Nailing your brand marketing and strategy is critical for connecting with any audience. Here’s how to get it right when Gen Z is your target.
“Gen Z has an estimated $360 billion in spending power, and they also have an outsized influence on culture-at-large,” Quynh Mai, the Founder & CEO of the award-winning agency Qulture, tells us.
Not only are Zoomers entering the workforce and deciding where to spend their money, but their decisions reshape how older generations interact with brands, as well. Research indicates, for example, that Gen Z’s interest in sustainability has inspired others to follow their lead and make more environmentally-conscious choices.
Every generation has sparked changes in advertising and, in the age of social media, consumers have more power than ever in uplifting the brands of the future.
Shifting your focus onto a younger generation can seem daunting, but it’s an essential part of maintaining a relevant, long-lasting brand.
Here’s how to do it right. . . .
Lead with Values
“Gen Z is a values-based generation that believes, above all, businesses should do the right thing,” Corey Seemiller, a Professor at Wright State University and Gen Z expert, explains.
“They want sustainable, climate-friendly practices and a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Every time they purchase something, they aren’t just buying a product or service. They’re demonstrating a commitment to their own values.”
Research from Instagram reveals that most Gen Z-aged people shop to support causes that matter to them in 2023. To make a difference, prioritize sustainability and inclusivity throughout every stage of your business, from production to packaging (not just your marketing).
Get the latest insights on how to do this the right way by downloading Shutterstock’s sustainability and diversity Ebook.
Younger generations will do the research to see if you’re being phony or “greenwashing.” They make sure that brands are actually putting in authentic, hard work.
“Live your values, and then make them obvious in all that you do,” Seemiller urges.
Mark Beal, a Professor at Rutgers University and the author of the upcoming book ZEO: Introducing Gen Z, The New Generation of Leaders, cited Patagonia as an example of brand marketing that does this well.
Not only is the clothing brand transparent about its environmental footprint, supply chain, and commitment to fair working conditions, they also donate 1% of sales to environmental preservation and restoration.
Explore New Channels
“Brands also need to produce and distribute creative and engaging content on the media channels that Gen Z consumes—TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to start,” Beal tells us.
Meet your audience where they already are, rather than expecting them to come to you.
Last month, we featured the natural homeware brand Piglet in Bed as part of our story on TikTok for small businesses. The Head of Brand, Rhiannon Johns, told us that before they joined TikTok in late 2021, the majority of their customers were 35 years and up.
Since then, however, their audience has grown more age diverse. “TikTok has opened us up to an entirely new generation of people who enjoy creating a comfortable home for themselves,” she explains.
Feel free to get creative with how you engage your following.
According to the 2023 Instagram Trend Report, almost a third of Gen Zers look forward to in-person experiences like conventions and meet-and-greets with influencers.
Meanwhile, 40% want to hear podcasts by their favorite content creators.
Develop Your Brand Marketing Voice
Trying new channels and formats doesn’t mean compromising your style or changing who you are. “Trying to act young and cool are the worst things that brands can do,” Quynh Mai from Qulture says.
“Gen Z demands authenticity, so they want brands to embrace who they are, even if it’s a little old-fashioned. They love nostalgia and have no problem purchasing a brand that stands for itself and accepts itself and its positioning rather than placating the younger generation.”
If you’ve historically appealed to an older generation—say, you’re a brand focusing on retirement saving—there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If your identity is rooted in the fact that you’re classic or reliable, don’t change that.
Following trends can certainly be useful, but it can also backfire if those trends don’t align with your brand and its core values. Consumers know when you’re “faking it” or pretending to be someone else.
Stay true to who you are, but widen your scope to include more people, platforms, and channels.
For example, when Qulture worked with Armani Beauty, they partnered with leading influencers and content creators to produce fresh visuals and experiences. At the same time, the campaign was still recognizably Armani. It tapped into the timeless, luxury aesthetic the brand is known for.
When brainstorming new brand strategy and design ideas, prioritize consistency, and consult previously successful campaigns for ideas on where to go next.
Start a Conversation
You cannot speak to any generation without first speaking with them.
“In 2018, Target became the first brand to launch a nationwide Gen Z incubator,” Mark Beal remembers. The program was created to help Gen Z entrepreneurs grow their portfolios and pitch their businesses.
“Any brand, even at the local level, can take that same Gen Z incubator approach and connect and collaborate with local high school and college students on everything—from creative social media content to purposeful community initiatives,” Beal says.
“That type of innovative approach to connect and collaborate will lead to Gen Zers not only becoming customers but lovers of a brand who will share that love on their social media channels, influencing those who they influence most, their Gen Z friends.”
Cultivate an Authentic Brand Strategy
When shifting focus to a younger audience, remember that every generation is composed of individuals with diverse and nuanced experiences. For that reason, take care to avoid making sweeping generalizations. Instead, take your customers’ individual and authentic needs into account.
More than anything, uplift voices from your community and listen to their feedback. Let them be a part of your brand and its future.
“For brands to understand Gen Z, they need to hire Gen Z on their staff and elicit their options and ideas and execute the ones that are achievable and feel right for the brand,” Quynh Mai tells us.
“Connecting to Gen Z is not a marketing exercise, but rather a way to connect to a community. You can only do this well if you’re doing it authentically.”
License this cover image via Jacob Lund.