Innovator Insights: Five Key Ways to Communicate with Gen Z

Gen Z is one of the most diverse and digitally connected generations ever, and they make account for 40% of global consumers today, and account for $150 billion in spending power in the US alone. At a recent Brand Innovators' livecast called “Marketing to Gen Z," marketing leaders from YouTube, TikTok, LEGO, BABE Wine, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Bulletproof, Fenty Beauty, and other leading brands, shared their experiences and perspectives on how to engage and market to this unique generation.

Gen Z is one of the most diverse and digitally connected generations ever, and they make account for 40% of global consumers today. These digital natives, born between 1996 and 2015, account for $150 billion in spending power in the US alone, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. 

But these consumers are not like generations that have come before them. They expect brands to share their values through active engagement in the issues they care about and at the same time, they do not respond to traditional advertising. 

“Gen Z is probably one of the most authentic and transparent generations and I think they require that from brands,” said Angela Courtin, Global Head of Brand Marketing, YouTube, at Brand Innovators' livecast called “Marketing to Gen Z.”

“They are probably the one generation that looks to brands in terms of their brand voice and how they want them to speak up on the issues they care about,” she continued. “Gen Z inspires brands to think about how their brand can positively impact the consumer's life.”

Not only does Gen Z care about a brand’s actions and purpose-based marketing goals, as digital-first natives, they do not want to be sold to, and they can sniff out advertising a mile away. 

“Gen Z basically grew up with a phone in their hands,” said Shray Joshi, Head of Growth & Retention, Health-Ade Kombucha. “There is a certain amount of pessimism towards traditional media. The B.S. meter is very sensitive with that generation.” 

However, it does not mean that they will not engage with brands. On the contrary this audience loves content and will share it with their friends if it is funny or thought-provoking, even if it was created by a brand. This behavior requires brands to get on a consumer’s level and engage them where they are, by entertaining them rather than interrupting them. 

“Gen Z is extremely creative and extremely funny,” said Joshi. “With this specific audience and this age range you really want to come in with value and entertainment, as well as being clear and concise with what you’re saying. Because they did grow up with their phones, their attention span is quite short. So you need to say what you can say, say it in a cool way, and you’ll see a lot of great feedback with that mindset.“ 

Colgate, for instance, created a Mother’s Day campaign on TikTok, creating a challenge to make Mom smile. Consumers created a wide array of videos from custom dances to serving breakfast in bed. To date, the campaign has generated 5 billion views. Lysol created a six-step healthy habits challenge by commissioning an original song and challenging people to adopt these hygiene measures to stay healthy.

Lego’s whole mission is to create great content that this generation seeks out. “The ultimate goal for our team is to create less ads and instead create great content because that content can become the ads,” said James Gregson, Head of Social Content Studio, LEGO. “I’m a big believer that if it smells like an ad and looks like an ad, it will be consumed like an ad. Whereas, if it’s great content because it’s highly engaging and serves the audience, the results are going to be far greater.”

As brands form their strategies to connect with this emerging demographic, it is also important to remember that they are still young and their minds are still forming. Many in this group are coming of age during 2020, a year with experiences that will shape them for the rest of their lives.

“Think about the things that were taken away from their generation or were reimagined during the last six months that many of us would take for granted in terms of rites of passage,” Courtin said.”Brands and platforms have actually become bridges to continue connecting with their community with finding joy, or finding learning opportunities or just finding ways to cope.”

Here are five key takeaways from the livecast that can help brands think about communicating with Gen Z:

Think globally & equitably. Gen Z has grown up with digital devices and social networks, which has defined their experience and worldview. “This generation is both shaping and being shaping and I think that their power is because of the platforms that they have available to them, they can connect with their neighbor or someone around the world in a nanosecond and the expectation is that that is their community,” said Angela Courtin, Global Head of Brand Marketing, YouTube

“When they have a hot take on social issues, they come at it with the belief that everyone is entitled to a level of equality, not fighting for equality but imbued with equality,” he continued. “It’s a shift for us because whereas we probably think a generation evolves into  being evolved, I think they think that they were born evolved and that they are helping us in our evolution in terms of becoming a more awake society.”

Respond to cultural moments. Gen Z consumers are emotional about the changing world around them and they are not afraid to make their voices heard. Brands should connect to these conversations in authentic and meaningful ways in order to build bridges with this audience. 

“It is really important, especially when you are a consumer good and a lot of your brand is based in these emotional moments that are relevant in the world today, to really be tapped into that culture and to be able to react to it,” said Kathleen Braine, Senior Director of Brand Marketing, BABE Wine, Anheuser-Busch InBev. “You can have the best social listening in the world but if you are not able to react to it immediately then why are you listening?”

BABE Wine aims to have their finger on the pulse of what their customers are talking about. “Then we try to look for what that human insight is and look for where our brand can authentically play,” Braine said. “It is not enough to just comment on things. If you are trying to talk to everyone, you are talking to no one, so how do you join cultural moments and really think about what is happening in the world and still be a human and be authentic to that brand and to who your consumer is. It’s a delicate balance.”  

Embrace Gen Z’s creative energy. Gen Z has a lot of creative energy and brands have an opportunity to build platforms to help these consumers have a voice.“Gen Z, millennials and those on the cusp have so much creative energy that has no one where to go,” said Martin Morse, Vice President of Brand Strategy & Business Development, Bulletproof.

“If you can harness that in a way that allows you as a brand to be the real influencer in partnership, you’ve got something special,” he said. “If you give them an outlet and want to participate with them, you are a real partner and helping to prescribe how your mission and values come across as opposed to having it fit in with an influencer’s existing identity.”

Don’t make ads. TikTok’s is our rallying cry to the industry is “Don't make ads, make TikToks.” Gen Z does not want to be sold to, but they do want to be entertained. Brands should take this advice no matter what channel they use to reach this audience. 

“Don’t make things that are intrusive or are going to get in the way of an entertainment experience,” said Carly Zipp, Global Head of B2B Marketing, TikTok.When we think about advertising and marketing, we all know the ads that enhance your experience as a consumer and your daily life, the ones that get in the way, and the ones that you don't remember in a good way.” 

“We invite brands and marketers to really think about TikTok as an entertainment platform that they should harness the energy of to make cool organic content that is really going to be welcomed by the community and to really play off of the trends,” she continued. “It's that easy.” 

Embrace authenticity. Gen Z cares about the world’s problems and expects brands to use their platforms to make a difference. But marketers must do so in organic and authentic ways or they risk being called out. 

“One of my favorite things about Gen Z is that they’re very diverse, and they use their diversity to take action,” said Aja Thornton, Social Media Marketing Lead, Fenty Beauty.When they are passionate about a social cause, they show up, and they demand change. When it comes to authenticity, Gen Z is not looking to be seen as perfect, they’re looking to be seen as a human. They’re willing to take risks, and be edgier, and shake things up.”

Learn more from these marketing leaders by checking out the full livecast sessions On Demand.

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