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Move over Millennials - it’s time to talk to Gen Z

By Julian Smith |

September 2, 2014 | 4 min read

For the last few years marketers have been busy understanding and addressing Millennials (or Generation Y) in their marketing communications. And for good reason. This young adult audience cohort are an important and influential consumer group.

But whilst these 20 to 30-somethings have been targeted, the next generation of consumers have been growing up.

Termed Generation Z (coming, as they do, after Generation Y and Generation X) these new kids on the block are now starting to mature, reaching adulthood and the beginnings of their own independent consumerism.

As such they are now the emerging target audience that marketers need to be shifting their attention to. Not only because they are different from previous consumer generations gone before but also because how they behave and interact with brands will impact marketing for years to come.

Born post 1995, this generation are true digital natives. They don’t know of life before Google, Facebook, smart mobile phones or digital TVs. Similarly referred to as the iGeneration, NetGen or Screenagers they have been born into a pervasive digital world where everything and everyone is accessible at the press of a button or click of a mouse.

As such they are used to finding information and education, consuming entertainment, communicating, participating and sharing across multiple digital screens. And they are used to achieving these multiple tasks simultaneously, flitting from one screen to another as they do. (For a great overview of the unique characteristics of Gen Z check out a slide show recently produced by Sparks & Honey).

For Gen Z, their smartphones are an extension of their body through which they manage their lives, and particularly their social lives. Mobile social networks, and increasingly messaging apps, are their playgrounds.

They communicate through them in bite size short messages, at speed, often with images and symbols. A behaviour that is turning them into the ultimate consumers of snack media.

Research suggests that their brains have evolved to process more information at faster speeds, and are cognitively more nimble to handle bigger mental challenges. They think spatially and in 4D. Gen Z have always known how to zoom, pinch and swipe. They have grown up with hi-def, surround-sound, 3D and now 4D – 360 degree photography and film is their normal. But as a result of all this their attention spans are getting shorter. Getting and keeping their attention is harder.

So for marketers, Gen Z presents a new challenge and a need, yet again, to evolve their communications strategies in the face of ever-changing digital consumer behaviours. Targeting this emerging audience will require campaigns to become even more multi-channel (with stories told across screens), even more visual (lead by video, photo or images), and even more participatory and shareable (with content co-creation – think selfies – at their heart). In addition messaging will need to be even more bite-size, ephemeral and real-time (responsive to the changing context within which messaging is delivered). Marketers will increasingly need to centre their campaigns at the intersection of social-mobile-local, if they wish to connect and engage this audience.

For a glimpse of how brands are starting to adapt to this new consumer reality, this year’s World Cup threw up a few interesting case studies – not surprisingly from the youth-focussed marketers.

The way brands like Snickers, Trident Gum, Listerine and Nando’s all capitalised on the Suarez biting incident with humorous Twitter posts was a good demonstration of how to resonate with the Gen Z audience.

So too was the McDonalds’ FryFutbol campaign where the brand worked closely with Facebook to rapidly produce bespoke, animated content based on recent match events.

And Nike’s partnership with Google to offer real-time mobile display ads during specific World Cup games was also a great example.

Their ads showed 3D renditions of each games’ biggest stars, and took advantage of the gyroscope allowing the viewer to move their mobile phone to see the player from different angles.

Fans could even create their own digital posters and share these via social media with their friends.

So as Millennials move over, and make way for the next generation, I look forward to watching how brands continue to adapt and evolve.


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