How Brands Can Build Connections With Gen Z In 2021

January 21, 2021

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After a 2020 that changed the way that brands connect with consumers for all sorts of demographics, we take a look at how a relationship can be built between brands and the people of generation Z...

After a decade of think pieces, jokes, and marketing analysis, we’ve discussed Millennials ad nauseum. We’re familiar with all the cliches, from the gig economy and the massive student debt to the overpriced avocado toast and green juice. But as a new decade dawns, we need to come to grips with a new generational cohort which promises to frustrate, delight, and challenge parents and marketers alike.

Pew Research has defined Gen Z as people born in 1997 or later. Many generations are defined by technology, with Baby Boomers seen as the children of the television, Gen X as the children of the early internet, and Millennials as creatures of the first wave of social media. The oldest Gen Zers were 10 years old in 2007, at the launch of the first iPhone, and an alternate name for the cohort was the iGeneration. These are children of the smartphone, a device which has shaped the way they see themselves and interact with their peers and society at large. A 2018 survey found that 95% of American teenagers had access to a smartphone, and 45% said they were online “almost constantly.” Let’s take a look at how your brand can connect with the most connected generation in history as their spending power grows at an unprecedented rate

1. Establish Your Values

Gen Z consumers are eager to do business with brands that share their values and are committed to social justice. Larry Milstein, a cofounder of the Gen Z focused consulting firm helloprzm, says that “Gen Zers are much more inclined to vote with our dollars, and believe a brand’s values are a reflection of our own. We’re 3x more likely than older generations to believe a company has a role in improving society.”

Jeremy Baker, a cofounder of the firm Retail Zipline, agrees: "The prevailing cultural narrative often pegs Gen Z as a digital generation that gets caught up by trends they see on social media. The reality is they care about connections and community.” Experts recommend that you treat your employees well, take sustainability seriously, commit to inclusive values, and give back to local communities. And don’t forget to ensure that your social media strategy includes messaging which conveys your values and the concrete actions you’re taking to promote them. Gen Z consumers want brands to reflect their choices and beliefs, and they’ll stay loyal to companies which they see as a force for good in the world.

2. Create A Personality

Gen Z consumers spend most of their time online interacting with social media. And they favor the wacky sensibility of TikTok videos to the immaculately curated Instagram feeds beloved by Millennials. Instead of advertising that makes your product appear perfect, you want to stand out in a crowded field by letting your hair down and getting silly. KFC is doing a great job of creating memorable, viral advertising, like their signature line of Crocs, or their Lifetime mini-movie starring Mario Lopez as a dreamy, lovesick Colonel Sanders. As one marketing expert concludes, “Love it or hate it, what they’ve done well is tap into an irony that Gen Zers gravitate towards, especially in a world where there’s massive uncertainty and unrest.”

3. Trust Is More Important Than Ever

As Victoria Sakal, Managing Director of Brand Intelligence at Morning Consult, recently told Forbes, Gen Zers place a premium on 3 trust building qualities: openness, authenticity, and transparency. According to Sakal, they are by far the most sophisticated consumers at parsing corporate messages, seeing through “canned” content, and directing their dollars to brands that they believe in. The best way to earn their trust is through opening a substantive dialogue, and responding to their wishes and concerns. The good news is that social media allows you to discover their wants, needs, aspirations, and concerns in real time. 

As Larry Milstein explains: “Brand trust is only second to price in terms of determining what brands we’re going to support. You’ve seen brands trip up because they’ve not upheld the standards that they’ve been communicating.” You need to find out what consumers require from you and show them that you’ll deliver. Transparency about how your business operates, who is on your board, and the labor and environmental policies you’ve put in place are things Gen Z consumers are looking for. Actions like this Instagram post from skincare brand Cocokind expressing a commitment to diversity in hiring are sure to resonate with young consumers.

4. Speed Things Up

We all know that speed is vital in eCommerce. You need an interface that allows customers to quickly navigate your website, then instantly add items to a cart and check out. Then you need to deliver within an hour, or a day at most. But Gen Z consumers need even more speed. Research has shown that the average attention span for Millennials when encountering online content is 12 seconds. For Gen Zers, their attention span has been estimated to be a miniscule 8 seconds. They usually click “skip” on skippable ads after 9.6 seconds on average, and research shows that they hate being forced to watch unskippable ads.

So if you’re trying to get your message heard, we’d recommend creating content that fits the formats they love. The average American 13-17 year old spends over 3 hours a day watching videos on their smartphone, and they favor sites with short-form streamable content like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and of course YouTube. We’d recommend that you aim to keep your advertising short and snappy, using YouTube bumper ads, or partnering with influencers who can reach your target audience with well-crafted, snackable videos that they won’t want to skip.   

We know that many readers are sighing at this point. After years of learning about and adapting to Millennial shopping patterns and habits, we’re asking you to start over with younger, more demanding consumers. But the fact is, Gen Z are creating a blueprint for the future of shopping and marketing, and without their eyeballs and dollars your brand won’t be able to survive. If you’re looking for technological solutions that will endear you to this generation of shoppers, Adimo is here to help!  

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