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How to engage Gen Z just like Adidas and Walmart

What are the most effective ways of engaging a group whose spending and consumption habits aren’t exactly traditional?

How to engage Gen Z just like Adidas and Walmart
[Source photo: Getty Images]

Gen Z make up 40% of the global consumer population, according to global research and consulting firm McKinsey. The Influencer Marketing Factory reports 97% of Gen Z turn to social media as their main source of shopping inspiration. Another report by Statista shows 54% of Gen Z say social media is better than online search when it comes to discovering new products. With this demographic wielding increasing buying power, brands know better than to ignore them.

The question is not whether companies should market to Gen Zs—it’s how? What are the most effective ways of engaging a group whose spending and consumption habits aren’t exactly traditional? Although most brands are still asking these questions, legacy companies like Adidas and Walmart, which have thrived through countless market fluctuations, technological upheavals, and cultural shifts, may already have the answers.


Product-focused sales have become tacky, especially for a generation that values authenticity and engagement. And, as Jeremy Finch wrote for Fast Company way back in 2015, “Gen Z have a carefully tuned radar for being sold to and a limited amount of time and energy to spend assessing whether something’s worth their time.” What works instead is creating immersive narratives that offer unique journeys, personalized services, and memories that transcend the product’s functionalities.

Adidas is appealing to Gen Z through digital assets like NFTs. “For many brands and consumers, the value of NFTs doesn’t come from the token itself, but from the sense of community built around it,” says Rohan Handa, senior vice president for business development at Horizen Labs Ventures, a digital asset advisory and solutions platform. “It creates a shared experience and exclusivity that draws people in [and] for a population that evolved with Web 2.0, social media, and the mobile-market Web, it is normal that Gen Z users value their digital identity more than people from Gen X, who sometimes don’t even have one.”

This is why Adidas’ first NFT launch in 2021, themed “Into the Metaverse,” minted all 30,000 of its NFTs and amassed up to $22 million in sales in hours. Fast forward to 2023 and the brand has launched the third and final phase of the project, with perks like exclusive access to certain offers and increased interactions.

Walmart, on the other hand, has plans to create two immersive Roblox gaming experiences—Walmart Land for buying virtual merchandise and Walmart’s Universe of Play for toy games. This, according to Walmart’s marketing chief William White, is a strategy to “increase brand favorability with younger audiences” and “drive relevance in cultural conversations.”

“Gen Z is a digital-first cohort [and] digital identities matter to these participants,” says Horizen Labs Ventures’ Handa. “Digital avatars like those done by Ready Player Me, in-game skins/assets similar to the ones in Fortnite and Roblox, ticketing and token-gated sales by Ticketmaster, and collectible NFTs like NBA top-shot are some top-of-mind use cases, and where a lot of Gen Z is headed.”


The market size for social commerce—that is, a form of e-commerce that combines social media, online communities, and user-generated content—was estimated to be valued at $584.91 billion in 2021 and is set to grow before the end of the decade, with a projected market value of $6.2 trillion in 2030.

The idea of social commerce is a relatively new phenomenon characterized by its use of social media platforms to facilitate the buying and selling of products and services. While social commerce is still in its early stages, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we shop online.

“It is more important than ever for brands to implement a social commerce strategy that captures their young and increasingly influential audience,” says Roy Avidor, cofounder and CEO of Cymbio. “To a large extent, this booming shopping trend is due to Gen Z, who dedicate a lot of time to browsing social channels.”

Avidor recommends that businesses that want to succeed in the social commerce space must leverage influencer marketing, simplify payment options, and prepare omnichannel marketing. “Brands seeking to connect with younger audiences in the social commerce space must leverage the reach and engagement of influential social media users, ensure payment methods are up-to-date and easy to use, and implement omnichannel strategies by integrating social media into their overall commerce strategy,” adds Avidor.

With inflation and the cost of goods rising, it’s more important than ever for retail businesses to retain existing customers, especially when the cost of acquiring new ones can be up to five times higher. This is where social commerce can help brands of all sizes.


Whether it is from their favorite brands or persons, genuine and transparent interactions are necessities for Gen Z. In the words of Avi Pardo, cofounder and chief revenue officer at communications platform LeapXpert, “More than anything, Gen Zers just want to be seen. . . . Should a Gen Z member feel like they are merely a statistic in a customer relationship management system, they will disengage.”

For businesses, this means meeting Gen Z with the information they need in the places they use frequently—especially on social media and mobile messaging platforms. Pardo says leading brands are able to engage Gen Z by creating a personalized experience, which means, among other things, the ability to use any social media or mobile messaging platform to reach out to their personal rep at any time. “These brands don’t make Gen Zers call a desk phone number, a directory line, or reach out through a dedicated company portal. Instead, they have dedicated, personal representatives available to Gen Zers on their time, and on their preferred channel, be it iMessage, WhatsApp, SMS, Telegram, or Signal.”

New insights on mobile messaging are spotlighting significant opportunities for increased brand and customer engagement. For instance, a 2021 report by Statista showed that an estimated 3.09 billion mobile phone users communicate using mobile messaging, while another report by Klaviyo discovered that not only is text messaging the most important form of mobile communication, many customers (especially younger ones) feel secure interacting with brands over texts.

For Adidas, moving personalized interactions to Whatsapp in 2015 was a strategy to connect with the different subcultures of their young audience across the world and grow hyper-local communities within these countries. This, according to Laura Coveney, managing editor at Adidas, “allowed us to build relationships . . . in an ongoing way that [didn’t] feel transactional.” Through Whatsapp, the sportswear brand has launched several campaigns that allow it to engage organically with users.

Similarly, Walmart’s recent “Text-to-Shop” mobile-marketing strategy provides a convenient and accessible way for customers to shop without the need for a dedicated app or website. With a Walmart account, customers can browse products, add to their carts, review recommendations, and eventually make purchases—all via text. Because a Walmart account is linked to your payment information and even location, you can have your items on your doorstep in no time.


As a generation group expected to account for a third of the workforce by the end of this decade, companies that intend to be around for a long time are actively seeking to leverage their talents and potential. Compared to previous generations, there is now a world of difference in the strategies used to hire and retain Gen Z employees.

“Gen Z are used to instantaneous experiences,” says Benjy Gillman, cofounder and head of innovation and strategy at the candidate experience platform, myInterview. “They can order a taxi, find a date, or book a hotel in minutes on their mobile phone. At the same time, the application process also needs to be as engaging and instantaneous to engage this generation.” And this is what leading brands like Adidas and Walmart are doing—taking a candidate-first approach to recruitment practices.

“Leading brands are making the entire application process mobile-first; they are making it more engaging by injecting interactive media such as video and audio within the application process, and most importantly, they are personalizing the candidate journey so it’s easier and more engaging to apply for a job at the organization,” notes Gillman.

Worthy of note is Walmart’s strategy to attract young talent by offering what they call a debt-free college education where employees enroll in online programs at three universities for $1 a day. But Gillman advises further that the candidate experience must be swift and seamless. “Waiting a week to get back to a candidate isn’t acceptable anymore,” he says. “In the battle for talent, brands need to be fast-paced and need a real-time approach to the candidate experience.”

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