One of the fastest-growing consumer demographics may also be the most elusive for marketers to influence.

Generation Z – loosely defined as those born between 1998 and 2008­ — is now made up of more than 61 million consumers, comprising 22 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Goldman Sachs report. Gen Z is expected to represent 40 percent of all consumers by 2020.

“Raised by Gen-X parents during a time marred by economic stress, rising student-debt burdens, socioeconomic tensions and war overseas, these youths carry a less idealistic, more pragmatic perspective on the world,” Goldman Sachs analyst Christopher Wolf wrote in the report.

Wolf adds: “On top of the [about] $44 billion of their own spending power they already wield, 93 percent of parents agree their Gen-Z children maintain at least some influence on household spending and purchases.”

Attracting the attention of a consumer-powerhouse demographic that’s short on attention and long on skepticism has become a key challenge for marketers. To understand what Gen Z is, we first must understand what it is not.

Not Millennials

The biggest misstep made by marketers is assuming Gen Z is synonymous with their generational predecessors, the millennials.

Although both segments grew up with emerging technology, millennials learned slowly to swim in the late-90s, online kiddie pool while Gen Zers were born with gills. A diverse, multicultural segment, Gen Z has been immersed in the digital world from birth – it’s all they’ve ever known.

Due perhaps in part to the expansion of online education, Gen Zers are independent learners and want to explore the world at their own pace, rather than be taught by a single authority figure. Because they came of age during the 2008 financial crisis, Gen Z has little faith in the American Dream, instead showing a deeper confidence in their ability to market their skills. Indeed, some Gen Zers have already established lucrative “careers” as YouTube celebs and social media influencers. Because of their deep dependence on digital tech, Gen Z embraces mobile devices as a 21st-century umbilical cord.

Mobile Measure

More than 95 percent of Gen Zers own a smartphone, according to Econsultancy, and 63 percent own a tablet. As the first generation to be “always on” when it comes to the online world, Gen Z uses mobile devices to connect with retailers directly instead of passively viewing network TV commercials. A staggering two-in-five Gen Zers use Instagram to connect with brands while one in three use YouTube.

By the same token, they like to keep the business of shopping separate from their personal lives to some degree, preferring anonymous social media networks such as Snapchat or Tinder to maintain relationships. And while, Gen Zers are constantly tethered to their mobile devices, marketers must be aware that simply throwing mobile ads at them without a strong brand strategy will quickly turn off and scatter their audience.

A Personal Brand

Generation Z doesn’t want brands to tell them a story – they want to help create the story. To engage a unique brand with Gen Z, marketers must understand that teenagers value participation in the advertising process. They are willing to partner with the brands they love but it must be a two-way partnership – from mobile to digital to brick-and-mortar. Many companies invite teen customers to help create online content – videos, guest blog posts and social media campaigns.

Therese Caruso, managing director of global strategy and insights at Zeno Group, stated in a recent report:

“They have a really different relationship with brands. I think the biggest difference is millennials join brands. They’re brand evangelists and wear with pride on their sleeves the brands they choose. Teens and the younger millennials are more like curators… they use brands to build their own brand.”

Gen Zers judge their favorite brands on how well each contributes to their personal brand. Does the brand reflect their values of inclusiveness and innovation? They want to see the human side of the brands they love through videos and social media connectivity. To target Gen Zers, mobile marketers are finding success with location data as a tool to better comprehend the segment’s consumer behavior. Thinknear’s GeoVideo toolkit, for example, offers laser-focused solutions to create mobile video advertising campaigns that can identify and reach Gen Z consumers.

“Retailers must create products and marketing that empower these teens to be their best selves,” writes Ruth Bernstein in Advertising Age. “They must also create places — stores, websites, online communities — where Gen Zers feel welcome walking in and logging in, and feel just as wonderful walking out and checking out.”