Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – is a whole new generation, with different ways of communicating and different motivators. They’re in your workplace and they’re emerging into your target audiences. So how do you engage them in your brand and marketing?
Gen Z is almost 30% of the population of the world and they number around 2 billion. So categorising the entire group with a single label and set of characteristics is, to say the least, fraught with difficulty and an over-simplification. Gen Z is a whole generation: rich, varied. Like all generations, they will frequently either confound or defy the stereotype.
You’ll rarely be communicating with Gen Z alone, so the interplay between generations, matters every bit as much as specific generational dynamics. So it’s important to not only tell Gen Z what they need to know – in a manner that suits them – but also reflect the requirements of other generations too.
However, Professor Bobby Duffy has asserted that technology drives the shift between different generations and that the pandemic has turned us all into cadet Gen Z-ers. Perhaps a Gen Z communications approach is a lesson in a good, contemporary communication style, about the stuff that matters.
In March 2021, research from Kantar revealed that 44% of Gen Z made a purchase based on an influencer recommendation, compared to 26% of the population. Social media influencers may feel irrelevant to business-to-business marketing. But thought leadership – transforming company leaders’ perspectives into engaging content – isn’t very far away from the world of influencers. So what lessons can be transferred from influencing to thought leadership?
First, influencers create personal engagement and empathy by giving more than core subject expertise – they give something away about their life and their views beyond the immediately relevant subject. After all, it’s what some of the best B2B thought leaders have been doing for some time. Second, influencers are unafraid of smashing taboos and creating dialogue around subjects previously considered challenging. They create relatability by sharing experiences, and through storytelling. They are not afraid to stand up and be counted – and in doing so, it’s essential to be authentic. If there’s any generalisation to be made, authenticity matters above all to Gen Z.
Gen Z frequently defies over-simplified stereotypes and the world around all of us is becoming more complex and fluid than ever before. Dr Sarah Ogilvie has asserted that Gen Z don’t read or consume information less than other generations, they do so differently. Nuance is important too. Ok, ok, Okay, K, Ok. Ok! OKAY all have subtly but significantly different meanings. The changing perceived meaning of words such as ‘woke’ is just one example of how fluid language has become.
Gen Z – and those around them – are questioning the engagement with some social media. Meanwhile, the use of LinkedIn is beginning to evolve, with more and more people sharing personal information and opening posts with ‘I don’t normally share stuff like this but…’. Together with the birth of the Metaverse, whatever we believe today about language, social media and other channels, the rules may be rewritten tomorrow.
There is a great deal of discourse about Gen Z’s desire to engage with brands who do good. However, what matters to them more is that they want to engage with brands that are authentic and truthful. Unlike previous generations who have grown into cynicism as they aged, Gen Z have, arguably, started out cynical – having inherited a world with climate change, out of reach pensions and even less accessible home ownership.
So Gen Z like firms who say they do good – and do it, really transparently. From a clear purpose and clear stats, through to a clear key performance indicator dashboard. They like organisations that do more. If you’re going to be transparent, be prepared to go as far as possible. If you don’t, there will always be someone who’s prepared to go further. And prepared to be open, not only about what has worked, but also about what hasn’t.
In the bid for being a responsible business, it doesn’t mean everything has to be joyless. Gen Z enjoy engaging with fun, irreverent content on TikTok, YouTube and beyond. Caring about big issues and having a serious sense of humour, can go hand in hand. This allows for the playful. It also provides a platform to make serious points too. It does mean that you need to be more than you sell. And be prepared to engage in social channels to provide a window on your soul.
You may regard TikTok as very Gen Z but not very appropriate for a business-to-business organisation. Think again. Whether you choose to create and manage an account or not, your people and your clients may post and tag you. So own the narrative. More and more organisations are using TikTok as a means of communicating their employee experience – ever more important when the pandemic has begun to dilute it. Humour can go a long way to position an organisation, no matter how serious. Whatever you do, it needs to be aligned to your brand – wear the right clothes.
Gen Z may be a whole new generation, but they’re not from another planet. Much of the hype around them, is just that. They are as varied as all the other generations that precede and co-exist with them. They don’t consume information or communicate less, they do it differently. The pandemic has brought Generations X, Y and Z closer together. And if anything defines Gen Z, it’s a strong desire for honesty, authenticity and the truth.
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