Marketers need to start planning and preparing for the new, unique lens through which Generation Z sees the world, according to panelists at Advertising Week in New York City.
Jonah Stillman, a Gen Z expert and co-author of “Gen Z @ Work,” took the stage to talk about the differences between Gen Z consumers and their predecessors.
“[Generation Z] sees no difference between the physical and digital worlds,” Stillman told the audience. “This is a generation that is native to technology and has complete comfortability with [their] phones.” In order for marketers to successfully engage this group, he said, it is important to be equally relevant both online and offline.
His advice to brands was to keep the messaging and stories realistic and hyper-customized, as this is a cohort who understands that their digital engagement shapes the content and messaging they see. According to Dean Chandler, SVP of brand partnerships at India-based media company Vatsana Technologies, Gen Z realizes that brands collect their data, and they are willing to negotiate their information in exchange for value and customization of experiences. They expect the right message at the right time, and they also appreciate the ability to share the experiences they have with brands.
Jesus Chavez, CEO of digital media company Vertical Networks, addressed the importance of social media in the lives of Generation Z. But you won’t find them on Facebook, he said. Rather, they are spending their time on platforms such as iMessage, Snapchat, and Instagram. “Social is a part of their life,” Chavez said. “It’s how they find and consume content.”
Smart brands also recognize Gen Z’s reliance and trust in social media and are taking existing social behaviors and applying them to commerce, according to India Wooldridge, SVP and director at McCann Truth Central, the research unit of McCann. One example is through curated communities such as Sephora’s Beauty Talk. Wooldridge said she expects that content will play a big role in moving Gen Z through the purchase funnel.
“[Marketers need to] establish that voice with them and have them habitually interact with your content,” she told Ad Week attendees. By forming a habit with a brand as a content creator, the commerce end of the engagement will happen naturally.
Liz McDonnell, VP of content at student affiliate network UNiDAYS, talked about how Gen Z is the first generation to always be able to get an answer to anything. She joked that bar fights aren’t likely in this generation, as they have Google and other platforms to answer any questions or disputes instantaneously.
McCann’s Wooldridge brought up the fact that Generation Z has grown up with terrorism and a financial crisis, which has shaped them into pragmatic, price-conscious consumers. “This has shaped how they view the world and what they expect,” she said. “Many have grown up with an African-American president, where love is love, and social equality is very important to them.” Equality is non-negotiable, and inclusivity is top-of-mind, Chavez added.
Vatsana’s Chandler said that Generation Z can smell disingenuous messaging, so brands should stick to standing for something that aligns to their DNA. “Align to what you believe,” he said.
And, Wooldridge added, “put your money where your mouth is.” An example of a company that is succeeding: Fenty Beauty, which Woolridge said has inclusive DNA in its core. From a product perspective, the undertones of this makeup line cover everybody. “To me, they are the holy grail of standard,” she said.
As for traditional brands with a legacy heritage, they should focus on seeding the ground for what their future audience will look like, Vertical Networks’’ Chavez said.