Marketing to the New Mavens of Media

The arbiters of the anti-skinny jeans movement, Generation Z has proven time and time again their unparalleled ability to change the way the world thinks. Relying on digital platforms like TikTok and Instagram to connect with others and discover new information, this generation of young adults born between 1997 and 2012 is immensely dissatisfied with the “way things (re: life) used to be” prior to the 2020 outbreak of the coronavirus, instead championing — and actualizing — an entirely new normal. In order to maintain relevance with the most powerful generation to date, marketers need to understand the world through the lens of Gen Z. 

Unlike other generations, Gen Z is defined by their “we, not me” mentality, largely because of the deeply humanizing events they’ve experienced in their lifetimes thus far. Born into a country recovering from the shock of 9/11, growing up in one of the worst economic recessions our country has seen, living through a pandemic and reckoning with systemic racism on the heels of George Floyd’s murder has instilled in Gen Z a sense of compassion and empathy that motivates this generation’s every belief. As a result, Gen Z has heralded a new era in the advertising industry characterized by transparency, authenticity and nostalgia.

Put your morals where your mouth is.

Gen Z demands action, not performative allyship, and they’re quick to detect when a company sounds insincere. Last summer, popular brands long-beloved by Gen Z faced harsh scrutiny and criticism for the way their company practices and performative content centered around generating likes and shares rather than actually making a difference; brands who proudly embodied their values through acts of philanthropy and equality initiatives gained Gen Z’s trust — and earned their business, too. 

This speaks to perhaps the most important trend of 2021 marketing: Gen Z forms relationships with brands the same way they form interpersonal connections. These young consumers seek to trust the brands they follow before making purchases, but more specifically, they want to be able to see themselves in the brands they follow. For strategists, this means infusing your brand with life; personality, values and company culture all inform consumers about the people behind the brand, making it easier for Gen Z to relate to and engage with your company.

Fake it and you won't make it.

Gen Z is the content creation generation, spearheading viral internet trends on a near daily basis, so keeping up with this fast-paced generation is almost impossible. As these internet natives have cultivated a rapidly moving trend cycle that makes its rounds across the corners of the internet before you can blink, marketing professionals might miss the newest trends before they even have the chance to schedule their monthly posts.

An entire generation of social media gurus, Gen Z is versed in the world of internet trends — how quickly they evolve, when they become overused and when it’s time to pivot — so why not let the experts dictate the content you post?

Considering 84% of this generation is more likely to trust a brand who uses real consumers in their ads, user-generated content is a silver bullet for advertisers vying for Gen Z’s attention. Not only does UGC give potential consumers an unbiased view of the brand and its products, but it also makes a brand appear 2.4x more authentic in the eyes of Gen Z.

The key to a strong UGC strategy? Collect cohesive content that tells a story about your brand. Frequently checking your brand mentions online will not only help you get a better feel for how your audience is engaging with your company, but it might also lead to new, cost-effective content for your channel. 

Things like positive comments, consumer photos or videos with the product and art created by fans can all serve to endorse your company, highlighting exactly why people can (and should) relate to your brand without seeming egotistic. Just be sure to ask permission and tag the original user before posting someone else’s content on your page.

Let the good times scroll.

The pandemic took Gen Z back an entire decade, marking a stark shift from the minimalism of the 2010s to the notoriously maximalist Y2K era. As members of Gen Z mourn the year they lost to the pandemic, they’re looking to emulate the “better times,” untainted by the thought of COVID-19. 

The oldest members of Generation Z are only 24, yet they’ve endured more change in their lifetimes due to national and global events than other generations combined. Growing up with phrases like “pre-9/11,” “pre-recession” and now, “pre-pandemic” circulating over their heads has motivated this generation to look to the past for solace in turbulent times. Cited by researchers as the most anxious and depressed generation, Gen Z-ers are now using this Y2K nostalgia as a method of escapism to help them navigate this new, post-pandemic normal. 

Leveraging the happy, care-free spirit of the early aughts in your brand strategy will absolutely resonate with Gen Z-ers, but it’s important to avoid romanticizing the past. This generation has mastered the art of appreciating the old-school vibes sans the old-school values, so it’s critical that your company employ the style of these times rather than the antiquated stereotypes associated with them. 

Your brand heritage is also a great start to understanding your company’s place in this trend. Companies like Burger King have taken to their 1960s roots by returning to their original logo and embracing their retro personality, serving as a master class in trend adaptation.

You shouldn’t make your brand something it’s not to fit this Y2K nostalgia. Tailoring the trend to align with your company’s history, like Burger King, is a great way to make sure you’re staying relevant with the times while simultaneously highlighting distinctly ownable points of your brand.

Get vaccinated, go viral.

With a spending power of nearly $143 billion dollars, Gen Z is poised to rock the world of advertising, just like their millennial counterparts. As members of this generation reacclimate to life outside once again this year, marketing professionals need to understand the ways in which a year locked inside changed this generation — and how they’re on track to change the advertising industry. 

A marketing strategy centered on transparency, authenticity and nostalgia is your brand’s golden ticket to thriving this winter. Keeping these trends in mind when developing your social and communications strategies will ensure your brand shines above the digital noise, securing a coveted spot at the forefront of Gen Z’s minds.

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