Just as many of us think we finally have a grasp on the wonders and mysteries of millennials, along comes a new lot to baffle and amuse the older generations: Generation Z.
This is the generation born from about 1995 onwards, generally defined as the demographic cohort of five years of age to about 20. They’re the younger siblings of the millennials and the children of Gen Xers and younger Boomers.
What makes them so unique and unlike the generations before them is that they are the first truly digital generation. Millennials (Gen Y) are the group that came to maturity and grew up with digital and the web, making them ‘digital natives’, but that digital immersion reaches saturation point with Generation Z.
As digitally native as millennials are, they are not as likely as Gen Z to have had a smartphone or tablet thrust into their tiny hands—this generation probably learnt to swipe a screen before they could wipe their own bottom! These are the kids who can barely conceive of a time before internet or smartphones.
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While there are plenty of ethical questions about how we as a society deal with this digital immersion for Gen Z (cyber bullying, exploitation, commercialisation, for example), there is also a question for marketing and brand professionals about how we shift our focus and strategies to engage with this generation.
With Gen Z there is no longer any question about going digital—it is an absolute given.
Marketing to tweens and teenagers is certainly not a new thing. It has been going on for at least the past 70 years (dating back perhaps to the emergence of teenagers as a distinct group with disposable income in the 1950s—Frank Sinatra and his bobby soxers were among the earliest manifestations).
What’s new is the world Gen Z has been born into. It’s global, instantaneous, 24/7, and very social. This means Gen Z has distinctive characteristics worth bearing in mind if you’re in a business that is in any way looking to engage with them.
Marketing professionals and brand managers need to keep in mind these four things when thinking about a strategy for Gen Z engagement.
1. Shorter attention spans
Younger people have relatively short attention spans anyway, but the on-demand, swipe-away nature of online interaction with things like YouTube videos means this is a generation that won’t sit still long enough to watch your boring 30-second ad; even a 15-second spot is asking too much of them.
They’re always on the lookout for new stimulus and if you have any desire at all to engage with this group, you’ll have to do so in micro-bite blocks of pure entertainment. They’ll move on to the next thing if you don’t. Though not designed specifically for Gen Z, YouTube recently hit upon the idea of six-second ads as a way to try and keep fidgety viewers watching. That’s the type of thinking you’ll need for Gen Z too.
Takeaway: Keep it short, sharp and entertaining.
2. Visual over the written word
Just as generations before them became enamoured with the visual qualities of TV over reading books, so too is Gen Z in thrall to visual communication over the written word. That’s most obvious in the way Gen Z will use things like Snapchat videos and emojis to communicate with each other rather than doing something boring like writing a Facebook update!
Visual communication also allows young people to extend their vocabulary in a way that eludes the understanding of their elders. Teenagers have always had their own lingo, but being able to communicate via meme, emoji and short videos has allowed young people to create their own secret language, one that can feel almost impenetrable to adults.
Takeaway: Use video and visual communications in ways to connect with this audience, not in ways that you think are ‘correct’.
3. Social savvy
At the moment, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram are the go-to social channels for Gen Z. This generation has an intuitive understanding of how social media works. They have watched their parents and siblings use it and probably started using it themselves from a young age. Their peers are on it and they use it to connect with school, sports and other communities.
It’s worth remembering (especially for parents) that while children might be very savvy about social media, they’re not always as savvy about the tricks people with less than honourable intentions might use to persuade them to do things. If your business is dealing with people of this age, you have an added responsibility to ensure you do all you can to keep children safe too.
Takeaway: Gen Z have grown up with social media, so you have to be at the top of your social game to impress them.
4. Authenticity above all else
Again, young people have always viewed marketing and advertising with a healthy dose of scepticism. If you want to engage this group, you’ll have to make sure your message and communication with them is authentic. Not only do kids ignore brands that try too hard to be like them, they’ll openly make fun of them to their friends on social too—not the best word-of-mouth for your brand!
This might mean that rather than risk talking down to Gen Z you instead engage brand ambassadors who can easily enter into conversations with them. Or you build the type of platform that encourages users to create the content themselves, with brand managers playing a light-touch moderator role.
Takeaway: Do your research and stay engaged with the audience. Young consumers jump on and off trends really quickly, and digital allows them to dump and move quicker than ever before.
Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award.