By Meredith Chase, VP of Client Strategy, Swift (a POSSIBLE agency)
Gen-Zers first appeared online when their parents uploaded in-utero sonograms to Facebook and have been surrounded by social media ever since. They sift through media on multiple channels (five to 10 is normal) with the efficiency of a search engine.
Confronted with nonstop content, this generation--whose oldest wave just graduated from high school--has developed a sort of brand blindness, scrolling past anything that feels like marketing.
So, the death knell of advertising?
Consider it a call to brands and agencies to get sharper on strategy, content and audience.
A few rules of engagement:
1. Gen Z is the most pragmatic group since the GI generation
Solution: Serve up education along with entertainment.
Every generation is defined by those that came before, and Generation Z is no exception.
They are more realistic and cautious than Millennials, less cutthroat than Generation X and more poly-cultural than any previous generation in American history.
They care deeply about issues of social justice and equality and have a thirst for self-improvement.
There's a huge opportunity for brands to deliver content that promotes education and connects with the issues, obsessions and moments Gen Z cares about most.
The agency I work for tapped into this insight last Valentine's Day with our "Coded with Love" campaign for Google's Made with Code initiative (a program that inspires young girls to pursue their passions through coding). Out with flowers and chocolate, in with messages of love and positivity.
The campaign highlighted groups and individuals using code to make a difference, such as an app that helps teens find local volunteer opportunities and Wi-Fi enabled teddy bears that allow person-to-person hugs.
Another component used creative social content to prompt girls to code and share animated hearts, leading to a high volume of coding project engagements on madewithcode.com.
The strategy resonated with a generation that sees Valentine's Day as an occasion to express love on a broader spectrum than romance.
2. Credibility comes from neutral sources
Solution: Get to know the constellation around the supernova.
Gen Z doesn't want to be told what's cool, they want to discover what's cool.
One way they do this is by following the stylists, trainers, writers and producers who are close to celebs for a more intimate look behind the scenes.
Sure, they want to know what Kylie Jenner and Bruno Mars are up to, but they're equally interested in the supporting cast. There is greater cachet in knowing who they are specifically because they're not in the limelight.
Brands that form alliances with these almost-famous players boost credibility with Gen Z.
We recently conducted research with teens in New York and L.A. and learned that brands earn authenticity points when they identify people shown in photos.
They pointed to teen fashion juggernaut Brandy Melville (3.6 million followers on Instagram), which regularly tags models in posts.
They are "real people," not professional models, which sets an expectation of accessibility and makes the content feel more believable.
3. FOBO is replacing FOMO
Solution: Enhance the experience.
Forget Millennials' anxiety about missing out on fun stuff their friends are doing. Generation Z is fearful of being offline, period.
But they aren't in it for the technology and they're not hung up on being digital natives. (That's just what older people call them.)
Kids spend tons of time on social platforms to connect with friends, influencers, news and yes, brands. Marketers who want to form long-lasting relationships with teens need to understand the nuances of each channel and deliver the emotional payoff Gen Z craves.
This is where one-to-one messaging apps like Snapchat kill it. Gen Z regards Snapchat as the "realest" social channel--a place to be casual (not as curated as Instagram), creative (so many hacks), and direct (personalized messaging).
And because it's ephemeral, it carries a sense of urgency and feels closest to a real-life conversation.
Brands can win by creating geofilters and lenses tied to cultural moments, enabling users to build clever Snapchat stories that also happen to get a brand's name out there.
Hollister, another clothing label catering to teens, keyed into prevailing attitudes last fall with a "Friday Vibes" Snapchat filter. The lens targeted nearly 20,000 North American high school campuses and allowed users to apply a subtly branded overlay to images.
It worked because the audience was already in the habit of sharing photos that evoke a chill TGIF mood: now they could put a fresh twist on it.
The brand struck a chord by giving followers something useful without dictating how it should be used, a smart approach for a (surprisingly!) sensible generation.
Keep these strategies in mind when crafting your message, and remember to treat Gen Z like people, not the next great unknown.