Gen Z is a unique demographic and reaching it requires the application of nuanced psychographic criteria. Given this context, brands need to consider four key aspects when trying to reach this generation.
Gen Z places great importance on social relevance. Therefore, to reach this generation, brands need to come up with a new social value contract. This generation also needs to feel connected by an authentic anchoring to the brand, i.e. not only focused on the product but also on social responsibility issues, such as diversity, inclusion and the climate crisis.
Gen Z also likes to test the relevance and coherence of brands by asking: “Why does the brand exist?” A brand’s relevance is often put to the test in specific unforeseen social events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement or the climate demonstrations led by Greta Thunberg.
Obviously, it is difficult for organisations to build in this social relevance from the outset, and even harder to become an activist brand like Patagonia or Ben & Jerry’s. However, all brands need to find their own ‘North Star’ with clear cardinal points and a social responsibility goal that resonates with their audience and remains consistent day after day, social movement after social movement
Gen Z also aspires to a new form of interaction with brands based on dialogue, listening and, sometimes, even taking control of the brand. This ‘democratic’ interaction is not an option, it’s already happening. It is not about controlling every single aspect of the interaction, but rather embracing it and seeing it as a unique opportunity to truly connect with this generation.
A good example of successful interaction between brands and their target audience is Overtime, a media outfit specialising in US sports. The company has employed user-generated content (UGC) in an organic and effective way to increase company awareness and engagement to such an extent that even American sports and media giants like ESPN and the NBA are envious.
Similarly, TikTok – Gen Z’s preferred platform by far – has become an incredibly powerful tool. TikTok’s ‘mobile and video first’ approach draws on an incredible pool of Gen Z creators, as well as providing them with the opportunity to appropriate and redefine brands using their own codes and means of expression.
Finally, Gen Z is redefining brand loyalty with ‘defiant loyalty’. This new form of engagement is based on a combination of 5 key factors. Gen Zedders want convenience. They’d rather access products and services than owning them. For them, the need to form an authentic emotional link in their relationship with a brand is central. They favour new sources of trust and decision-making support (celebrities and influencers) over traditional media. And while belonging to a community is central to their lives, they are also keen to maintain their individuality.
Certain brands like Nike have understood that this generation is not like any that came before. They have managed to create strong direct links with their audiences, mainly due to accelerating their ‘direct to consumer’ strategy while also allowing high levels of personalisation. These brands cleverly activate trusted sources (contracted athletes and celebrities) to support their cause and create a strong community feeling around their mission.
Gen Z is also a multi-faceted generation. Brands would be wise to see Gen Z through the prism of a triple identity:
Several key elements must be considered in this new paradigm.
Firstly, virtual human experiences, such as games, virtual reality experiences and avatars, are becoming an extremely important aspect of Gen Zedders’ social lives. These 24/7 barrier – and judgement-free ecosystems enable new means of expression and new dedicated communities.
Consider the success of virtual concerts, such as Travis Scott in Fortnite, which had 12 million simultaneous views, or the emergence of CGI influencers like Lil Miquela who has millions of followers on social networks; these examples are symbolic of how this generation connects to their virtual identities.
At the same time, Gen Zedders also seek out immersive real-life experiences that allow them to reconcile their on – and offline identities to create ‘Instagrammable’ moments that showcase their passions and interests (rather than just consuming products). The recent emergence of immersive experiences, such as Rose Mansion, Candytopia and Electric Gamebox or the growing number of events -based pop-up stores in major cities (before the COVID-19 pandemic) demonstrates the need to go beyond the product to reach and connect with Generation Z.
Winning the battle for customers’ attention will be one of the greatest challenges in coming years. To be victorious, especially with Gen Z, winning brands will have to respect 5 core principles:
In the context of the attention economy coupled with the acceleration of 5G and AI, we are entering into a period of phenomenal opportunity for brands. Gen Z is the first generation to demonstrate its full potential. We are just at the beginning of a fascinating and exciting adventure.
Jérôme HIQUET, founder of StratNXT and former CMO of Formula E, Tough Mudder and Club Med North America.