Exponential’s Jim Johnson Featured on Advertising Week on How To Persuade a Generation of Marketing Skeptics

  • August 17, 2017

Gen Z & Brand Loyalty: How to Persuade a Generation of Marketing Skeptics

Generation “Z” comprises of people born generally between 1995 up to 2010. Although there is little agreement on that specific date range (or even the term Gen Z itself), the one thing that’s certain is that these individuals are unlike any other demographic grouping we’ve seen in history. Most obviously, they’ve all grown up within a technologically driven world where any information is a quick search away, lending itself to instant gratification. They are also the most ethnically diverse cohort in the U.S., with an estimate from Frank N. Magid and Associates putting the makeup at 55% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 14% African American, 4% Asian, and 4% multi-racial.

For marketers, the challenge remains the same; capture attention and demonstrate that your message, product or service is worth it. What’s changed are the rules around how to engage, maintain loyalty, and ultimately provide some value in exchange for that engagement and loyalty. How can this be done with this new emerging group? I outline some ideas below. Keep in mind that the COPPA Act restricts data collection and marketing activities aimed at children under the age of 13, so all of the recommendations here assume that this has been taken into consideration.

1. Mobile + Location
While millennials are often mentioned as a mobile-first generation, it’s really Gen Z who grew up not knowing what a busy signal meant. All they’ve known is texting, messaging and instant access to the world in the palm of their hands. It’s all a double-edged sword for marketers, really. On one hand, you have access to a group of people who are always connected in some way, either via apps, mobile web, messaging services or even streaming audio. On the other, you have a group of people who have become accustomed to tuning out marketing messages regardless of device. The trick is to use their mobility as the key to strike up a conversation, offering some value exchange in return. Location based mobile providers offer insight into the places they visit, how often they frequent them, and how long they stay there. This context is hugely powerful in understanding the physical world Gen Z lives in, and marketers can take advantage by encouraging them to return to those places they frequent, inviting their friends along, or sharing their experiences in exchange for monetary or loyalty based incentives. Even in the absence of any incentive, knowing that this generation prefers sharing experiences over consuming goods (similar to millennials), a simple reminder of their good times can be enough for them to return in the future (think of Facebook’s “On This Day” meets retargeting).

2. Gen Z is More Fiscally Conserative: Marketers should respect their experiences
Although they are young, they are not without life experience. Gen Z grew up with 9/11 and the subsequent “War on Terror” altering their sense of security and safety at home. The Great Recession of 2007-2009 had them watching their parents struggle through the housing crisis and its economic aftermath, that in many ways is still felt today. This manifests itself in how they view money and spending. Lincoln Financial Group goes so far as to compare them to the “Greatest Generation” that grew up during the Great Depression, further mentioning that their top three priorities are getting a job, finishing college, and safeguarding their money. Without delving deeply into the impacts of lower consumer spending on deflation, it’s clear that the economic stakes are high and that marketers have their work cut out for them in convincing this group to part with their hard earned money. In recognizing their life experience, we also need to consider their consumer experience. Understanding these key factors is vital to recognizing the need to add value to a product or service wherever possible, which brings me to my next point…

3. Aim for 1:1 Connections
Omnichannel Marketing promises to deliver a consistent and seamless consumer experience at every touchpoint, regardless of channel and device. While there are some technical hurdles for marketers to overcome in order to correctly identify a consumer for a true 1:1 conversation, one way to clear these hurdles without getting bogged down in cookie or device matching is to segment consumers based on need. At each stage of the purchase decision making process, a consumer will need additional information about your product or service, and will expect to find it via your website, social media pages or search. Customer journey mapping will help you better understand the signals your customers are sending you at each stage, enabling you to meet them halfway with pull marketing tactics such as content that provides answers to FAQ’s about your products and services, or customer testimonials to highlight your top product and service benefits. Since Gen Z are digital natives with their smartphone as the centerpiece of communication, offering this information in a mobile friendly way is a must (ie. social media channels, mobile video, or opt-in SMS and email marketing vs. traditional whitepaper downloads).

4. Think Creatively and Sparingly
Gen Z, not unlike every generation of kids and teenagers before them, tend to view the world as the “grass is greener somewhere else”. Media consumption offers an escape from the everyday drudgery of suburbia, school and siblings, and advertising should do the same. Millward Brown’s 2017 AdReaction study not only mentions the fact that Gen Z is “significantly more likely to skip ads, (is) turned off by invasive, interruptive formats, (and is) highly discriminating and more averse to advertising in general.” They also note that they “prefer short content and the opportunity to interact with ads” as well as recommending that “the best ways to engage them are through music and humor.” Interestingly, the same study found that they are more open to ads appearing in traditional media formats over digital, likely due to their status as “digital natives” and the tendency for some less tasteful publishers and marketers to overload the digital ecosystem with poor user experiences in favor of profits.

5. Have Something to Say
Marketers may understandably be a bit gun-shy about making social commentary or borrowing from current events in the face of increasing consumer backlash across social media channels (think Pepsi and its Kendall Jenner spot), but Gen Z is especially attuned to social causes and the brands that support them. After all, they may be young, but they’ve already lived through some major historical moments, ones that will shape how they purchase and consume products and services over their next 40 to 50 years. The brands that respect and honor the world they live in will be the ones who ultimately gain their loyalty.