In this op-ed, Ayaan Mohamud, regional vice president, marketing APAC at impact.com (pictured), explains why Gen Z require marketers to rethink their approaches with a renewed focus on mission and authenticity.
With Gen Z now entering the workforce and gaining spending power, it’s important for marketers to understand their buying habits and motivation. Even young people who are still in education have a big influence on household purchasing. But as the most ad-avoidant generation yet, engaging with them requires a more considered approach.
Gen Z, born mid 1990s to early 2010s, are markedly different to the generations who came before them. Described by The Economist as “stressed, depressed and exam-obsessed” they’re more serious than Gen Y/Millennials and less likely to engage in hedonistic behaviour. They tend to buy from need, not want, so demonstrating a product’s usefulness is important.
In fact, with ad effectiveness declining and Gen Z armed with ad blockers, skip buttons and volume control, advertisers may want to rethink how they use traditional advertising channels. A report by Bulbshare, Ad blockers and advocacy: Why Gen Z is blocking paid ads in favour of real voices, finds that 99% of Gen Z skip ads if they’re able to.
So what should brands consider when it comes to mapping out effective marketing strategies for a Gen Z audience?
A socially conscious generation
Firstly, issues including mental health, diversity, concern for the environment and social justice matter a great deal to Gen Z. As such they’re more receptive to value-oriented messaging. They rank authenticity more highly than any other product or brand attribute, with ethically sourced materials a priority. More than three-quarters of US Gen Z students have taken some form of action for a cause they believe in, with 23 per cent even boycotting brands.
A great example of a company that focuses on value-orientated marketing is Zero Co, whose mission is to un-trash the planet by helping to solve the world’s single use plastic problem with its range of refillable cleaning, laundry and beauty products. As part of its marketing strategy, it has created a Sustainable Stays program for accommodation owners (think AirBnb’s, holiday lets and small hotels). The idea is to make the accommodation single-use plastic free, whilst giving accommodation owners the ability to earn some extra money by offering their guests discounts on Zero Co products they may wish to purchase. The program is publicised via diverse partnerships with influencers, content publishers and accommodation owners and it’s proving to be a valuable sales channel as well as building a community of loyal customers with shared values.
For Gen Z, the line between content and commerce is blurred. They want brands to deliver not just products but also information and entertainment and their desire for authenticity dominates buying behaviour. They don’t want to be sold to and can sniff out fake or cliched content in a heartbeat.
This is where the right type of influencer strategy can play an important role. Gen Z are highly responsive to influencers — 65 per cent have purchased something based on an influencer’s recommendation – but they’re turned off by celebrities. Instead, they are keen to buy products recommended by people they genuinely trust. The same research shows that two in three people are more likely to buy a product recommended by their relations over a product advertised to them – and they will often then go onto share on their own networks. This means that finding authentic and independent influencer voices is extremely important for brands.
How New Balance found its authentic voices
New Balance Australia has adopted a unique and innovative way to reach a wider Gen Z audience. They recently ran a successful ambassador campaign among university students in Australia, aiming to connect with students in a way that felt like a grassroots movement.
According to Tim Axiak, strategic partnerships manager at New Balance , the strategy was to identify a number of what they like to call “global independents….that are highly engaged in their universities ” New Balance leveraged Campus Group and student affiliate platform UNiDAYS to find verified university students, and then offered them referral discounts across a range of products via easy to use QR codes that they could share with their peers and friends.
As New Balance’s mission is to “stand for something bigger than sneakers” and to “do right by people and the planet”, New Balance held information sessions to ensure the student ambassadors were fully across the brand’s purpose. As one student influencer commented, it wasn’t just about promoting the products but that they were made aware of “the meaning behind the brand and things like environmental policies as well as equality for genders, which I think is really important”.
Impact.com’s partnership management platform was used to pull everything together, ensure the students knew how to use the technology and track performance so they were being correctly rewarded for spreading the word about New Balance.
What’s most notable about this example, is that it demonstrates that if a brand can find ways to make Gen Z be part of the overall brand mission, they’ll not only participate but bring along their own social tribes and channels with them.
To do so, brands must convince a Gen Z audience that theirs is an authentic experience and that their brand has a purpose aligned to their values, but when they do, the ripple effect across personal social networks can be considerable.