Smart Brands Won't Generalize When It Comes to Gen Z

The more you increase the personalization of your marketing, the better your ads will perform. Think ... Oreo cookies.

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By Christine Alemany

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Startups know that the key to winning sales is wooing consumers. Yet sometimes, founders focus too much on generational stereotypes rather than personalized sales strategies. The fever around Generation Z is a perfect example.

Gen-Zers are on the radar of Target and Papa John's, not to mention that of dozens of other industry heavyweights worried about becoming obsolete. After all, the 68 million-strong cohort has serious purchasing power that is only getting strong, according to Reuters. Accordingly, many companies are adjusting their marketing strategies in an effort to reach Gen Z.

Related: Don't Know How to Reach Gen Z? Just Ask Beautycon.

However, this generation is notorious for staying one step ahead of brands, leaving them to chase after them with strategies that are no longer relevant. For example, businesses that are investing all of their marketing dollars into influencers may soon find that method ineffective, as Gen Z finds new influencers to follow or new spaces to occupy.

Even if modern brands can pull off blanket marketing, they won't be able to in 10 or 15 years. This generation is famously fractured, with each member treasuring his or her personal identity. Personalization, not generalization, is key.

So, what's the way to go? The answer is that big brands are investing in customer data platforms, marketing clouds and AI. Smart brands are diversifying their marketing technology and automation to achieve the more personalized one-to-one marketing relationship that this generation expects.

Adjusting your strategy to meet a fractured target market

Many brands have jumped into the digital deep end in an effort to reach younger consumers. It's easy to throw money away on strategies that will not actually connect with the target market. Social media spending skyrocketed by 60 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to Adweek. Similarly, Web Strategies Inc. has noted that most companies expect to spend almost half their annual marketing monies on online campaigns by 2020. All this makes it essential for marketers to carefully evaluate where they are putting their funds.

Lemonade Inc., for example, created its own youth-focused niche in the insurance industry by using AI and mobile-based strategies and doing outreach at colleges. However, one size does not fit all when it comes to how these customers want to interact with brands.

A Fluent Commerce survey found that about a quarter of Gen-Zers surveyed said they enjoyed the act of actually heading to a brick-and-mortar location for some old-fashioned browsing. To satisfy this subgroup of younger consumers, the once-online-based eyeglass behemoth Warby Parker has opened brick-and-mortar stores to create that in-person browsing experience. Consequently, Warby Parker is set to hit the 100-store mark soon, according to CNBC.

Related: Why Ecommerce Brands Harry's and Warby Parker Opened Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Achieving consumer buy-in without falling into traps

If your company wants to improve sales among younger consumers, consider Generation Z as a group consisting of smaller subgroups rather than as a big community. Then, take the following measures to ensure you're helping members of this generation learn about your offerings in a way that suits their needs.

1. Find out where your target consumers want to interact.

Where are your younger audience members spending time online? For an audience that uses platforms to inform identity, where you advertise will matter just as much as the content of the ad itself. Gen Z is notorious for loving YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram, but don't assume you can create a YouTube ad to reach the entirety of your Gen Z audience. It's likely that the subset of Gen Z that you want to connect with is spending more time on one of those platforms than the others. Or the group of consumers you want to reach could be on TikTok (now including, Houseparty or Tumblr.

To find out where your particular Gen Z customers are spending their time, look for influencers and content creators who target these segments. Start your search with this list from Adweek.

2. Be authentic and value driven.

Brands must connect with consumers about more than the product in order to truly develop a relationship. Gen Z's members specifically look for brands that match their values and affirm their identities, according to a recent Google study. For example, one of the reasons YouTube is so popular among teens is because of its promise to "give everyone a voice," an idea that connects with the globally minded, affirming Gen Z. Thanks to this commitment to deeper values, which resulted in deeper connections with its audience, YouTube is one of the top 100 brands in the world.

3. Keep it short and simple.

As digital natives, Gen-Zers have been inundated with ads and marketing messages from the cradle. This generation is more likely than any other to skip ads quickly and utilize ad blockers. By now, they're savvy about the way marketers leverage messaging and emotions to connect, and they make brands work a little harder to keep their attention. This plays out in product strategy, too.

Oreo, the best-selling cookie brand (made by the Nabisco division of Mondelez International), is popular with Gen Z in part because of its near-constant introduction of strange new flavors.

Related: 9 Strategies for Memorable Advertising When Your Audience Is Chronically Distracted

Above all else, avoid getting locked into a mindset of targeting broad swaths of consumers. The more you increase the personalization of your marketing, the better your marketing efforts will perform.

Christine Alemany

CEO, Trailblaze Growth Advisors (TBGA)

Christine Alemany is the CEO at TBGA. She has reinvigorated brands, built demand generation programs and launched products on leadership teams of startups and Fortune 500 companies alike.

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