about selling the product no matter what; sales teams played numbers games looking at quantity rather than the quality of their leads. The more people that are reached, the more people that will buy, right? History says otherwise. 

Business Development Today

Now, business development is about building relationships with potential clients and customers. Not everything is about making the sale because sometimes, your product may really not even be suited for someone. Especially in a B2B (business to business) industry, it can be a waste of resources to work with someone who you know is not a good fit for your product. Sales departments have changed dramatically because today, no one wants to answer a cold call. The used car salesmen has become nothing more than a kitschy meme. 

Growing a business and creating long term value and relationships requires research and genuine conversation with a target audience. Organizations not only require quality leads to sell their products, but also need systems for tracking and analyzing these leads. Business development teams are in charge of creating, tracking, and maintaining these working relationships. The team researches potential clients, follows up on inbound leads, creates proposals, and can be the ‘front line’ of the company’s marketing team.

Business Development: Who’s in the Room? 

A business development position can vary from industry to industry, often handling proposals, data analytics, and yes, cold calling too. Business development in a marketing agency tends to involve all of the above. Within a marketing agency, there is sure to be a team for each department of marketing that handles the needs of their clients, but who markets the marketing agency? Business development takes the lead—literally. 

While each department works together to create content (ads, social posts, landing pages, et cetera) in order to collect inbound leads, we’re the first team to reach out to potential clients. There is a lot of background research done on each lead before the first conversation even happens with the potential client! Our job is to track how our own marketing efforts are working while also coming up with new and innovative ways to attract clients. 

The next step is making sure we secure those clients. There is an art to crafting a perfect proposal and asking specific questions to ensure we’re covering everything a client may ask for. We want to build trust with potential clients so they know that we care about their results, not just their money. 

Sometimes the perfect proposal is made, but the client still says no. This could be for a lot of reasons, but making a good impression is still valuable. Sometimes clients who previously turned our services down either come back and are ready to sign a contract, or even recommend our services to others who may be a better fit! That’s why it’s always important to do our best work—you never know what big opportunities may result from an initial lead.

For someone who wants to work in business development, there’s a range of skills that can be helpful. Two of the most important are being organized and adaptable. Most of the time, industry professionals end up working on their clients schedules rather than their own. Being able to plan your time around always changing meetings is important. You also need to be someone who hustles hard. There’s a lot of “no’s” in business development, but those no’s make a single “yes!” even sweeter. 

There’s different types of softwares that are also helpful to be familiar with. This doesn’t mean being an expert in every one but having experience with a CRM system (this is used for tracking your leads) like Hubspot or Salesforce can prepare you since most companies use software like these. In terms of business development roles within marketing agencies, having an understanding of SEO and SEM research tools is helpful. This includes Google Analytics, Moz, and Google Adwords. 

Helpful Resources

Here are some resources that will help you better stand out as a business development candidate. 

  • Hubspot Marketing Software: This course gives you a certification in the Hubspot marketing platform. Most companies use Hubspot or a similar software to track their inbound leads so knowing this software is important.
  • Hubspot Inbound Sales: This course will teach you more about connecting with potential leads and creating presentations to turn those leads into clients.

These two resources are great for business development roles in any industry, but it’s definitely recommended to pair these skills with resources from other departments to make yourself stand out in the marketing industry! 


Digital Advertising

Digital Advertising: An Abbreviated History

Digital Ads is advertising on the digital ad space of search engine results pages, videos, and webpages. This channel coincided with the development of the internet. In 1998, goto.com pioneered PPC (pay per click) advertising. Then, at the turn of the century, Google created Google Ads. Google’s mission statement with ads was “to develop a sponsored search experience that didn’t compromise the quality and relevance of search results.” They implemented the quality score model, which is still used in advertising today. This model determines how much you pay per click. The score is judged based on factors such as the relevance and quality of your ad. 

As time went on, other avenues for digital ads started to appear. The 2005 launch of Youtube established video as a dominant form of Internet media, and ads on the platform quickly followed when Google purchased the organization. Facebook’s Ad platform, launched in 2007. As the 2020s began, Amazon rose as a force in digital ads. This established the main digital advertising tri-opoly that we know today.

Digital Advertising Today

Social, video, and search engines dominate the digital ads landscape in 2021. Thus, modern digital ads departments focus on display, search engine, and video campaigns that run on Google and Microsoft to meet our clients goals. Google and Microsoft are constantly updating their platforms, so it is very important for modern campaigns to maintain a versatile and up-to-date stance. 

Moreover, this past year has completely overturned how businesses have historically operated. Now, more businesses than ever rely on e-commerce rather than brick-and-mortar, or face-to-face interactions and sales, meaning an increased emphasis and spend on digital advertising campaigns. 

The next new adventure in digital advertising will likely be audio advertising. Spotify and Amazon have started to invest heavily in creating networks for audio ads to be a viable source of revenue and  capturing consumer attention. Audio ad spend will pass $1 billion this year with 68% of U.S. adults streaming audio regularly. Advertisers are poised to capitalize on this new channel and it will be interesting to see where it goes. 

Digital Advertising: Who’s in the Room?

Many people in digital advertising are highly analytical and logical with a penchant for numbers. That being said, you don’t have to have a marketing or business background to work in digital advertising. You have to have an understanding of the consumer acquisition funnel for the business you are advertising for and an understanding of the advertising platform you are using. A great digital advertising candidate also knows and understands the language used in digital ads. For example, the ad copy has to encapsulate the brand’s voice while adhering to the rules of the quality score model and be mindful of what ad group you are creating copy for.

The hardest part about working in digital ads is that there is never a “right way” to optimize a client’s campaigns. A lot of the time, what works for one campaign won’t work for another, necessitating a constant level of innovation. Additionally, if a campaign isn’t working, you have to understand how to make purposeful changes in order to optimize a campaign. Though digital advertising can be complex,  it’s always incredibly rewarding when you find a solution that works. 

To stand out on LinkedIn, you should post about digital marketing trends, uploading your previous advertising campaigns if you have them, or post your own Google Ads techniques. When you complete a certification, be sure to share it on LinkedIn. This is an easy way to show recruiters that you are actively working becoming a better marketer. Also, don’t be afraid to share your opinions on new digital marketing trends. Contributing to the dialogue within the digital ads community allows you to be active and invested. Uploading mock ad campaigns is a way to exhibit your ad writing style and campaign planning skills. This will help drive engagement to your profile and show that you know exactly what you are talking about. 

Helpful Resources

The resources outlined below will help you stand out as a digital advertising candidate. When applying to positions these are great to have in order to sell yourself as a prime candidate. Just be sure to know this material because in interviews you will be asked questions about it.

Google analytics helps with understanding the metrics behind an ad campaign. 


Get Your Start in Marketing Today

Generation Z is only going to continue to shake up the marketing industry. We’re a large group with many hard-hitting opinions that can’t be swayed. Researchers have found that almost half the generation that was surveyed gets their news from social media. Marketing to Gen Z is going to be hard; most of us have grown up as the internet and technology has changed which means we can’t be tricked—we know how schemes work and we aren’t falling for it. 

You can use this power to your advantage because we know what we want to see better than others in the field. Though there are many experienced professionals already in the world of digital marketing, they may not know or understand the things that Gen Z most desires—that’s where you come in. 

There are many advantages you possess by being Gen Z, why not wield them and embrace them in your professional life? A lot of older generations and people with more experience don’t understand technology and social media and the changing ways of the internet the way you do. Use your knowledge to your advantage. There are many things you’re likely to implicitly know just from using social media and the internet. Many of us are also incredibly adept at research, which you can also use to your advantage when searching for prospective employers. 

Entering the workforce can be very scary, intimidating and stressful. You may feel unprepared but that’s to be expected and it’s completely normal; it’s hard to prepare for things that are constantly changing. Hopefully after reviewing all the tools and resources for your respective department choice, you feel more confident entering the world of marketing.

There are many things that people don’t teach you and some things you just can’t learn in a classroom. The internet and digital marketing is fast-paced and ever-changing making it hard to teach. Regardless of this, being new to the industry can be an advantage because you don’t have to unlearn old habits. When entering the workforce you have to trust yourself and your instincts. The more you practice, the better you’ll become and the more confident you will be. 

Digital marketing may not be the path you intended but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right path for you.

Looking to join the top digital marketing team? we’re happy to be a part of your career at Online Optimism. visit our careers page to be notified of future opportunities.