The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.
Have we reached ‘peak millennial’? At a recent Drum breakfast event, James Whatley, digital director at Ogilvy, stated that we have reached ‘peak millennial’ and advertisers need to stop homogenising audiences and find a real truth or insight that will reach the next hyper-socially connected next generation. Drum Network members discuss.
The millennial. The quintessential connected user and arguably most in demand consumer of our time. They’re at peak fame: wolf-whistled at and wooed by brands all over the land. And that’s why we need to back off a little. Their relationship with social media is volatile, as demonstrated by Essena O’Neil’s dramatic and tearful exit from Instagram citing the unreality of the online world as the main factor. So there’s a lesson: the millennial might be all over social media, a sitting duck for marketing messages, but they are just as likely to switch it off too; hungry for a more ‘authentic’ experience.
So who’s coming up through the ranks? The socially driven Gen Z. They aren’t afraid to manipulate channel capability, co-create and get what they want out of their relentless connectivity. So how do we find a way to resonate with them? Millennials and Gen Z might be in the same places, but they view those environments very differently. It’s down to brands to build the insights and understand how to talk to Gen Z with a pragmatic authenticity they can relate to.
Showing a quick pay-off is going to be key for brands who want to capture the attention of Gen Z, too. The rise of social commerce and the ability to buy there and then from the phone is a huge sales opportunity. The power of the teen pound will inevitably rise and marketeers would do well to turn their attention to the kids who are going to determine the future of their brand.
We need to adopt channels that will reach Gen Z in their everyday lives, nurturing the way they think and engage with digital, because of how they have been exposed to the Internet from an early age, becoming “social savvy”. It’s how you tailor your content, offers and messaging to appeal to Gen Z. After seeing struggles from their elders and how advertising used to be approached, marketers now need to think outside of the traditional tactics and this isn’t just about using digital. Providing new, up-and-coming experiences are a great way of exciting the audience to build a connection with a brand. Brands like Taco Bell, Target and DreamWorks Animation's AwesomenessTV are experimenting with apps, pop-up shops, immersive store experiences and other marketing efforts; these companies are becoming more responsive and adaptable to changes in the marketplace.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that this audience is becoming more aware of lifestyle issues; politics, career opportunities, the future- and from a young age – in three years they’ll be entering the workplace and they’re growing up faster than ever before. This means that marketers cannot easily influence anymore because of maturity and expectations. Gen Z are breaking the norms, coming from non-traditional families, having children later on, being risk-adverse and being more accepting of change. I think the key thing here is that marketers need to empower Gen Z to do things for themselves and take hold of life. This calls for marketers to be clever with how they capture data, Gen Z behaviours, social conversations and trends to be even more targeted with their marketing campaigns, specifically understanding Gen Z demographics and data to create marketing campaigns that includes engaging messaging, we cannot be generalised anymore.
Oh, for goodness sake! As if us poor “millennials” haven’t had enough of being subject to pointless and cringey “cool Dad!” marketing tactics, as brands apparently struggle to relate to us, there’s talk of now starting on the youngsters, too. This can only mean a web full of guides to “making your Gen Z customers dig you” (or some other ill-advised phrase that tries and fails to make the writer sound hip enough to be composing the piece in the first place) – and we don’t need any more of that rubbish, frankly. Bye-bye millennials, we’re done with you now.
There’s just one problem with this approach. By focusing on something so superficial (the year they were born), you’re actually selling yourself and your product or service short. Why? Because the attention should be focused on how useful it is to consumers, irrespective of their age. Over the past year we’ve seen a serious emoji faux-pas at House of Fraser, apostrophes in hashtags at Asda and Coca-Cola left red-faced after a social media campaign gone wrong (#MakeItHappy). What’s the common denominator? An embarrassing brush with millennial/Gen Z marketing tactics. All three tried too hard to make their younger audience like them and in turn, made a fool of themselves to ALL of those customers who were paying attention.
Want to make your marketing count this year and beyond? Stop segmenting customers so narrowly, cut the crap content and be useful to empowered consumers with the web at their fingertips, whether they’re 50 or 15.
Firstly, I think we would all agree that advertisers should concentrate on reaching the most appropriate audience for their brand, product and objectives. If this happens to be Gen Z then of course social media channels will play a greater role. But ignore millennials at your peril. They're only just becoming valuable to brands because they're reaching that age where they start to have an increase in disposable income.
Secondly, finding real truth and insight has always been the key to successful advertising and communications. Isn't that why McCann gave us "Truth well told" in the 50's? Unrealistic brand promises will always be met with cynicism, and it's wrong to assume that advertisers have been getting away with it to anyone but the media savvy Gen Z. That underestimates the majority of the UK population who have the majority spending power.
Lastly, it's ironic to assert that advertisers need to stop homogenising, this is a totally homogenised view of the advertising industry itself.
The first and most important thing to recognise in an understanding of my generation (Gen Z, The Netflix Kids, The Laze Generation, Blair’s Babes, whatever you prefer to call us), is that, ultimately, we are extremely damaged. It’s no real surprise - we’ve grown up utterly saturated and engrossed with a 24/7 exposure to social media, television, digital advertising and all the many wonders and horrors they’ve brought with them.
Past generations might have retained a small shred of censorship and protection over the content they had access to. Us? Nothing. We can see whatever we want, whenever we want to see it. The result is constant information - adverts, videos, opinions, appeals, thoughts, pictures and more - at any time. We as a generation have unparalleled access into other people’s lives - Snapchat being a prime example. Every day, we can wake up to a live, streamed update of what everyone you know is doing, where they are, and who they’re with.
This constancy of content leads to one very clear outcome; a strong desire to stand out in what is an unprecedentedly crowded social market. How can we make people take notice of us? A marketer asks the same question every day. How is it that marketers can connect with a generation who feel as though they’ve seen it all before? There’s a strict difference between an opinion about what it is that a group of people want to hear and what they actually want to hear, too.
Sure, focus groups, character profiles and thought showers might help you try and guess what engages someone born mid-90s, but the truth is that you’re dealing with the most complicated group of teens ever. You’ll never really know for sure. Undoubtedly, we are the most socially aware generation of all time. The post-1996 baby can grow up knowing one thing; it’ll take a lot for marketers to make us take an interest in what they’ve got to say.
Want ‘Gen Z’ to listen? Be honest - it’s different.
If you live and breathe social media marketing then there is never an occasional to homogenise a group – whether they are so called millennials, Gen Z or as we recently wrote on our blog, oldies (apparently anyone over 50!)!
Marketing today is about relevancy. And relevancy plays into interests and behaviours. Segmenting audiences, playing back messaging and creative that resonates and is timely. Then doing this at scale. It is the heart of any social media initiative. James Whatley is right – the time has come to stop bundling people together in demographics, with spurious generalisations.
Advertisers should stop focussing on millennials, and yet targeting Generation Z isn't the answer. It is time to forget generation defining generalisations completely and start concentrating on individuals. As marketers, we operate in a time when it is easier to understand and track an individual consumer's behaviour than ever before. Data should be the starting point for advertisers now, not lifestyle statements.
Towards the end of 2015 Nielsen released their Global Generational Lifestyles report. It addresses many generalisations about younger people, showing them to be misconceptions. The report shows millennials and Generation Z to be motivated by traditional values like house ownership and marriage. They are individuals who spend their spare time reading and listening to music, not just Vlogging and sending X-rated Snapchats.
It is true Gen Z has grown up in a completely different world than those before them however; that doesn’t mean they are the only ones whose behaviour changed. With new technologies emerging daily, users across several generations have adjusted to trends and technology. It would be wrong to only classify Gen Z as hyper-socially aware, as early adopters from Gen X have clearly cut the way through social activity online and Millennials are just as socially active as Gen Z, only across different platforms.
Regardless of the generation of the target audience, marketers need to give up homogenising and look for deeper consumer insights. Rather than looking at overall demographics, tailor communication around smaller, user-case based insights regardless of generation. New channel and interest preferences certainly need to be tested, but it is crucial to find a link between product and the channel that makes it relevant in the mind of users, before putting all the eggs in a one new basket.
Look, a squirrel! We are obsessed with chasing the next opportunity. Now that everybody in our industry had their say about what makes millennials tick and all creative possibilities on Instagram and Facebook have been exhausted, we need something new to get excited about. Thankfully, Gen Z is just about to mature from childhood to an audience we can legally advertise a whole world of shiny products and services to.
But aren’t we missing a trick here? The consumer market with the highest spending power in the UK are those over the age of 50. Still, generation ‘salt and pepper’ is mostly ignored. For example, have a look at House of Fraser’s fashion section on their website. I challenge you to find a model that is older than 30 years. And why they thought that jumping on the emoji bandwagon would be a good idea, when shoppers aged 55 or over are expected to account for £14.45 billion of UK’s online spend this year, still puzzles me.
Secondly, demographic clusters only tell part of the story. According to Google, marketers who rely only on demographics risk missing more than 70% of potential mobile shoppers. We can’t simply ignore consumer passion points, attitudes and interests in favour of nice sounding generation labels. Take the gaming category as an example. The classic stereotype of the gamer as a geek in their mid 20s persists. In reality gaming has become mainstream, spanning several generations, genders and groups that unite around a shared interest. Our role is to look beyond generation labels and add substance. As James Whatley rightly said, we have to “find a real truth or insight that will reach this audience.”
Millennials are boring there I said it. But so are Gen Y, Gen Z, Boomers etc.
The problem with the ‘Generation this or that’ approach is that they are broad brush demographic segments which are neither useful for marketers nor do justice to the variety of individuals in a particular cohort. I find them boring as they don’t delve into the beautiful fascinating individual groups within those segments. Demographic segments don’t give the nuance required to really understand the people we need to engage. The insights to inspire creative solutions or the detail for effective media targeting.
Gen Z are fascinating in their use of technology, perception of the world and brands place in it BUT are they the right audience for every brand? NO. Of course we need to understand the changing media habits of consumers but just always going for the youngest coolest is that right? We also need to consider the market in which we operate. For millennials, and now Gen Z, excitement is often driven by stats in the US showing they are the biggest cohort. But if we look at the UK as a whole, 27.9% of people fall into the Generation X category (30-49), 22.2% are Baby Boomers (50-59), 20.9% are in Generation Y (15-29), indeed at only 18.1%, Generation Z (0-14) is the smallest group at present. I am looking forward to seeing the unfolding of how the next generation engage with brands, the devices they use and how creative they get with content…even the businesses they inspire.
Millennials and Gen Z are probably two of the most commonly heard words in agency offices around the UK today. What are these cohorts doing? Who is the most important? The reality is that they are as important as each other - however, where Millennials have been responsible for changing the way we communicate, Gen Z are the group that are accelerating this change.
Gen Z are the ones to watch out for, but they are not all the same. More and more research is being revealed on them, and it’s important to remember that there will be differences between tribes within the group. Music, taste and trends still define individuals within the group, however, there are three distinct traits that are true of the majority of this cohort. Digital everything - they grew up with the smartphone. Digital weaves throughout their lives, it is literally everything everywhere. Fast thinkers – they have an 8 second attention span. They consume, process and discard information faster than any other generation. Visual language – they speak emoji. Visual language when communicating is the norm. To communicate with this audience, advertising needs to change. We need to think creatively about how we capture their attention, create communications that connect with the physical and digital world and create visual bite sized brands.
However, this doesn’t mean we should forget Millennials – after all, they are of employment age, and have more spending power than Gen Z, the majority of whom are still at school. We have been talking about Millennials for a long time now, so they’re probably not the shiny new toy anymore. But when it comes to growing brands, they are still the most important cohort. Essentially Gen Z are the cohort that is driving real change, opening up a world of opportunity for forward thinking brands. But let’s not forget Millennials, who currently have the greatest spending power, and are still fundamentally important to a brand’s growth today. Ignore them at your peril.
Labelling a generation does not guarantee an effective marketing campaign. Marketers would be much better off focusing on the trends happening with young people more generally. Social media, for example, has made such a massive impact on the way in which young people live their lives that brands have had to develop an entirely new way of engaging with their audiences.
The rise of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has meant that users have become broadcasters in their own right and have created their own audiences, routinely streaming experiences and events from their own lives. The impact of this digital revolution means that brands are now required to be extremely genuine in the way they engage with consumers. Anything that is less than the truth will be easily exposed in a world where everyone is their own brand. Brands that are willing be a relevant part of their customers’ lives will create loyal brand advocates, ready and willing to be their advertising platform. To reap these benefits, brands simply need to be the adventure that their customers want to go on.
The Lost Generation, the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, millennials and now Generation Z. At best, these labels reflect genuine efforts to pin down ‘truths’ and insights about a huge number of individuals who happen to be born at roughly the same time. At worst, the categorisation can be a bit of a lazy way that we marketers justify our existence or excuse trotting out mediocre, ‘by-the-numbers’ strategies.
The truth is, if there is a set of unifying characteristics to each ‘generation’ they are likely to just be responses to the situations in which they find themselves. I’m a Gen X-er and even though I give them a hard time about it, I know that the only reason I read more books when I was my kids’ age is because I was stuck with just four channels and no YouTube.
In contrast, Generation Z is immersed in always-on, infinite information and still only 24 hours a day in which to experience it. But they (and their attention spans) have adapted accordingly.
The way we consume media is mere set dressing and far less important a factor in determining what we like and what we might want to buy than the unique details of our personal life experiences, and the universal characteristics of being human – emotion, hope, conflict, aspiration. So, yes, knowing the product you’re selling and understanding how to reach your target audience are incredibly important but they don’t count as much as having a really good story to tell.
Advertisers have no choice but think about Generation Z. Whether called Generation Z, Gen Wii, iGeneration, post-millennial - they are a larger cohort than the baby boomers or millennials and cannot be ignored. Advertisers will be required to refresh their strategies to reach this audience in a new way as these multitasking digital natives want value above all else.
To earn brand loyalty with these “screen-agers”, advertisers must follow the mantra “eat little often”. This is a tapas approach to marketing whereby advertisers reach Generation Z via the creation of bespoke content and campaigns over multiple digital touch points. With an attention span that shifts within seconds, it's more important than ever for advertisers to focus on platform-specific tactics to engage this group. Whether it is on Snapchat or YouTube or infiltrating dark social peer-to-peer communities, advertisers must deliver their message in a variety of ways that are bespoke to channel in order to engage Generation Z on a deeper level. This will be key for 2016 and beyond.
James Whateley argues that brands need to identify the ‘brand truths’ that will help them to engage and connect with the new consumers on the block.
That sounds like a lot of work for planning departments, which I can only applaud. But I am not as squeamish as James about making broad generalisations (based loosely on a very small sample group of my own teenage children).
So what can we look forward to from Gen Z. On the one hand, they are ‘hyper-socially connected’: on the other, they prefer closed networks like Snapchat and WhatsApp. They would rather gouge out their own eyes than be seen endorsing a brand on Facebook. In fact, they are highly cynical about advertising - and with good reason. They have grown up in an age where - in their view - slick corporate advertising is a veneer painted over fraudulent selling (banks) and tax avoidance (basically everyone).
Sadly the major exponents of the ‘brand truth’ approach that James is so keen on are also now officially the world’s biggest corporate hypocrites. In 1999, Volkswagen won the AdAge award for the best advertising campaign of the previous century for their beautiful press ads by DDB. Ten years from now, it is doubtful that the brand will even exist, once the US legislators have finished tearing into VW’s systemic cheating of emission tests.
So Gen Z are cynical - and they will also become angry when they realise that they have been dealt a dreadfully unfair hand economically. In the UK, old people have snaffled up the money, the flats, the houses, the index-linked pensions, the student grants, the job security. In return Gen Z is being offered zero-hour contracts, Netflix, Spotify and a YouTube packed with vacuous corporate videos about ‘brand truth’. It is a poor bargain. That’s Gen Z. Angry and cynical. Talking a lot, but mostly to themselves. They will be advertising’s worst nightmare.
I agree that brands need to stop standardizing their advertisements, but not only with Gen Z. Advertising has always had a stereotypical slant, it’s needed to. We have to make guesses now and then on what we think will resonate with the customer base, I get that. However, if Gen Z has taught us anything it’s that in the digital era, that’s a very backward way of thinking. Consumers today expect personalised treatment; they don’t like to be treated as a collective group and brands need to find a way to serve that need.
Online marketing in particular has opened doors of opportunity to allow us to move toward targeting the consumer in a more personalised way. We can do this by focussing our efforts towards how we can help the consumer make an informed and confident purchase decision, by aligning our marketing strategies to the different stages of the buyer journey. Marketers should be asking questions like, how can we raise awareness at an appropriate time and place and, in a medium the customer will care about? What other interests do our customers have that we can align with that will encourage them to care? How can we mould journeys through content/experiences that deliver informed and motivated customers to a final decision? Because if Generation Z can see through most (if not all) marketing efforts, so, increasingly, can other generations.
When we look at the characteristics of our typical Gen Z persona, we find someone who has grown up around well designed and intuitive technology. They don’t hear the phrase ‘I don’t know, ask your mum’ because they’ve already asked Google. Their tolerance for slow services is zero, they don’t email, it takes too long. They happily spend their money on virtual powers or farm animals and don’t necessarily demand something tactile in return. They’re used to instant and often multiple virtual conversations. Short of saying they’re developing their own language, their sentences are made up by majority of abbreviations, excessive punctuation and pictures. Maybe it’s time businesses started addressing this audience in their own language. I wouldn’t like to advocate the dumbing down of the English language, but language is an evolving form of communication, if we look back in history the English language is barely recognisable by today’s standards. However, I think brands would have to think carefully before using this tactic as you wouldn’t want to sound like an uncool uncle.
So how do you reach out to this audience, well start by looking at their habits. There is no one go to platform to catch this audience they’re texting on What’sApp and ooVoo, microblogging on Instagram, Tmblr, Twitter and Vine, they live stream on YouNow whilst sharing their secrets on Snapchat. Their platform of choice is clearly dependant on the purpose of the communication. Whist they use more channels their audience is more condensed than it would be should they broadcast to their 400+ ‘friends' on Facebook. There’s a plethora of rising stars covering every subject you can think of, and probably some you would never have thought of (whoever would have guessed ‘unboxing - the unwrapping of toys’ would at one point be the third most popular YouTube channel). If I was a marketer right now looking at ways to reach my Gen Z consumers, I’d certainly have my eye on the rising stars of YouTube who are creating and posting video about subjects in my sector. These are the people with the power to reach your audience and these are the folks you want on your side.
Do you have a strong opinion on a topical industry issue? To submit a comment piece, please send a short summary of your idea to email@example.com. Views of writers are not necessarily those of The Drum.