Gen Z, also known as Zoomers, might be young but they represent $140 billion in spending power. The oldest Gen Z’ers are 26 and the youngest are just 11. In comparison, the oldest Millennials are 42.

Danielle Cummins of Aimpoint Research said the organization is focused on watching trends and making sure the ag community has deliverable intelligence to make decisions.

“There are currently six generations of consumers in the market,” said Cummins. “The majority are Millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha.” Although many are either retired or considering retiring, it’s important to understand how Baby Boomers influence the consumer market.

Cummins referred to Boomers as “digital immigrants” and “partially connected.” “The key to their transaction is the transaction – that was the driving force. Gen X is a transitional age and Millennials are starting to dominate. They’re digital natives and super connected. But the cornerstone is trust.”

The Boomers are moving out, said Cummins. “This is shown mostly in the workforce. Baby Boomers are retirement age. There is a large group of Millennials and Gen Z replacing them in the labor force.” This shift gives Gen Z extraordinary purchasing power.

But why does such a young group dictate marketing strategies? The answer is complicated and involves several factors.

Roxi Beck, director of consumer engagement for the Center for Food Integrity, said her organization’s peer-reviewed studies showed that values are important, and so is science, but the two are not equal.

“It’s imperative to understand that the perception is three to five times more important than just having the facts,” she said. “It’s basic relationship-building – nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

How do generational differences influence Christmas tree sales? Most Boomers recall having a real Christmas tree in the home when they were growing up and many continued the tradition for their own children. This opened an opportunity for Christmas tree growers to market to subsequent generations.

But it isn’t a simple matter of marketing to a different generation. In recent research focusing on Gen Z, Beck said the results showed they’re a group coming into power and influencing what’s going on in the world. They also think differently and have the potential to reshape purchasing trends.

Growers should understand the basics of Gen Z: They’re born between 1997 and 2012 and include nearly 21% of U.S. consumers. They’re the fastest growing economic force, with estimates of that power reaching $33 trillion by 2030. The group is the most racially and ethnically diverse, and it’s predicted that by 2026, the projected majority will be non-white. They’re strongly in favor of using technology to solve problems and are often driven by social causes.

“They want experiences that help them feel engaged,” said Beck of Gen Z. “They want the opportunity to connect with true experts who can tell them the good, the bad and the ugly – not just the truth, but the whole truth. There’s huge opportunity related to technology and innovation and sustainability as long as we think first about ‘them.’”

Beck said that for Zoomers, the climb to what they know and see at the top of the proverbial mountain is different than what other generations have experienced.

Social media is one of the most effective vehicles for connecting people with businesses, including Boomers. Those who use social media rely on it for news, information, education and entertainment. A consumer who is considering purchasing a real Christmas tree this year will turn to social media to learn about not just tree species, but which species have the best needle retention, last longest after they’re cut and which species are available where they live.

Consumers of any generation who choose natural Christmas trees may or may not understand the benefits. Some may still believe cutting down a Christmas tree is a tree lost, and don’t fully understand that Christmas trees are a prime example of renewable resource. This is the grower’s opportunity to provide information – but not in a form they may have used in the past.

“We have to start where they are, and the first pathway is not to explain anything,” said Beck. “Stop talking and listen for the language they’re using … The terms they’re using and the values they’re showing through their questions can help us understand how we can help them.”

It isn’t enough to have a “binder with messages” because Gen Z wants more. Beck suggested being prepared to have a conversation with Gen Z’ers rather than simply providing information. This may take more time, but it’s worth the investment in developing a lasting relationship.

Avoid making the mistake of assuming you know what someone’s questions might be. “Listen thoughtfully and ask more questions to understand more about where they’re starting from,” said Beck.

Some potential fresh tree buyers have preconceived notions about how they don’t want to be responsible for “removing a tree” from the ecological landscape, but this can turn into the opportunity to show them how planting trees is a continuing process and that trees aren’t actually eliminated. For Gen Z, the most important message may be that Christmas trees contribute to cleaner air, help wildlife survive and preserve farmland.

Gen Z wants transparency and they’re interested in what’s happening behind the scenes. Christmas tree farmers can choose to share what happens on the farm throughout the year through a video display in the welcoming area or in the sales barn.

A good video can answer a lot of questions before they are asked, which will allow more time with customers who want more detailed answers. Customers who have had their questions answered are far more likely to be repeat customers because they believe someone cares about them.

Because 64% of Zoomers say they will make a purchasing decision based on sustainability, it’s worth showing how a Christmas tree farm is making positive contributions in this area. Show and talk about any sustainability efforts on the farm – why certain trees are grown on certain ground and how tree acreage provides wildlife habitat. Be prepared to discuss wildlife management such as exclusion fencing and other deterrents.

The challenge in dealing with a variety of age groups might be answering questions for Gen Z without alienating other generations. The message that will stick is “Here’s what we care about” and it will continue to work through all generations.

“We see a sustainable operation as one that is grounded in values,” said Beck. “Identify who you are and what’s important to you. Once you’ve identified your values, you can start to prioritize.”

by Sally Colby