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Gen Z Thinks Your Brand is a Fake

shutterstock_4411828721876-9417-2-111Marketers should forget everything they know about Millennials when it comes to marketing to Generation Z, writes Kathy Troy.

The older end of the new generation – Generation Z – is coming of age. They’re finishing secondary education and entering university or the workforce. Every marketer wants to know how to talk to them. But with this generation, the key is not about talking to them, it’s about what you do. And if what you do as a brand is true to who you are.

Gen Z – who were generally born between the late 1990s and late noughties – are sometimes referred to as the last generation. Far from being apocryphal, this is because of the rate of technological change, and the knock-on effect of that on society, they are the last generation that will be categorised in a ten to fifteen-year bloc. And it’s that technological progression that defines many of their key features.

Forget everything you know about Millennials – Generation Z is different to everyone who’s gone before them. Millennials are dual screeners, but Gen Z interact with up to five screens at a time. Millennials communicate in text, Gen Z communicate in images and are fluent in emoji, Snapchat and Instagram.

The sharing economy was created by Millennials, who championed the likes of AirBnB, Lyft and crowdfunding. But Gen Z are creators, the ones who are starting business at 14. Millennials are “live in the now” optimists who are waiting to be discovered, Gen Z are the future- focused pragmatists who want success through endeavour. One of the starkest differences is that Gen Z are is more likely to cite Malala as their cultural hero, rather than Beyoncé, the icon of Millennials worldwide.

As a cohort, Gen Z are open-minded and inclusive because they have grown up on the precipice of social change. They are active in their consideration of inclusion and what that entails.

Prominent mental health discussion, transgenderism, and same-sex marriage are three issues which have taught them that world hasn’t always been as tolerant as it might be now. They haven’t experienced a society with serious taboos, but they believe in creating a better world and are looking for similarly socially-minded brands and icons. This raises the expectations on brands to behave in a certain way, not tokenism but genuinely living their company purpose and values.

Most interestingly they are the generation that have grown up immersed in technology and social media. This has had its impact, both positive and negative. They are highly visual. They’re versed and fluent and communicate through images.

Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat are all channels that resonate for them because they allow them to communicate and understand information visually.

However, as a generation they suffer more anxiety than any that has gone before them. Technology affects how they think, their attention spans have shortened (to approximately 8 seconds) which is both the cause and effect of ephemeral media like Snapchat. Neuroscientists are beginning to publish studies that show the effect of technology is literally changing the chemistry of their brains and that social media can light up the same areas of pleasure in their brains as taking drugs.

Finally, and as a result, they lack situational awareness. They ignore what’s going on around them and mediate their world through their devices. Which makes social media and constant contact through that media an imperative for brands.

So what does this mean for companies that want to connect with them? When you understand the Gen Z mindset and apply them to brand and communications, you get the key rules:

  1. You must behave in a way that’s socially minded.
  2. You need to communicate visually.
  3. You need to be authentic. It’s no longer an option to carefully construct a brand image that is managed, you have to live it.

This extends to every realm of life. In the context of the 2016 US Presidential election, Google partnered with political consultant Julie Hootkin to learn more about how registered voters inform themselves before the primaries. When looking at online content the thing that resonates is authenticity:

“On the internet, viewers give you license to ignore the traditional guidelines that are often associated with campaign content. It’s not just the 15-second, the 30-second, or the 60-second ad. It could be a two-minute, a six-minute, or even an eight-minute video. When it comes to content, authenticity is paramount for all types of campaigns, for both brands and candidates. Voters in particular really want to see the behind-the-scenes stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor.” [Source: think with Google]

Converse is a brand that have adapted really well to connect with Gen Z allowing them to create something visual, share it and align with the ethos of Converse.  The Converse “Made by You” campaign was inspired by fans who love to share photos of their customized sneakers.

Utilizing Instagram to reach and interact with their consumers, Converse has created a successful campaign by celebrating teen’s creativity and understanding Generation Z’s desire to customise.

Everything Generation Z have been exposed to creates an expectation that they can see behind the curtain and get the real story. Behind the scenes footage, reality TV, candid photos of celebrities, no-makeup selfies, vloggers who are real people. And this extends into every realm of life.

Why would they expect anything less of your brand?

Kathy Troy is strategy director with MCCP – the Authentic Brand people

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ Agency Issue 2016)© to order back issues please call 016611660

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