Connor Blakley's tongue-in-cheek elevator pitch sums up what he does: "I help old people
understand young people."
He was recently named the Chief Marketing Officer for The Campus Agency.

This moment marks a transition as YouthLogic, the company Blakley founded five years ago at the age of 14...

Focusing on providing information about "Generation Z" and youth culture to larger marketing firms, YouthLogic was acquired by the Campus Agency, a leading college marketing brand agency based in Downtown Boston. This acquisition will better align marketing campaigns with the tastes and needs of the growing Generation Z.

While YouthLogic focused on consumer power among young people, the
combination of an agency specializing in one generational cohort and an agency specializing in marketing to people during one specific life stage promises powerful results.

Blakley's broader goal is to help older generations understand current culture, which he defines as "coolness plus relevance." Thus, his new role marks an important transition from YouthLogic and for Blakley himself. He insists that the issue is less about generational differences than the context.

"Culture is what ultimately moves brands, so it is imperative that businesses understand culture." Blakley's view of marketing to Generation Z is more holistic than others might expect it to be. While others may just apply the same tactics used for Millennials but tweak them to be more mobile and digital, Blakley insists that there are key differences between the generations that render this strategy ineffective.

For example, he argues that Generation Z is not attention-span deprived, but rather gifted with a well-calibrated "BS meter." He also underscores the fact that context and experiences strongly inform perception, and this dynamic also informs how people market to different groups.

Blakley's emphasis on Generation Z should alert all relevant businesses that this emerging demographic is poised to become some of the world's biggest spenders. Most of human history, dating as far back as.

Socrates, has consisted of intergenerational conflicts in which the older generation assumes that the younger generation is inferior. While this may simply be an aspect of being human, it is critical that companies evaluate their positioning and perceptions of Generation Z.

Even though this generation is our youngest, they develop strong relationships with brands - especially accessible, creative ones that connect with their demographic in particular. For some companies, this might mean a strategic shift away from how things have been done, and for others, it might mean simple tweaking of existing approaches.

In any case, Blakley's success illustrates how valuable knowledge of Generation Z is and his work represents a powerful conduit for brands to effectively connect with this generation.

Here's an edited transcript of our conversation:

Why do you think there's a need for your services?

Brands are failing at marketing to Generation Z. They move too slowly to integrate trends, they try to direct the message when they work with influencers. As with many generations before this, when they use youth culture it seems inauthentic and awkward. The stakes are especially high for Generation Z, because this is a huge generation that is completely tied to the digital world, and we can tell right away if a concept is stale or if someone is not authentic.

So brands' strategies that might have worked for other generations or other market demographics are not really working anymore. It's not enough to just hire a consultant; they need a direct conversation with actual young people. More and more companies are learning this the hard way: They need me.

How do you measure the success of an influencer-based marketing campaign?

A successful influencer-based marketing campaign has to retain the influencer's voice and still get the audience curious about the brand. So measuring its success involves engagement.

How many people liked or commented on the post, or shared it? How many people ended up liking the sponsor's page?

Questions like that are helpful in beginning to evaluate the success, or lack thereof, of a campaign. People need to remember, the reason these influencers grew large and engaged fan audiences, is because they were being themselves. As a brand, you can't take that away!

Where's the growth space in social media today?

Facebook is a joke. Instagram and YouTube are the real growth areas. For marketing directly to Generation Z, the platforms need to be visual. They need to be current and able to move with the trends and integrated into everyday life, so a stale Facebook page is not going to cut it. An Instagram video showing interesting content is better, and synergizing that with a YouTube channel is best of all.

Too many companies have made the mistake of either using these platforms inappropriately or putting too much into platforms that were successful a decade ago. That's not where you are going to find a Generation Z audience. This is the generation of digital intuitiveness, so it is imperative that platforms be used effectively or at least in a way that dovetails with that intuitiveness.

Where have brands gone wrong in talking to GenZ?

They seem to be driven by a need to control all the messages in communicating to this generation, which you can see when they awkwardly work with influencers. They don't seem to get that influencers have the power they do because they are authentic.

However, brands seem determined to drain the authenticity away, and they don't seem to get that Generation Z notices that. Brands think they can impose their message on an influencer, instead of relying on them to use their built-in audience and voice to communicate the brand's message.

Brands need to be less formal and friendlier, connecting in a way that is not just selling things to people. Everyone hates being sold to. But if a brand engages on a peer level and does not take itself too seriously - Wendy's Spotify campaign is a great example of this - then it has a chance of cracking this market.

Conclusion

Connor is one of several GenZ entrepreneurs that will be on a panel at the coming Genius Network Annual Event, which is rumored to have some seriously big names at.

I have no affiliative relationship with either Connor or Genius Network. However, I am a member of the mastermind and, as a psychologist and entrepreneur, report on the fascinating things I'm seeing. 

Published on: Oct 29, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.