Creativity Brand

Four steps any brand can take to appeal to Gen Z

By Deena Bahri | CMO

June 2, 2022 | 6 min read

Once influenced by the brands themselves, today’s cultural trends are now shaped by Gen Z. The same traits that make this generation unique – their eye for “what’s next,” their focus on authenticity, and their prioritization of brand values – can be pain points for brands that aren’t marketing with intent. To build loyalty with Gen Z brands need to advocate meaningfully, tap into communities to stay ahead of trends, and lean on like-minded partners.

So how are brands supposed to do this exactly? Below are four tips that any brand – from startup to legacy – can follow to appeal to Gen Z, a generation characterized by its diversity, engagement with social movements, and an estimated $143 billion in annual spending power.

1. Leverage your platform for change

The next generation of consumers views brands as extensions of themselves, which means it’s critical that companies are vocal about the causes they believe in.

Gen Z

/ Adobe Stock

Hydro Flask is a great example of a brand playing to its strengths and advocating for a cause that is directly tied to its business and its customers. The reusable water bottle company put environmentalism at the heart of its mission with colorful stainless steel water bottles and a #RefillforGood campaign discouraging the use of single-use plastic bottles. As a result, the company saw a revenue increase of 247% and a return-on-ad-spend increase of 220% year-over-year.

87% of Gen Z have loyalist tendencies and this loyalty is earned by establishing trust and putting your money where your mouth is, according to one recent study.

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2. Embrace community-first social channels

Today, nearly every successful brand has a mainstream social media presence. One way to break through the noise is to use community-centric channels that have become popular with Gen Z users such as Discord and Twitch.

Through the rise of new communication platforms, organizations have the opportunity to tap into communities, foster two-way dialogue with these communities, and stay ahead of industry trends. However, to be successful, it’s important that brands invest the time and resources necessary to truly embrace the medium and interact with their audience in an authentic way.

Honda embraced Twitch by debuting a prototype of the 11th generation Honda Civic on its branded Twitch channel, Head2Head. Rather than roll out another standard-issue reveal, the Twitch stream also featured a live performance from Grammy-nominated rapper Cordae and a Fortnite competition, further engaging a younger audience of potential first-time buyers by leveraging a platform that is inclusive and demonstrates the impact of the creator economy.

It’s important to note that all social strategies are not created equal and tactics used on one platform don't necessarily apply to another. Looking at streaming as an example, the appeal of streaming is tied to the personality of the streamer.

3. Tap the power of partnership

We’ve seen brands rethink their collaboration strategy in order to align with the modern consumer in a new way. Across categories, the biggest names in the industry are tapping today’s most culturally relevant brands to appeal to a generation that values exclusivity, individuality, and investment opportunity above all else.

Few brands have done this as well as Crocs. Their collaboration roster ranges from high fashion brands (Balenciaga) to Gen Z-approved artists (Justin Bieber and Post Malone), to Hidden Valley Ranch. Yes, really! While it might seem like the brand is trying anything and everything, their approach is far more sophisticated. By employing a strategy that prioritizes cultural relevance above all else, Crocs landed a spot as one of the top 10 most-traded ‘sneaker’ brands on StockX in 2021 and ended 2021 with an average price premium of 98% on our platform.

We've seen a similar trend with Birkenstock, collaborations with streetwear label Stüssy and fashion brand Proenza Schouler helped boost Birkenstock sales by 610% year-over-year on StockX during the first half of 2021 (H1 2021 vs. H1 2020).

4. Create a celebrity halo

Just like the generations before them, Gen Z's buying habits are influenced by the celebrities and influencers they want to emulate. Growing up in the creator economy, Gen Z is able to spot inauthenticity and gravitates towards respected influencers that are genuine and stand for what they believe in. The key takeaway for brands? Strategic partnerships with the right tastemakers can go a long way.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ partnership with TikTok influencer Charli D'Amelio helped set a record for daily users on the Dunkin’ app, increasing app downloads by 57% in less than 24 hours. By forging this unconventional partnership with one of the biggest names of Gen Z – her reach spanning television, social media, and fashion – and TikTok’s top-earning influencer, Dunkin’ was able to see a massive return on investment and shift audience perception.

The convergence of fashion, gaming, streetwear, collectibles, and entertainment has created immense opportunity for brands, but the challenge is identifying the right creator or celebrity to partner with that feels equal parts unexpected and authentic.

The moral of the story: next gen consumers admire brands that act as vehicles for self-expression and inspiration, which means that maintaining a relatable, impactful, and authentic customer experience is the key to success.

Deena Bahri is chief marketer at StockX.

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