How can brands best engage with Generation Z?
Generation Z is the first generation to be born in the digital age.
They don’t know the world before the internet, a day without google or an hour without their smartphone cameras.
What is it like to always be connected? And what are they looking for after so much social interaction?
We have asked 3 experts at Accenture Interactive who are very much qualified to unveil the mysteries of Gen Zers.
Joe Gizzi, digital marketing and content strategy lead within Accenture Interactive, focused on social media influencer marketing, and how we reach this new and exciting Generation Z.
Eleanor Antonacci, New York City-based digital marketing director, focused on social media and influencer marketing strategy.
Joanna Pulaski is based in the DC office working as a digital marketing strategist on influencer marketing, paid media, and social strategy.
Q: Why do we speak about generations in Marketing?
JOE: As marketers, we like to be able to compartmentalize and understand behavior. And it’s really important as we’re creating campaigns to be able to understand segments of the population and predict how work might be received.
So from a demographic perspective, we’re trying to slice and dice, searching for how this generation’s mindset is different, or how is it the same.
Q: What makes Gen Z such an interesting group of people?
ELEANOR: Gen Z is different because they have grown up with mobile devices, unlike any other generation. They received their first smartphones early in life. Again unlike any generation, so they’ve been digitally connected their entire lives and able to conduct research and engage with friends and brands online consistently.
JOANNA. This is a generation that is a lot more prone to being on their phones for a really long period of time, and that very much cares about social issues, climate change in particular. This is a generation that has grown up having access to all the information ever created.
Q: What role does marketing play with Gen Zers?
JOE: There’s something really interesting about Gen Z’s unsettled feeling that previous generations didn’t make the right decisions on topics that are important and impact them, and they’re very vocal about that. They are extremely informed, they are extremely educated, so they are worried about sustainability, discrimination, and equity.
From an American perspective, Gen Zers have always known war, beginning with whether they were aware of 9/11. They watched their parents go through the Great Recession in 2008, so they want to be more pragmatic about finances. They’re less tied to living in one location. They’re very nomadic. They’ve grown up practicing school shooting drills and often feel that their parents and lawmakers didn’t make the right decisions about gun control. They worry about mental health. And most recently, with this pandemic, they’ve missed formative experiences in school and young adult life that the previous generation took for granted.
But they’ve adapted digitally. They are changing the way they look at building communities, outside of traditional social media, and they expect the world to change for them or because of them. They don’t feel like they were handed a fair opportunity, as a consequence of past mistakes. Their parents went through a hard time they’re going through a hard time. That’s their whole framework.
Q: How can brands best engage with Gen Z?
ELEANOR: Gen Z expects brands to be at the forefront of innovation, meeting them where they are. So when they’re adopting a new platform like Tik Tok, they expect brands to meet them there and deliver personalized experiences. They expect brands to connect with them on a deeper level, on relevant issues such as social justice and sustainability.
JOE: Whether it’s with brands or celebrities or influencers, Gen Z really demands two-way communication in social media, unlike other generations.
And if it doesn’t happen, they’ll go elsewhere. They’ll create micro-communities around common interests like gaming, sports, beauty, or fashion. Some brands like Skittles, for example, are fantastic at becoming part of these niche groups, playing Fortnite, and discussing gaming and pop culture on Twitter, Twitch, or Discord.
Q: Comparing it to older generations with similar interests such as music and games, Gen Z has unprecedented access to everybody and everything. What’s your take on this?
JOANNA: There’s been so much conversation really recently about the Oscars and how ratings are down for this particular broadcast, whereas some other live events like the Super Bowl are going back up. I think part of the reason why the Oscars are struggling in such a way is that we have more access to these actors and actresses than we’ve ever had before.
ELEANOR: Also, when you have such true behind-the-scenes access to musicians, celebrities, and influencers, it becomes the norm and you expect it from brands, too. They’re expecting to see behind-the-scenes content, sneak peeks of products, and exclusive in-store content.
JOE: There is an interesting thing happening with actors, athletes, and musicians — there’s an incredible amount of social pressure that’s added on top of the pressure of performance, coming from the millions of fans and followers commentating on social channels. Even if you’re someone like Simone Biles, trying to take care of your own mental health, some fans still feel let down by their hero.
There are a lot of vampires in social media who expect you to give and give and give; that’s a darker piece of Gen Z and the social community. We expect celebrities to be on and human all of the time for us. And sometimes you have to take a break.
Q: Generation Z seems to be very aware of the climate crisis and sustainability matters, but at the same time they go crazy over ultra-fast fashion giants such as SHEIN that just throw out masses of clothes. What do you think about that?
ELEANOR: It’s interesting because SHEIN is producing very low-quality items that are just not going to last and the products are sold at very low prices. They are not investment pieces of fashion. It’s really all about that low cost.
But I think social media plays a very interesting factor there because many Gen Zers, especially females, are not going to want to wear the same outfit in more than one Instagram post. So they’re looking to change up outfits within budget.
Gen Z is always on and always connected. And SHEIN has also done an incredible job with understanding, marketing, and reaching this generation.
Q: What would you like to know about Gen Z that you don’t know?
ELEANOR: As you know, as marketers we pour through lots of data to figure out what Gen Z is doing, how they’re feeling, and what they’re thinking. But, I would like to know how they’re envisioning the future. There is so much technological advancement happening, new platforms, and so much change… it’s impossible to know what’s coming down the line.
So, I would like to know where they see the future. And you know, they might not know either, but it would be interesting to hear from their perspective.
JOANNA: We talked about how Gen Z cares a lot about different social issues. And I wonder how will react to what is happening with the rising of workers to create unions in places like Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple. How is Gen Zers going to react to social issues when it comes to some of their most beloved brands and how they treat their workers?
JOE: When we think about Gen Z, we think about values. We think about idealism for the world. We’ve seen movements created in reaction to school shootings like Parkland or Greta Thunberg’s focus on climate. So I wonder if this generation will maintain its optimism. I wonder if they’ll infect other generations with their curiosity about the world and their idealism, or if their frustration will make them more insular and they’ll say, the hell with the rest of you, you’ve ruined the world; we have a different vision and we’re gonna do this on our own.