Reaching Gen Z with Authentic Marketing

Familiar with Generation Z?  How about authentic marketing? If you’re a marketer, these terms probably haunt your dreams. There’s a lot of fearmongering going around about those born after 1995.  “They don’t check their email, they have the attention span of a gnat, and they’re killing any business that isn’t online,” read the tongue-in-cheek “doomsday warnings” that Campaign Monitor uses to begin their discussion. Reaching Gen Z can’t be that bad, can it? Fortunately, with authentic marketing and a few other considerations, it doesn’t have to be difficult at all.

Relating through Video

The prevalence, and importance, of video in marketing, advertising, sales, and more in your messaging is by now well-established.  It’s far and away the most consumed medium and your best chance at increasing pageviews, clickthrough rates, and many more massive benefits.

Instead of reiterating video’s importance, let’s pin down the kind of video that works for Gen Z.  This means relatable video, and video content that offers value. These types of video can reportedly cause Gen Z to “focus long enough to complete in-depth research on any topic.”  So how can we relate to Gen Z?

Research from McKinsey & Company found Gen Z’s “defining characteristics are to search for truth… authenticity.”   This explains, at least in part, the growth of TikTok: a rejection of the overly-polished, hyper-curated world of Instagram and embrace of the “vulnerability and relatability” of the ostensibly rustier aesthetic of TikTok.

Personality and Interactivity

Genuine, real content is the key. How can your brand prove its authenticity to your customers?  “Less stiff upper lip, more personality,” says A Few Good Productions; they recommend that you “show off your employees, their quirks and the real personalities that make up your team… if you’re having fun making the content, it’s pretty likely your audience will enjoy it too.”

Katherine Kim takes short-form visual content as a jumping-off point for more techniques for marketing to Gen Z correctly.  From there, she moves quickly into experimentation with interactive equipment, giving your younger customers something that can “do double [the] duty of learning about customers and winning their attention, too.”  Polls are a great way to do this, as are quizzes and other interactive features that both gather useful insights and feel personalized and fun to the consumer.

Make ’em Laugh (If Possible)

While authenticity is one of the core tenets of Gen Z marketing, comedy is equally indispensable.  “The challenge for brands here is keeping up with the speed of the internet,” Kim points out, reminding us in the same thought that “not all industries have the benefit of being able to play the role of a comedian.”  When the Twitter account for Wendy’s issues a hilarious insult or weird comment, it’s for a number of reasons.  One, their product is fast food, not nuclear research tools or emergency survival equipment, so comedy makes sense for the brand far more than brands whose income is decidedly less whimsical in origin. 

Wendy’s has also been a funny brand for a while, and this time invested has created a great cycle of content and reaction from consumers.  Wendy’s makes a joke, it gets retweeted and publicized, interest in the brand rises, and Wendy’s is incentivized to stay funny and continue the cycle.

Authenticity Doesn’t Have to be Funny

Kim has a concluding thought on why some brands should not bother developing a comedic voice: “brands should strive to be organic and unpredicted,” as opposed to “something totally suit-and-tie” and—you guessed it—inauthentic.

This is an easy criterion to meet, honestly. Are your marketers funny?  They don’t have to be—plenty of great marketing isn’t—but if they’re not, don’t force them to try.  When you think of your company, does lighthearted, poking-fun style humor make sense?  Does any kind of humor make sense?

The answers to these questions should be snap responses, and if you’re forced to answer “no”, then lean into authenticity in a different way.

Put Experience Over Product

Wordstream’s piece on best practices for marketing to Gen Z very much include a different authenticity—sell experiences, not just products.  The article cites Mention as contending that “25% of what you sell is your product.  The additional 75% is the intangible feeling that comes with said product.”  Does the brand align with your values?  Great—that’s very Millennial, but the real question for Gen Z is “Does the brand make you feel an authentic experience?”

Don’t focus on brand alignment the way that you would when marketing to Millennials—focus on the benefit and the experience instead.  Utilize humor—Gen Z humor, so feel free to get a little absurd/offbeat—but only when it feels real.  Above all, don’t fake any of the attributes you’re proclaiming.  Authenticity is the beginning, middle, and end of the Gen Z consumer focus.