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Be Fast, Engaging and Relevant to Win Over Generation Z

Hal Conick

girls sitting on bench using their phones

Brands can’t afford to think about Gen Z as they do millennials, according to Francisco Serrano, CEO and president of 121 Global Branding and author of Brain-Ding

Gen Z, now the largest generational group, is quickly getting more spending power.

Millennial Marketing’s “The Power of Gen Z Influence” reports that Generation Z—the generation born in or after 1996—already spends $44 billion a year on themselves and influences $600 billion in other people’s spending. Earlier this year, research from Epsilon found that Generation Z is twice as likely to use an online-only store or brand website than any other generation.

Francisco Serrano, CEO and president of 121 Global Branding and author of Brain-Ding The Strategy: A successful marketing plan has to include brain-ding as the ultimate strategy, says that he’s built his company on the principles needed to reach Generation Z: Reach them fast, provide instant gratification, be relevant and engaging.

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“Brand marketers that currently market to Gen Z successfully are doing so by appealing to this sense of freedom,” he says. “Being transparent, creating brand experiences and marketing tactics that subvert gender and racial stereotypes are all ways some of the best brands are getting through to Gen Z.”

Marketing News spoke with Serrano about how brands are currently marketing to Generation Z, what must change and what will happen to brands that don’t change to meet the desires of the youngest generation.

How do most brands currently market to Generation Z?

Many brands market to Gen Z as if they are millennials. This is largely due to both generations being technologically savvy, as most millennials and Gen Z members can maneuver the digital world with ease. However, these two generations should never be lumped together. Millennials are cord-cutters while Gen Z never had cords to cut. Their use of devices that aren’t tethered to a physical location is a symbol of the freedom Gen Z feels from traditional social norms.

Gen Z will represent 40% of the market by 2020. How must brands change to meet their desires?

Brands must be willing to be as diverse as this young generation when it comes to messaging. Gen Z has been miscast as not being loyal to brands—that simply isn’t true. Appeals based solely on the weight of a brand’s name are not as effective, but brands that prove they care about the same issues as younger consumers can turn perceived apathy into genuine loyalty.

Telling authentic stories that allow for an intimate look into the purpose behind the brand is one of the best ways to capture the attention of Gen Z. This is risky, as oftentimes this may result in taking sides on an issue, but this generation isn’t moved by neutrality.

If you aren’t visible and engaged with the media outlets they turn to, then it’s a moot point. Gen Z members are far more likely to be browsing social media on their smartphones than sitting down and watching television. The health and beauty industry, specifically makeup brands, has been a shining example of how to reach members of Gen Z where they already are.

Cosmetic brands, by taking advantage of mobile devices, Instagram and YouTube, have started steering away from celebrity endorsements and toward opinion leaders within the communities where younger people interact. These micro-influencers are proving to be a great investment for brands, but brands can and should be looking at a targeted mix of popular content formats such as podcasts and livestreams, which are great for engagement.

You said that brands must reach this generation of consumers quickly and provide instant gratification. What’s the best example of this you’ve seen on the market?

Amazon is one example of a brand that is reaching consumers quickly and creatively. We all know about two-day shipping, but they are constantly looking for new ways to innovate their delivery systems. Amazon is doing some cool things in the world of marketing as well, such as subscription services and the ability to make purchases with voice through their Amazon devices. These tactics highlight Amazon’s speed and innovation and are strongly pushing CPGs to market these capabilities.

Because of their size and ubiquity, Amazon has multiple niches and the luxury of being selective, so they invite influencers to sign up instead of seeking them out. A lesson that many brands can take away is how Amazon is able to lead Gen Z members to its own platforms. The company concedes space on their website to these influencers, which not only goes further than putting products in the hands of influencers, but links Amazon to Gen Z’s preferred sources for purchasing decisions.

What tools must brands use to provide content that’s not only fast and gratifying, but relevant and engaging?

Speed really is the name of the game. One of the more exciting tools available that can help deliver quality content efficiently is artificial intelligence. Providing mailing lists as an example—it is possible with AI to go further than just including the recipient’s name in the subject line while keeping body copy the same. Real-time data collection can deliver hyper-targeted information that is truly personalized, making for much more effective communication. It really should be the ace in the hole for brand and content marketers.

What do you think will happen to brands that don’t change their techniques to meet the next generation of consumers?

Saying brands will disappear sounds like an overstatement, but it’s corporate Darwinism. Seemingly eternal names such as Blockbuster and Kodak are famous cases of brands not being agile or fast enough to think about what’s coming and act.

Gen Z is driving what is to come and what is thriving here in the present. As brands are starting to tap into what makes Gen Z, well, Gen Z over time, it will become harder and harder to be appealing to a maturing generation.

Hal Conick is a freelance writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at halconick@gmail.com or on Twitter at @HalConick.