Members of Generation Z, America's youngest generation (born in 1996 or later), have never lived in a time when the Internet did not exist. For the Gen Zers, the barrier to real-time information and communication has always been nearly nonexistent.
By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40% of all consumers, making it more important than ever to successfully connect with and engage this generation to create lifelong relationships. While many brands invest in Millennial marketing initiatives, with Gen Z, everything is going to get even crazier.
Researchers say goldfish have a longer attention span than Gen Z (6-8 seconds). This is technically correct. But what the data doesn't indicate is why. Gen Zers have a fast-paced, highly selective and decisive filter -- something that marketers have never encountered before. However, once Gen Zers find something they deem "worthy" they can become obsessively committed and engaged. This creates a unique opportunity, but it also requires a new perspective and approach.
When I am asked, "What was the ROI?" the question goes in one ear and out the other. When executives use the acronym ROI, they are using the typical meaning, which stands for Return On Investment. However, I think of it in terms of Return On Interaction. Putting resources toward relationships and engagement, and giving value to meaningful interaction -- meaningful to them and you -- will mean far more for your brand than any form of traditional advertising, marketing or communication.
The point of all human relationships is connection, and marketing really starts to become effective when word-of-mouth communication ignites. If the key to a human relationship is connection, wouldn't it make sense to invest in interactions, find connection points and create an authentic relationship?
If your brand can in essence "become friends" with as many people as possible through interactions, then you not only create brand-loyal consumers, but friends who become "zombie loyalists." Yes, it is possible for brands to find that connection with people using traditional methods (it has been done for ages). The difference is the value plus time given by the brand to invest in the relationship.
Rather than talking at the consumer, talk with them to find a connection. Brands need to go deeper into the data, and meet Gen Z where they are at.
1. Don't try too hard.
Relatability is the authenticity of today. A general misconception regarding Gen Z is that they commonly use acronyms like 'LOL,' 'JK,' 'WTF,' 'OMG' or 'SMH' while texting. When brands use this type of language in an attempt to look trendy, it comes off as unauthentic and fake. Today's youth act and behave like adults, and they want to be treated as such.
Rather than focusing on current jargon, brands need to pay close attention to trends that are on the verge of virality. Finding a unique and funny way to incorporate these in your strategy is a surefire way to pave a path to virality and forge true connections with Gen Z. Perfect examples of this in execution can be found on Taco Bell's Twitter account. Not only do they creatively engage with fans, they actively create campaigns around the things they see we care about.
2. Rethink social media.
The impact of social media on Gen Z has no precedent. For generations, health, financial prosperity and relationships have played pivotal roles in one's personal happiness. However, according to the Center for Generational Kinetics, nearly 40% of Gen Zers says social media has a direct impact on their happiness. In order to effectively connect with Gen Z through social media, brands now have to find a way to "lift up" their Gen Z consumers to make them feel like heroes.
A prime example is DJ Khaled's Snapchat story. Khaled tells viewers, "Baby, you smart! You loyal! You a genius!" while simultaneously using simple motivational phrases such as "There will be roadblocks, but we will overcome them." There is a reason brands like Dove and Ciroc have teamed up with Khaled. Aside from having one of the most-viewed Snapchat stories on the planet, he has created a loyal community by making viewers feel like the heroes.
3. Prove the impact.
In many ways, Gen Z has grown up in a world they sense is corrupted. They have lived through constant terrorist attacks, a recession and wars. This generation is worried about the future, but it is also ready to take action. Sixty percent of Gen Zers want their jobs to have an impact on the world, and 80% will more often buy a product that has a social or environmental impact. Not only does Gen Z expect brands to have an impact, they expect them to show it.
Companies like Boxed Water have aligned their entire product and brand with a cause they care deeply about. For instance, Boxed Water's slogan, which appears on every product, is "Boxed Water is better." The reason, as the company makes clear in its marketing material, is that not only are you buying water, you're buying a better earth for everyone. Boxed Water is dedicated to planting one million trees by 2020 and changing the way we think about purchasing water.
Give your Gen Z consumer the tools to feel they are making the world a better place. Create innovative campaigns that don't appear to be self-centered, but that nevertheless add value.
4. Leverage visuals.
The average Gen Z consumer sees 200,000 marketing messages before they hit the age of 15. They have naturally learned to quickly decipher what matters. The key for brands hoping to quickly and effectively connect with Gen Z is to create and curate content that makes them feel comfortable.
Brands such as Denny's, Wendy's and Bud Light have found that the best way to do this is through GIFs. Below is an example of a GIF that went viral after Obama "dropped the mic" to conclude his speech at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. The reason GIFs work so well is that everyone can relate to them. They are also super short, perfectly aligning with the decision-making filter of Gen Z.
5. Be real.
Honesty, transparency and authenticity. These are the three traits brands must implement at the core. If you truly want to implement these traits, you have to connect with Gen Z on their own terms. Gen Z views brands as guilty until proven innocent, so taking the extra step to not only capture their attention but bring value to interactions is crucial.
This column was co-authored by GenZ marketing strategist Connor Blakley and originally published on Youth Logix on July 26, 2016.