The demographic that is moving into the student housing market is young and new – and hard to define. This year’s incoming freshmen were born between 1999-2001. That puts them squarely in Generation Z, people born between 1995-2012. They haven’t been consumers long enough for us to have consumer trend data on them, but they’re replacing millennials as the target demographic for student housing and the multifamily industry in general.
According to a recent Vision Critical study, Generation Z members are “social native”; they haven’t grown up without social media, and they’re early adopters of new channels. On the other hand, this generation is more cautious to use platforms like Facebook and Instagram because of the problems they’ve seen older generations encounter. The permanence of content posted to these traditional platforms—and the ramifications of an ill-timed post being seen by potential employers, for example—makes them nervous. Most notably, their attention span is short, meaning you have a brief period of time to grab their attention before they move on to something else.
It’s no longer enough to rely on the techniques that have traditionally been used to attract millennials. Generation Z has its own quirks. While there are some similarities between generations and, therefore, there can be some overlap in approach, marketing to this upcoming demographic requires more out-of-the-box thinking.
Gen Z is more reluctant to use traditional social media channels like Facebook because of the permanence of the content posted. They instead choose to engage with channels like Snapchat because messages can be set to disappear a set time after viewing. Influencer marketing is a great way to spread the word to younger renters. Consider offering a referral fee to your residents in exchange for promoting your community on their personal channel. (Be sure to provide a way to track referrals so that you can measure your ROI.)
Because they’re spending more time researching their decisions, Generation Z tends to keep up with what you’re posting to social media and what’s being said about your communities online. Always be authentic, consistent, and realistic in your posts and responses to online reviews. The Vision Critical study notes, “Gen Zers have inherited the skepticism but not the pessimism of their parents. They’re a happy generation with a nose for corporate fakery.” This means that while it may sound great to have only five-star reviews, Gen Z is likely to feel like something is amiss if they only encounter positivity. Negative reviews provide balance. Take advantage of negative reviews by responding to each one. This allows you to demonstrate how you deal with conflict at your community and the level of customer service you provide.
Vision Critical notes that Gen Zers spend an average of 26 hours per week on their mobile phones and laptops rather than on laptop or desktop computers. You have to ensure that all of your marketing to this demographic is mobile-friendly. Carve out time to do quality assurance to make sure your website works on whatever device your renters are using.
Generation Z may be new, but it is making an impact on multifamily. This demographic is looking for student housing now, and they’ll soon graduate to conventional rental communities. They’re still largely an untapped market, waiting to be recognized. Marketers who act quickly and creatively to speak to this demographic have an opportunity to see the greatest payoffs.