Marketers Must Stop Playing Their Own ‘Game Of Thrones’

It’s popular to say we want to put the customer at the center of the marketing experience, but it’s much more complicated to make it a reality. While you may suspect the challenge is with the data or technology, it’s actually something far more basic.

The problem is a human one that we should all admit: Executives can be a competitive bunch. CMOs, CIOs, and CTOs often play a miniature “Game of Thrones,” with everyone throwing up big walls around their precious data and refusing to share. 

This behavior is rapidly becoming a liability for brands on the cusp of engaging with a new type of customer. In four short years, Gen Z, the next generation of consumers, will comprise 40% of the market, and they have significantly different expectations about how (and why) marketers need to put them in the middle of their efforts.

Essentially, this difference boils down to two points. The first is data-awareness. Younger consumers know they have a large data footprint; in exchange, they expect brands to use that to deliver personalized, connected experiences. For example, according to a Wunderman-commissioned study, 81% said they have negative feelings about brands that don’t connect in-store and online experiences. If you’re playing games with data, that’s bound to happen.

The second point is cultural. Gen Zers came of age in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and economic challenges. Since they were born, the world has lurched from crisis to crisis. The most obvious of these, of course, is 9/11, but they’ve also been buffeted by the housing crash, the global war on terror, and now one of the most disruptive presidential campaigns in history. As a result, they are practical and careful, and, as consumers, they will be difficult to engage and harder to retain. As further context, its important to consider the following:

They don’t trust brands: Eighty-four percent of Gen Zs distrust authority figures, including brands, our study found. As a result, we have to be far more conscious of delivering honest and consistent messages—and living up to our promises and stated values. For example, they won’t just evaluate brands based on products alone; they will also look at how a company treats its employees and the community in which it operates, as well.

They’re self-reliant: Growing up in an uncertain world, you learn to do things yourself. In previous generations, parents were often considered a good source of information. Today, 74% of Gen Zs told us they rely on their own research to obtain knowledge and that includes comparison shopping, warranty information, and reviews, our study showed. Brands will need to provide more detailed information to aid their decision-making process, including resale value, how to take care of products, and delivering customer service that exceeds their expectations.

They’re practical, not dreamy: Millennials wanted jobs that not merely paid well but were emotionally fulfilling, too. Gen Z is vastly more pragmatic. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of them want to go to college so they can learn valuable employment skills, rather than study something they love, our study found. What’s more, nearly half (47%) of them prioritize higher salaries as the priority for choosing a job. As consumers, that translates to a preference for quality and reliability over a familiar brand name.

Gen Z = Brand Me: They’ve also grown up in a world of highly specialized content where they can seek out their own entertainment from an infinity of choices on services, such as YouTube, Twitch, Snapchat, and Netflix. Thirty-eight percent expect content to be created specifically for them, and 40% want brands to make it easier to find things they’re interested in, our research revealed. Unified data is critical here. Rather than simply knowing what someone is—a 17-year-old girl living in L.A., for example—we need to know who she is and what she needs. That requires us to move beyond personas and toward people; out of siloes and into insight.

Above all, the next few years hold a single task for all brands: Get on the same page. We have to leave the drama to HBO and sit down to declare a big truce. This generation is not, and will not, respond well to our current approach. They expect and demand a transparent, honest, high-quality experience that speaks directly to them.

To do that, we’re going to need all the help we can get. All of the data we have needs to be shared and evaluated across business units, where a diversity of smart people with different mindsets can ask questions of that data and tease out insights. With that, we can lay the foundation for the creative ideas that will resonate with these new consumers.

When it comes to the fictional “Game of Thrones,” everyone loves a good battle or palace coup. But our reality in marketing is that infighting presents a very real threat to the future of brands.

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