Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2000, are now young adults and many of them have entered the workforce. Marketers often clump this group together with millennials, but they’re not the same marketers shouldn’t view them under the same lens. Gen Z is less interested in mainstream platforms like TV and leans towards YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. Gregg Witt says Gen Z refers to themselves as the “hyper-individualized generation.”
Witt, a youth brand strategist and chief strategy officer of Engage Youth, spoke to AList about some of the nuances of Gen Z—a group that is expected to surpass millennials in 2019 as the largest generation. Witt co-authored the book The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility, where he explains how the generation tends to be independent, diverse, engaged in social and political causes, and how they’ve developed an ability to filter information—like advertisements—extremely quickly.
Let’s talk about the growing importance of Gen Z for marketers.
If you start off with importance, from the psychological perspective and from the matter of fact, there is more Gen Z population worldwide than any other group of people before them.
It’s not only that there is this massive population, but it’s going to be a colossal shift in the consumer demographics. When Nigeria and Indonesia become the largest youth populations, you are going to see the market shift.
The sheer numbers of creation, innovation, markets, new markets, that are going to come to these countries. We see generations come and go—some things change, some things are similar, some are completely different—but this is pretty colossal.
What do you think marketers get wrong about Gen Z?
I think that a lot of times they look at Gen Z with almost a herd mentality, thinking all Gen Zers are the same and they are into the same thing: people, brands, society. This happens with millennials too.
With Gen Z, what a lot of the brands and marketers get wrong is that they are continuing to label Gen Z like they’re a herd of sheep or label them off that they’re not so individualized. They’re not really looking at the cultural nuances.
Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are excellent channels and platforms to reach Gen Z, but what a lot of the brands get wrong is that there is a slow, steady but major migration from these mass, understood platforms to the niche platforms, messengers and apps.
They’re missing out on the conversation. They are not actually aware that the true, intimate, real conversations are happening in Discord, TikTok and YouNow and even Messenger App. A lot of people don’t understand that even Facebook Messenger is very popular with older teens and young adults.
Utilizing all these smaller, cultural interest group-based platforms like AskFM, with massive growing populations and there is an actual conversation happening there. There is less algorithm and there is more engagement. That’s just one angle.
I think another very basic thing that brands often bypass is that they look at Gen Z today not at Gen Z in five to six years. Today they are tweens, teens and young adults and they’re very different segments.
Can you talk about the connection between purpose-driven marketing and Gen Z?
This is a matter of fact, and I thought it was [just] buzz before, but one of the pinnacle markers of Gen Z is that they are purpose-driven. I think part of it is, that [purpose-driven] is what you hear all the time from that age group, so you do tend to follow a bit. They don’t see [cause marketing] as played out. They just really want to see that it’s authentic and it doesn’t have to be grandiose.
Gen Z really cares about the story with brands and organizations. They can see when the brand or the company—either really small Instagram brands to Fortune 500 ones—that they live and breath their cause and that it actually is having some impact.
There is another important generational marker: their attitudes, views and perceptions of diversity. I find that in diversity, respect, and just [general] acceptance of people—we find one of the softer beautiful, encouraging, refreshing things about Gen Z.
What do you think has changed since we started tracking their habits?
The reality of shoppable content and limited-edition products has become the demand. The idea of a really special product that’s associated with a certain content is becoming a trend that Gen Z wants, desires or demands.
It will continue to increase, as Amazon and other brands continue to commoditize every category. Amazon has the power to affect the Targets and Walmarts and to commoditize everything. Those brands in the middle are scared and [they’re] going to need this cool special content [to survive].
What types of brands are marketing best to Gen Z?
Everything: fashion, technology, downloadable on-demand content, restaurants and food—being in that eco-system of relevant content because [brands] will be just missed if they are not.
It starts going into the broader content discussion. The big trend, this is a trend that I have a lot of passion for, is collaboration. I’ve looked closely [at the collaboration trend] saying, “God, is this going to burst? Is this going out of the way?”
Collaborating, even in different categories and genres, actually creates an opportunity to increase and grow a brand’s market. It becomes a survival tool. Let’s just say, that you’re a tailor that makes custom clothes and think you’re too big to be disrupted. If you never do collaborations with Twitch creators or Instagrammers, those smaller Instagram brands are going to slowly slice up all of your business.
The competitors for your business on Instagram, for a specific example, it’s not like 1000 or 5000 but more like 10,000 or 100,000 competitors slicing up your market share. The [collaboration trend] is not just for excitement, surprise and delight, but collaboration for survival.
How can brands avoid pandering to Gen Z?
I would say that brands need to really leverage cementing their identity and make sure they are clear on their identity, value proposition, what they offer and what they don’t offer to the young people or to the modern consumer.
They need to determine certain areas where they contribute to culture. They can’t only be focused on smaller communities; they have to look at the conversions.
What trends do you see developing this year?
A lot more brands will experiment and get into AR activation this year, but the big trend that we are going to see is chatbot—and it’s going to be normalizing. The chatbots are going to be more involved in what we are talking about.
You are going to see much more truly conversational chatbots on the rise. I’m not going to claim to be the tech expert on it for sure, but that’s going to be the major trend.
It’s a little sad, but esports will dominate traditional sports, as far as viewers. And we’ll see the evolution of esports as culture and lifestyle; esports brands, esports apparel, and the actual complete lifestyle around esports. It’ll be mainstream by the end of the year.
Companies seem to have less and less control over the brand narrative. Where does Gen Z fit into this cultural shift?
Brands [that] give young people an opportunity to be a part of the brand’s story, and an opportunity to further attain an inspirational goal, can be very effective and potentially more effective with Gen Z.
Even though I say Gen Zers are highly social, it’s also a lonely place to be too. [They want to] be part of something important. Ultimately, when it comes to the storytelling and how brands can be successful—it comes down to the true sense of belonging that the organization is providing. I believe in that.