Today’s teens live and breathe social media, they are constantly connected, use multiple devices and often create content as much as consume it.
They also relate to social media, news and content differently to the more familiar Gen Y market.
Brands that want to reach the Gen Z audience need to change the way they communicate, it’s still a conversation, but it’s also about understanding teenagers, and respecting their opinion and their privacy, their creativity and their need to share.
Co-creation became a marketing buzz word for Generation Y, and it’s still an important way for brands to engage audiences and fans. But Gen Z is the creation generation.
There’s a strong trend towards recording ‘Let’s Plays’ for YouTube, and live streaming gaming to an audience via platforms like Twitch – brands have little to do with these, but they have the power to either support and encourage the activity or become intrusive or heavy handed and try to stop it.
Gen Y was about creating community spaces for fans; for Gen Z, brands need to shift their focus to include supporting fan-created communities and creations.
Brands that understand the need for Gen Z to get involved, and to transmit their enthusiasm to their peers, know how to communicate with this generation. For example, the Harry Potter brand realises that the stories of fellow readers are far more powerful than traditional marketing.
Meanwhile game developers, like Bioware, look at their fans ‘cosplays’ to get a better idea of practical elements to add to game outfits.
By supporting the creative efforts of fans, brands cement loyalty – creating the kind of super-advocate who will passionately defend the brand from attack, but who will also be close enough to the brand to know they can critique it and have the feedback taken seriously.
Generation Z doesn’t have the time to waste on old news, or mediocre content. Brands that create content rich in storytelling and visual imagery are far more likely to get this audience’s attention.
Content needs to be shareable, noteworthy and easy to comprehend. However, it’s not something that should be done on a shoe-string. Brands need to invest in content creation to make certain it has the desired impact.
Understanding where your audience is and creating campaigns for that purpose can be invaluable. For example, Cadbury found that one of its online campaigns had an ROI four times higher than its TV counterpart. It invested 7% of its budget in online content, yet it generated 20% of sales. Changing the marketing mix should be a continual process.
Generation Z doesn’t want to be talked at by a brand or product, they want to feel they have a stake in it. If they invest their time to watch a video or read a post, it needs to deliver something unique to them.
Teens do want to get involved in the major issues of the day. They want to advocate and campaign, but they are time-starved. Brands need to create content which explains the story quickly.
While teens may lack the time, or initial motivation, to read a 3,000 word article on the intricacies of a political situation, a well-crafted image posted on Facebook, or a Vine video may capture their interest and encourage them to go off and find out more about an issue that they didn’t think they were interested in.
Brands that want to create interest around an issue need to incite curiosity and provide bite-sized, shareable summaries of need-to-know information.
Deliver on promises
The teens of Generation Z are hopeful sceptics. If you tease a big announcement, or release an amazing trailer, most will still expect that the end product won’t be as good. Everyone knows that the funniest lines in a comedy movie are all in the trailer, right?
Brands need to ensure that the final product, the item that they end up paying for, or the content that they sacrifice their time to read or watch, lives up to the hype the brand has created around it. In short, leave something for fans to discover, “behind the paywall”.
Those who make the effort to sign-up to a website or pay for exclusive access to material, will let their network know if it’s worth the time and/or money. There is nothing worse than spending the time watching a video that promises to show you how to increase your social media following only to be ‘sold’ to and not given any helpful hints.
Brands that deliver content that does what it promises, show fans that they can trust the brand to be worth their time, effort and money.
Know your audience
Brands need to understand the pressures on teens today, and remember that teens are developing. They want guidance and enforced rules. They want entertaining input from brands, but not if it interferes with their communication with friends or their own self-expression.
For example, entertainment brands make an effort to engage their followers on Twitter by asking questions, but it may not always be appropriate to interrupt a Twitter conversation between friends.
Similarly, while it is good to be able to relate to your audience, using the terminology a teen uses can backfire on a brand. As with parents trying to sound ‘cool’ with their teenage children it can come across a little too cringey.
It is important to be yourself and not try too hard to be one of them.
Work to your strengths
A game developer rolling out a pre-launch campaign is likely to get a great deal of interest, because it’s something teens are anticipating. Fans are likely to want to get involved in creating content, participating in chats and sharing sneak peeks.
Other brands will need to explore different avenues to generating interest with the teen audience online. For example, those that sell back-to-school staple goods may not have the fanfare generated by an entertainment franchise, but they can still engage the teen audience through discounts, give-aways and user-generated content campaigns (such as an art contest, or the chance to help design new packaging).
Brands need to work to their strengths and understand what motivates and alienates the teen market, otherwise they risk failing to engage Generation Z at all.