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Gen Z Wants Brands to Be Their Sidekick, Not Their Superhero

Posted by Samantha Stallard on July 5, 2017
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Fresh off of the hormone-fueled teen wonderland that is VidCon, the uniqueness of Gen Z has never been more apparent. At the annual digital content gathering, teens and preteens were glued to their smartphones - uploading, posting, sharing, tweeting, 'gramming, and snapping all of their adventures around the convention center as well as meeting "friends" they've made online for the very first time in person.

The oldest of this generation were born in 1998, making them 19 years old today and on the cusp of entering either college or the workforce. With a total population of over 70 million, this generation will soon surpass Millennials in size. Talking to them only further proves their digital addictions. This is the first generation that learned to use an iPad before they could even speak, the first to foster friendships through Snapchat, and the first to have their entire existence cataloged on social media. 

They are the truest “digital natives,” a label that carries profound implications for their social lives and emotional health, not to mention their minds. Studies show that constant exposure to screens changes the neural circuitry of developing brains, leading to shorter attention spans, stunted social skills, and a heightened ability to multitask, according to the Washington Post. With less consumer loyalty than their predecessors, Gen Zers have proven difficult for brands to successfully target - and impress. To reach them, brands will need to spend more to create videos and other content that provides useful information, entertains, and otherwise impresses them enough that they share with families, friends, and followers. 

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What does Gen Z care about?

Not surprising, young consumers are using Snapchat and Instagram the most, especially girls, for socializing, while Facebook provides entertainment and utility in addition to socializing. However, 25% of them abandoned Facebook in 2014, approaching social media as an opportunity to search for interesting and relevant content -- not as a form of networking. This is a generation that doesn't only share social content, but strives to embody the "curator" label by embracing living in the now and sharing the world through the lens of their Snapchat stories.

Beyond living online, 60% of Gen Zers want to have an impact on the world, compared to 39% of millennials, and roughly one in four are involved in volunteering. With that focus on community, brands will be well-advised to create, and share, social cultures of giving back, giving consumers a sense of purpose and pride in their purchases. By creating experiential opportunities that provide experiences while simultaneously creating a platform for a cause will appeal to Gen Z's love for unique opportunities and social justice. There’s every indication that technology-centric teens will be more attracted to volunteer and giving if the experience is social, mobile and interactive.
 
Teens communicate with speed, often using emoticons and emojis instead of words. According to Sparks and Honey, a NY based marketing firm, "They are accustomed to rapid-fire banter and commentary."  As a result, today's teenagers aren't precise communicators and leave a lot of room for interpretation.
 
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What can brands do?
First of all, brands have to lose the Superman act. Products can't be advertised as life changing, life saving, or life fixing because, in fact, most aren't anything close to that. Instead, a brand's products and services should be marketed in a supporting role. Gen Z wants to invest their time and money into brands that want to help the individual improve their lives alongside other means. Teens strive to foster unique identities -- their self-identification, causes, content consumption, and even beauty routines are curated at the individual level and they want to interact with brands who not only understand, but celebrate their individuality.

Instead of a small group of friends from school and the neighborhood, this generation is now part of a full-fledged online community of people from all around the world. These communities give brands an excellent opportunity to join the conversation on social media without pushing consumers into buying.

Through a live experience, groups of people from all over the world can come together based on their similar interests and interact face-to-face. While we joke about their dependency on digital consumption, they craves IRL experiences because they enable them to interact with other people in a unique and memorable way. Take VidCon for example. 36,000 attendees flock to the Anaheim Convention Center every year to meet their Instagram followers in person, hang out together exploring the activations and opportunities throughout the convention, then share those memorable experiences with each other through pictures, videos, and social media posts.

For brands this is the ultimate prize: a consumer who wants to interact with my brand and share their great experience with their friends both in-person and through social media. Experiential activations are an authentic way for brands to join the digital conversation without doing any traditional "selling."

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Topics: experiential marketing, go beyond, technology

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