Generation Z is maturing.
The eldest are heading to the workforce, ready for change and motivated to “fix” what they see as wrong, while the youngest are challenging their parents to raise them in a more gender-fluid and digitally dominated culture. Generational thinking does not hold all the answers, putting cultures and large numbers of people into one box, but Gen Z has a lot to teach marketers.
Technology and media savvy, Generation Z moves effortlessly through platforms and is using these skills to effect change. Politically and socially aware, they have unlimited access to information and the tools to make a big impact on the world they live in.
Most organisations were too slow in preparing for the change millennials would seek and the same is true of Gen Z. Although this happens with every shift in generation, this one is big. Once brands turn their attention more to satisfying their needs and speaking to their values, the change is going to be seismic. This will affect all brands focused on this group, as Gen Z has high standards. Even if you’re not trying to target them directly, you’ll still be exposed to them in some way.
Plan Of Action
For brands to engage with Gen Z, there are four strategies that will help businesses create change and build a brand from a true Gen-Z perspective. They are not, on the face of it, radical, but don’t be fooled; the subtlety in the detail of how to execute them is crucial.
1. It Is What It Is.
A no-frills, simple approach can work well for certain categories or brands such as shoe and clothing company TOMS, which is clear on its product and purpose. Gen Z won’t tolerate anything else. They are looking for purpose-driven strategy but are also realists and can be cynical about corporations. This approach can go wrong if the purpose seems inauthentic; this new generation is value-driven, media savvy, and can smell bullshit.
2. Ok. I’m In.
Once you have established your no-frills, authentic role, brands must activate it in a meaningful way. Purpose-driven brands create a more emotional connection so you must be doing something that has value among their generation. This is not about creating an ad which pulls at the heart strings. This is about real purpose. Sport England demonstrates this well with the #Thisgirlcan campaign which connected with Gen Z and beyond. This is authenticity that’s not just an aspirational tone of voice, but that’s rooted deep into the organisation and brand team. If a 12-year-old walked into your organisation and asked “why does your business deserve to be around?” you should be able to give them an answer that’s credible. Profit is important for the business, but Gen Z consumers want purpose.
3. We Hear You.
Reacting in big, bold ways to emerging issues and values that previous generations were behind on, Gen Z is light years ahead on topics like gender, mental health, sexuality, and diversity in general. Currently, they don’t see brands reflecting the world in an authentic way. There are some attempts to do this. Maltesers was brave in the Channel 4 ad break during the 2016 Paralympics. It made big news, was widely applauded, and had purpose.
4. Hack It.
If you are not innovating, you are already stagnating. The industry still pumps money into a lot of traditional advertising, yet some of the most popular brands among Gen Z do no above-the-line (ATL). Collectible toy brand Num Noms launched with zero ATL advertising, which is almost unheard of in the toy industry. Its heavy YouTube strategy was the key to its success. Popular Gen Z brands invest in innovation, pack design, brand assets, and product design. Throw in an influencer strategy to see the product approved, and it’s a winning formula. Gen Z’s visual sense is drowning in stimuli. If you’re in the business of making physical goods, this can play into your hands—use this advantage wisely by targeting senses like touch, smell, and taste.
There is still a long way to go for brands trying to authentically engage with this audience. The key starting point is to understand it’s not about making small changes. It’s about being bold and ensuring your organisation is ready for the new Gen Z consumer.
Engage honestly, simply, mean what you say, and continue to innovate—as the next new generation won’t be far behind.