Whether you call them “Digital Babies,” “Generation iPad” or “The iGeneration,” there’s no arguing that Generation Z is growing up. Born in 1997 and later, this cohort’s members already are playing valuable roles in society. They’re also extremely savvy, which means marketing to them is a challenge. After all, they’ve been raised with smart devices in their hands and a world of information literally at their fingertips.
Several distinct characteristics describe this age group. The biggest truth, though, might be this: Social media is a huge and defining presence in the lives of most Gen Z members. That prevalence, in turn, has driven other trends in marketing and commerce. Brands find themselves needing act more like humans and less like a carefully scripted position statement.
Today’s young buyers have more options than ever before in terms of how and where they spend their money. Businesses must future-proof their offerings by factoring Gen Z into their social-media strategies for 2019 and beyond. Help them answer the question, “Why should I choose you over the next brand?” and you’ll create a devoted base within the next big generation of consumers.
Here are several ways to can play to this crowd’s preferences as you tailor new messages and craft new campaigns.
Instagram is arguably the epitome of visual branding in the age of social media.
Of the three major platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), Instagram is the clear-cut winner among Gen Z. This trend contributes to the universal shift toward a more visually oriented online experience.
Brands that want to connect with young people must understand how to engage people and build an Instagram following. Instagram is a natural pairing for some brands, such as clothing and restaurants.
Other industries don’t have it so easy. Financial-services providers don’t initially appear to have much visual appeal. Yet PayPal used Instagram to reinvent its image in a highly relatable way. In 2013, the brand launched a social campaign that depicted real stories from PayPal users. Adopting a format similar to that of “Humans of New York,” PayPal posted visual representations of individual users and detailed how the service solved a problem or made their lives easier. The campaign led to a 327 percent increase in engagement.
PayPal recognized how to inject everyday realism into its image. Unfortunately, many business make the mistake of creating posts for themselves instead of their followers and potential broader audience. You’ve seen these images time again, often in the form of visuals that mimic coupons or flashy discounts. Businesses should concentrate instead on content that connects with people on a personal level.
A few, direct questions — answered honestly — will tell you if your messages are failing to relate to customers:
- Do people use your product or service in everyday life?
- How does your offering improve those lives?
- How are you making the world a better place?
Once you refine your core message, you can consider partnering with an Instagram influencer to promote your brand. This strategy can do wonders to gather more interest and conversation. The content and the person presenting it work together to humanize your brand, solidifying your values in a visual representation.
Invest more in video.
The introduction of Facebook Live in 2016 and IGTV in 2018 all but guaranteed video content is the future of the internet. Studies reveal Gen Z watches an average of 68 videos per day on five different platforms.
The key to capitalize on this viewership? Properly investing in the right kinds of video and distribution channels. Brands need to work to understand how video content can be used to create a unique brand persona, educate audiences and tell a story that relates to target customers.
First and foremost, businesses need to invest in strong personalities. Many brands put their resources into formats such as Q&As, explainers, demonstrations and webinars. Even the most stellar information can be rendered useless if the person delivering it is bland or uninviting. That’s especially true with younger videos. Before you can start building a video personality that fits your brand, you’ll need to create a few archetypes for your target audiences:
- What do they look like?
- How do they talk?
- What are their personal interests?
- What issues do they feel strongly about?
- What are their biggest dislikes?
Gen Z values brands that support causes. In today’s world, social issues are front and center nearly every time you look at your social-media news feeds. To truly resonate with younger customers, you can’t be afraid to take a stance on certain issues. Pick your battles. For example, the topical menu on Ben & Jerry’s YouTube channel covers much more than ice cream. Hosts and guests talk about issues related to climate change and democracy. They also show how their people put company values into play by making a positive difference in the broader community.
Commit to authenticity.
Smart devices and social media have spawned an intense culture of constant connectedness. Humans are exposed to more brand messaging than they know what to do with. As a byproduct of this phenomenon, people have developed an extremely precise radar for BS. Gen Z was raised in this reality, so it’s safe to say its members began developing this sense from the day they were able to lift a smart phone. Brands must take authenticity on social media very seriously. Otherwise, they risk losing potential sales and sparking backlash.
Earlier this year, big-data group IRI released findings from two studies of Gen Z shopping attitudes, purchasing behaviors and emotional drivers. Bob Tomei, the company’s president of Consumer & Shopper Marketing and Core Content Services, summarized the results in a to-the-point public statement: “Gen Z is deeply motivated by authenticity and a brand’s emotional DNA, which we define as how completely a product or brand aligns with the values shoppers attribute to it. Because Gen Z shoppers rely more on brand recognition to make purchase decisions than their millennial counterparts, it is critical that manufacturers and retailers create transparent and authentic relationships with the Gen Z population early on to build loyalty as their purchasing power grows.”
If your company aims to support a cause, you must be able to draw strong parallels to your brand values. Outdoor-clothing brand Patagonia uses its social channels to promote a commitment to environmental awareness and conservation. Its company blog, “The Cleanest Line,” announced last month’s $10 million donation to grassroots environmental groups in a post titled “Our Urgent Gift to the Planet.”
Brands no longer can get by with overly promotional, played-out sales tactics. Companies and their spokespeople instead need to focus on building relationships. Social media enables a direct and immediate communication with customers. Humanizing your messages helps cement your core values. Ultimately, it’s this sense of authenticity that makes people care. With this in mind, brands should use social media as an avenue to present their backstory, purpose and overall uniqueness.