Sarah Weise, UX Researcher and Author of Instabrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z [Podcast]

We are super fortunate to have Sarah Weise with us. Sarah helps organizations improve their products and marketing through rapid customer research!

Sarah Weise

Her book, Instabrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z, is on my recommendation shortlist.

InstaBrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z

Personally, I assumed I knew what Generation Z was all about. Boy was I wrong.

In this we discuss…

  1. How Gen Z differ in their purchasing behavior than Millennials
  2. Instagram and the importance that visuals have with this generation
  3. Businesses need to be ready for the deep dive on their website when marketing to Gen Z
  4. How to build loyalty with this Generation Z
  5. From Cory Wilson at Live Frederick Sell Frederick: the effect of COVID-19 on Gen Z

Generation Z might be a mystery to you now, but watch this video and read her book and you will become an instant expert! Let’s dive right in…

Digital Transcription – Edited for Readability


Jon-Mikel Bailey: Hello, I’m Jon-Mikel Bailey, and this is the Wellspring Digital Chat where we bring marketing brains directly to you. So today we have an extra special guest. We’re going to go down the research and UX path a little bit. We’re going to dive into the brains of the generation, the one that is getting talked about more and more… Generation Z.

And I have a foremost expert on Generation Z here who just wrote a book new book called InstaBrain, which you should definitely pick up. Sarah, can you go ahead and introduce yourself to these great people?

Sarah Weise: Sure. Hi, I’m Sarah Weise, and I run a market research company and we do market research and UX Research and I’m just so excited to be here.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s awesome. I’m so glad you’re here because I truly did just love your book. I learned so much. Yeah, Generation Z makes a lot more sense to me.

Sarah Weise: And you were talking about brains. I was like, “Hey, I got one on the cover.”


Jon-Mikel Bailey: There you go. Yeah, it’s all tying in. It’s all working out. I love it. I love that.

How Gen Z Purchasing Behavior Differs from Millennials

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So, I thought I knew what Generation Z was all about. I was dead wrong. I assumed they were just like millennials. Not the case at all.

So I just wanted to dive in with a stat from your book that I found interesting. It was “Gen Z is two to three times more likely to be influenced by a brand’s engagement on social media than by sales.” Can you talk a little bit more about the difference, say between Gen Z and their purchasing behavior than millennials and even Gen X?

Different Generations

Sarah Weise: Yeah, I think it really goes back to how a generation was raised. And so I guess we should back up and say, “Hey, let’s talk about what the different generations are out there.” Just in case people don’t know the different acronyms and the different letters.

  1. So Gen X are in their 40s. Right now about 40s, maybe some 50s.
  2. Then we get to Gen Y, which is millennials. And they’re in their late 20s and 30s right now.
  3. And then we’ve got Gen Z, who’s about 13 to 25 today, and then below Gen Z…
  4. We’ve got the Gen alphas. So those are today’s children. And that’ll be my next book.

Generation Z

But for this for the research that went into this book, we were really focusing on Generation Z. And that’s really what’s amazing about this Generation Z. They’re the largest living generation today and they hold so much purchase power.

As marketers, we’re still caught up in the whole millennial marketing stuff that everyone’s talking about. We’ve kind of missed this huge up and coming generation. So we’re starting to learn a little bit more about them as they’re coming into the workforce as they’re coming into the workplace.

You know, they’re in their early 20s. Some of them are in their early 20s. Now they’re entering the workforce, and we’re starting to become more aware of this generation, but really, they hold $44 billion in direct buying power, and a year and that’s not that’s just waiting till they get jobs.

I mean, we’re talking about if you include all of the purchases that they influenced their parents and their families to make. We’re talking about more on the lines of 650 billion a year. It is just an economic purchase power that this generation holds influence over, you know, democratized family spending, I guess you could say.

And they’re a lot different in how they shop and transact and consume things online and your marketing online than millennials were. And to get to your point, I will answer your question, I promise, oh, this is great. To get to that I think you have to understand you have to take a step back and say, “How were they raised?” to begin with.

Let’s look at a few key differences and how they were brought up so that we can understand why they are kind of doing the things that they’re doing now. So there are a few key differences in how they were raised. And the first one is that there was a big shift in parenting style.

So when we think of millennials, we think of helicopter parents or Tiger parents, parents did everything for them. Well with Gen Z, who’s really only a few years younger than the youngest millennials, there was a huge shift in parenting styles. And instead of doing things for their kids, they actually taught their kids how to do things for themselves online.

And so this new type of parenting is called tech parenting. And because of this tech parenting, kids grew up learning how to be way more independent, how to find things out on their own, how to do their own research online, and not rely on their parents. But the parents also did this one really interesting thing, because, in addition to teaching them how to do everything for themselves online, they scared them shitless about everything that could possibly go wrong.

And like this, everything from where from, like, online, you know, predators to identity theft, and yeah, I mean, this generation, they are way more independent than millennials. But they’re also much more risk-averse, which is really interesting.

Okay, they are not as influenced by like, what you would call salesy promotions, right? They’re like, “Oh, Is that real?” And they are much more critical of what’s real, what’s authentic, and what feels like marketing to them.

The Importance of Visuals and Messaging to Generation Z

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s actually a great segue into my next question because one of my favorite parts of your book was when you were doing the in-person studies and you’re watching these Gen Z’s spend time on their phones and they would just zip through, you know, their feed and constantly just zipping through and, and you’re like, they’re, what are they doing?

They’re just flying through and then finally, something caught their eye. And I wanted to see if you could, and I think what people miss about this is they think they need to have catchy visuals, but I wanted to see if you could go a little bit deeper into that for this and talk about the importance of visuals, the quality of those visuals and what those visuals are to this generation.

Sarah Weise: Yeah. So I think when we consider young people and we watch them, even just kids, like your own kids or some kid that you know, or somebody’s friend’s kid or whatever, you’re watching them on their phones, and they’re just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and they’re doing this at such a crazy rate.

This is what’s going on. So they have been exposed to images and, you know, scrolling things since the time they were very, very young. And so their brains have actually rewired to process more information faster. And so whereas millennials had about, this also affects attention span, so millennials had about a 12-second attention span. Gen Z has a seven to eight-second attention span.

So you what’s going on is you have to catch their attention super quick. And that’s not even like just the visual, the visual that has to catch their initial attention has to be nanoseconds. I mean it’s teeny tiny little moments in time.

And then once you click it, you’ve got about seven to eight seconds to really hook them and get them intrigued. But here’s the thing once they get intrigued like once they do get hooked, they have this superpower and they can hyper-focus for hours and days at a time.

A Girl, Her Hedgehog, and Some Luxury Slime

So I like to tell the story of this one girl that we were interviewing. She was telling us how she was scrolling through Instagram one day, and she comes across. She’s 13. She comes across this picture of a pet hedgehog, and she goes to her mother and she’s like, “Hey,” and I mean immediately just snap judgment.

She was like, “I want a pet hedgehog” to her mother and she’s like, “Hey, can we get a pet hedgehog mom” and her mother’s like? Absolutely not. They’re wild animals. They’re not a pet and B aren’t they nocturnal like they’re gonna be sleeping while you’re awake. You’re never even going to see this animal in action.”

And then see the mother says, “spiky like they’re not some cute cuddly thing. No, we’re not you’re not getting a pet hedgehog.” And the mother thinks this is over. But this 13-year-old girl goes back and she deep dives for about a week. Every spare moment on pet hedgehog. She watches all the videos on YouTube. She scours Instagram and I mean she’s on a mission to learn everything she can about pet hedgehog ownership and everything that’s involved.

And so about a week later, she goes back to her mother she says, “Hey Mom, you know, I’m thinking about that pet hedgehog. Can we get a pet hedgehog?” And the mother says no. Again, she has a response for every single argument that the mother throws at her, and finally, her mother breaks down she’s like, “Okay, fine. How much is a pet hedgehog?” and the girl says about $500 because you need a hedgehog and cage and the food and like everything else.

And she said, “great if you can raise $500, go ahead, you can buy your pet hedgehog” thinking that this is never gonna happen, right? And the girl suddenly goes to YouTube and then is on a second mission to make money from home.

So she starts watching all sorts of videos on how to make money from home and she comes across a series of videos on making slime and she’s like, “Oh, I want to make slime. That would be really cool.” Well, her mother ends up having these essential oils around the house. So she makes this luxury slime the scented slime so it’s, you know, like lavender slime right? Right. Eucalyptus slime and tea tree whatever.

So she’s making this luxury slime she packages it beautifully. And she takes it down to the convenience store that’s right across from the high school and she goes to the manager and she’s like “Hey, will you stock in my slime?” “Absolutely not stuck your slime.” Well, she goes back to him for a month every single day she badgers this manager I mean these kids are persistent and they’re entrepreneurial and they’re persistent.

And she goes back, she badgers this manager every day until finally, he says “okay, fine, I’m in a slump. It’s a trial basis only and if it doesn’t sell, you know, we’re done. We’re gonna try this but done.” Well, he starts selling it it sells like wildfire. And she ends up within a week she made enough money to buy this pet hedgehog. So she buys the pet hedgehog, and then she of course she realizes how much money she’s making selling slime.

Starting to sell it on Instagram, she doesn’t even have a website, but she’s selling it on Instagram. And she’s so she’s selling this slime. She doesn’t even need the convenience store anymore. And she buys and she starts an account for the hedgehog. And now the hedgehog is paid and sponsored and she’s making money on him too.

So this is Generation Z in a nutshell, they are in addition to the parenting styles that were different. There are a couple of other things, they were raised in a time of war and so they’re more fiscally conservative. They are hungry for work, they’re “side gig” savvy, they are entrepreneurial. 61% want to start their own business instead of going to work for somebody else.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Oh, yeah. (thinking about my daughter this whole time)

Sarah Weise: I loved this story because it epitomizes everything about Generation Z that our research has shown. I mean from just being hungry for work, being entrepreneurial. Self-starters, persistent, diligent, and also just making snap judgments and just going for it and trying it and seeing if it works. And if it doesn’t work you do something else. But let’s just try it and see. I mean, the internet is so, so open for that. For trial and error. And that’s, that’s this environment that these kids have been raised in.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s so funny. I’m laughing so much because my daughter is right on the edge. She’s, like, 12 and a half. And the same deal. I mean, same.

Sarah Weise: Does she love the VSCO Girls? I don’t even know like the scrunchies around her around a wrist and carry a hydro flask?


Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yeah, actually.

Sarah Weise: Talk about saving the turtles?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yep.

Sarah Weise: There you go. All right. Now you know where that comes from.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: You know my daughter better than I do.

Getting Your Website and Digital Marketing Ready for Gen Z

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So So speaking of the deep dive, I wanted to talk a little bit about it. You know, because our audience is digital marketers, small businesses, marketing directors, and, and they’re, they’re gonna be curious as to “Okay, great. So we know that these people have a short attention span and they and they like to do deep dives.”

Can you talk a little bit about another stat that stood out to me that “Gen Z will view 62% more pages while browsing a website than any other demographic.” And I thought that was fascinating. And I think this is a good opportunity to really spell it out for this audience. Why it’s so important to really take your website and your social media presence and all those things very seriously because these people are doing deep dives.

Gen Z and Different Digital Channels

Sarah Weise: So I’ll talk about in addition to doing the deep dives, they are really specific and discerning content curators. What I mean by that is that they’re constantly aggregating information and grouping it for themselves to understand. They are just natural aggregators of information.

And one way that they do that this aggregation is that they know exactly where to look on different platforms, where to look for different types of content. So if your content is – I see people in marketing making this mistake all the time for this audience where they’re like, “Oh, I’m gonna, you know, I’ve got a Buffer account or Hootsuite accounts, I’m just gonna blast this out to all the same message to all of my social media channels and not, you know, tailor it to the different channels.

Instagram and Pinterest

That is the kiss of death for this generation because they are really discerning when it comes to what to look for where and I can kind of run down all the different social media channels. So on Instagram, they’re looking for random inspiration. Whereas on Pinterest, they would be looking for a more specific information survey.

“Oh, I’m into, I’m into cake decorating, I’m going to look for that on Pinterest, I wouldn’t go to Instagram for that I would, I would just want to scroll and be inspired.” Instagram, it’s a little bit different.

Twitter and Google

And then on Twitter, it’s for news or professional announcements, okay. And by professional announcements, they mean like a YouTuber saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be here at this time, or I’m doing this live event or something like that.”

And then Google, we found this blogger doing those studies for Google. Google is for homework or for very specific facts. So whereas we would think of, we would say, cuz we’re a little bit older, we would say something like, “oh, what do I want to know?” And you’d go to Google and you’d search for it, and maybe you’d go down a rabbit hole or you go find some videos or whatever.


They’re not doing that. They’re googling something to find some specific fact and then getting out of there as fast as possible. Okay, so they love answer boxes (snippets) and all those, you know. It’s where things come up. And they don’t even have to dive in and dig into it a web page, which is, is fascinating for this generation.

But it so different than that, though, where they spend all their time is YouTube. So they’ll go to YouTube and they’ll spend a tremendous amount of time. We’re talking three-plus hours a day on YouTube on average, and that was an average pre-COVID. I can’t even imagine.

Yeah, what they’re doing now in terms of the time that they’re on YouTube every day, um, but that’s more for DIY or how-to and they will just watch it on autoplay. I’ve seen that.

TikTok and Snapchat

Then TikTok has just gone crazy this year and exploded in popularity. TikTok is more for just fun, addictive, short videos. Lots of trending songs, trending songs. Originally I think these young people started using TikTok, as a way to join a platform that their parents weren’t on. It was kind of like what Snapchat was six or seven years ago. Right? And so I think that’s how TikTok emerged, but now it’s really taken off. And of course, their parents are getting on it now too. So how long last…

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Parents ruin everything, man.

Sarah Weise: Yeah. And then Snapchat is for sending funny little videos to their friends. I’m actually I’d like to see the stats on how TikTok has affected Snapchat now.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I was wondering the same thing.

Text Messaging

Sarah Weise: Yeah, but that’s for like random funny videos and stuff like that they can send your friends. Whereas text messages are for more urgent things. So that’s for more like, “oh, when are we meeting? What’s the answer to homework question number four?” They need an answer to quickly it would be a text message.

And when we talk about text messages, I really mean iMessage because having a blue bubble is what all the kids need right now? 84% of them have iPhones and if you are a green bubble oh my gosh, it is you are a social pariah. And this generation’s version of Mean Girls. It’s really something. The kids with Android phones are bullied at school and it is just, it’s a whole nother level. But we could have a heart.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: And I love Android but…


Sarah Weise: And then Facebook, it’s really it’s sweet. Really, it’s for parents, getting with their parents. Um, occasionally you’ll find a kid who is into a group who uses it for a Facebook group he or she is into. Some sort of hobby or interest that, you know, like, “I’m really into renting or like fixing up old cars or something like that. They might find a Facebook group for that.


Sarah Weise: They’re on LinkedIn like we all have accounts. They are required by school to make accounts, and they never use them, they feel totally intimidated by them. I’ll be publishing an article, hopefully, next week with AJ Wilcox. We wrote an article, we did some research together and wrote an article on, he runs a LinkedIn ad agency. And we did some research together on why Gen Z’s aren’t using LinkedIn. And we really found that LinkedIn is failing them.

They feel completely insecure when they go in and they see all these older people with huge resumes and all this experience and what’s their experience, like some babysitting or camp counselor for a summer or working in a GameStop? I mean, it really, it pales in comparison and they feel so inadequate that they are not on LinkedIn. So LinkedIn, LinkedIn is gonna have a problem with again, getting them to enjoy being on the platform.

Amazon, Your Website, and Gen Z

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Absolutely. And then and then what about websites? What are they doing in terms of like, you know, browsing through a website?

Sarah Weise: If they’re shopping, especially if they’re on Amazon or if they’re on a site and they’re shopping for something, they are definitely looking for reviews. Okay? So whereas millennials will read all the five-star and all the one-star and nothing in between, right?

Gen Z will read every single one.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s hilarious.

Sarah Weise: And actually I read a case study about a – I don’t remember if it was Vail, but it was one of the other Colorado resorts – they actually encouraged more Gen Z’s to come to their Ski Resort by giving themselves one and two-star reviews and saying “this mountain it’s too advanced for me” What a strategy, right? It’s just because they knew that they would be reading all of them and they wanted only a niche audience who really likes skiing and difficult terrain? I am not a skier so I don’t know.

But it was really fascinating to watch them get people to give themselves one and two-star reviews specifically so that the Gen Z’s who were reading those reviews would come to the resort more and it worked. After they did that they saw an incredible increase in that each demographic coming to their mountain.

Gen Z, Millenials, and Influencers

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I mean resorts that’s a fantastic age demographic for them. I mean, that’s when you’re skiing the most is. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and, you know, I think it said millennials were we’re obsessed with coupons. But Gen Z is really more.

Sarah Weise: They do pay attention to sales and promotions, but they’re more concerned with the content and how personalized it is to them. They feel what’s interesting is that they appreciate personalization. They certainly like it, but they don’t expect it.

Gen Z’s expect personalization. Like it’s no longer a nice to have, right. And so if your website is not tailored based on you know, an IP address or where they’re logging in from or whatever thing that you’re doing in terms of the what products you’re showing them if you’re an e-commerce site, or whatever it is, if it’s not tailored, they’re probably not going to stay. That’s crazy. I feel like it’s lazy of the company not to do that.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s not. Wow.

Sarah Weise: Yeah. It’s that’s what they’ve been exposed to. Yeah, from a very early age, so it makes sense. Well, I think if you’re thinking about the one difference between millennials and Gen Z, what the one thing that keeps coming back is that the question in their minds has shifted in terms of what they’re looking for.

So millennials will say things like, “oh, what do I want to know today?” And they’ll go and they’ll look for it, whether it’s on Google or social media or whatever. They’ll go in to look for it. And they’ll find stuff out about it and learn.

But Gen Z’s. They don’t say “what do I want to know?” They say “what should I want to know?” And they’re relying increasingly on related items, the content creators, they follow. They’re relying on influencers, people that come up in their feed, autoplay on YouTube.

They’re relying on that much more so than they are just organically going on Google and searching for something and learning about it. That’s but one, when they do start their deep dive, they will look at way more websites and way more articles and yeah, everything.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: And that’s such a shift. And in it, you know, the funny thing is, is that it really does play in with what a lot of, you know, UX practitioners have been saying and a lot of even, you know, some content marketing and SEO practitioners have been saying about, you know, personalizing the experience. So that’s fascinating.

Sarah Weise: I mean, I started my career in UX 15 years ago before it was called UX. Like when we still said usability, right? Um, and we, I mean, even 10 to 15 years ago, we were saying, “Wow, we should personalize things, it makes a difference.

Live Frederick, Sell Frederick’s Cory Wilson and His Question

So I have one last question for you. And this is a special question because it’s from a buddy of mine. His name is Corey Wilson and he is a partner at Live Frederick, Sell Frederick and Cory, it is his birthday today.

Sarah Weise: Happy birthday Cory!

Generation Z and The Impact of COVID-19

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Thank you for that. I appreciate that. So I’m going to read his question verbatim. And he’ll be tickled because he absolutely loved your book. So his question is, “how do you feel the current environment, COVID, will affect Gen Z’s decision making moving forward, seeing their parents loss of jobs, mortgage forbearance, you know, and so on?”

Sarah Weise: So these are post 9/11 kids, so they grew up in a time of, you know, war and recession. So they already experienced that. They were already risk-averse, to begin with. They were financially fiscally conservative, to begin with, they save a lot more money than millennials. Right from the start. I think this is just validating what they already held to be true. And it’s kind of that confirmation. “I knew this was gonna happen and then and then, you know, the world flies a new economy. “Yes, I’m glad I saved.”

So I think that it’s going to make them increasingly conservative. Now I did fiscally conservative, but I did not say cheap, this generation is not cheap. So if they believe that there’s value and you’re offering good value for the money, they absolutely will pay for it.

And they’ll pay big amounts for something that they find unvalued but I think that because of this environment, because they’re even more risk-averse now, and a little bit more fiscally conservative, your brand and your products, they have to be on point. Your hooks have to really be on point.

You really have to know your customer inside and out before you start writing your hooks because if they’re not right, they’re going to scroll right by. They are just pros at scrolling right by. If the graphics don’t stand out, if the personalization is not there, if the hook is not just so exactly tapping into their pain point, if it’s not doing that, you know, it’s just, you’re done, you’re done.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: And the great thing about this is that it’s all really validation of what a lot of, of my favorite marketers and, you know practitioners have been talking about for years, is the idea of value and quality and personalization, those things are, you know, had been preached about for years. And I think this generation might be the one to, you know, shake people awake and say, “Okay, it’s time to wake up and actually pay attention to this stuff because it really it will matter more and more the older this generation gets.

Sarah Weise: If you are doing marketing right now at this time in COVID, which you should be, you shouldn’t be pausing right now, but you should be marketing right now. But when you are doing that, if you’re going after this audience, there’s a couple of key pain points that they are feeling right now.

Okay, I’m gonna list them out. There’s a couple of ones…

  1. So, the first one is they are heartbroken that they are missing out on what they feel like are once in a lifetime opportunities, right. So prom, graduation, you know, being in college and, and socializing in a normal, normal way. Right? They are just completely heartbroken about that. And if you can tap into that pain point and really, you know, solve something for them, that is going to resonate right now. They’re just in this period of grieving, it’s a huge sense of loss.
  2. And then they also worry that they’re going to be behind like a year behind because they are so money-focused and career-focused and driven. There’s this sense that “oh my god, I’m gonna be a year behind because everything in the world has stopped for a year.” So they’re really concerned about that right now.
  3. And then they’re also really concerned – which is interesting because we haven’t seen this to date – they’re really concerned with how companies are responding during COVID. Okay, so they to date, they have talked a big game when it comes to social issues, but we haven’t seen them take action in terms of sacrificing you know, a lower-paying job to do something they love or we haven’t seen that as much as millennials.

It’s because they have been so fiscally conservative and focused on their careers and taking stem STEM majors and diversity across the country and things like that. We haven’t really seen the sacrifice to support a social good.

And then COVID happened and companies that are not responding by doing some social good, right? Or by an offering, you know, something free to first responders or healthcare professionals or whatever it is that companies are doing. If they’re not doing that they are being highly criticized.

So for example, there are a couple of companies right now that have actually raised prices in COVID, because demand is higher. And they have just been getting panned by this generation on social media. And it’s just, it was a fad. It’s a bad move. Those companies it’s like, “Hey, I’m getting a lot more people to buy stuff. Let me raise prices right now.” Bad move, bad move.

And then what’s worse is the companies that – I don’t know if it’s worse, but what’s equally as bad – aren’t responding at all. And they’re just going on like business is normal, not even a message on their website. I mean, I get that everyone’s in this like, “Oh my god, what’s happening I’m panicking,” and there’s this wait and see mode. But we’re past that at this point you should be responding in some way.

We’ve been in quarantine for what 10-11 weeks, you got a grieving point and we need to move on.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Well, I could talk to you all day about this. I think it’s just absolutely fascinating. But we are, we are at the end of our interview. So I just wanted to say thank you so much again, for writing this book. Pick it up, please. It’s called InstaBrain. It’s a great book.

Sarah Weise: Your listeners can get a free chapter if you want to by going to and putting your email in there and you can get a free chapter of the book if you’d like.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Or just buy the book. Okay. It’s worth it. It’s on Amazon. That’s what it looks like…


I’ll put a link down below. And now again, thank you so much for doing this interview. I really appreciate it. There’s a ton here. And that’s it. Thanks!

Sarah Weise: Thank you so much. Bye, everybody!

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