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Gen Z Are Burning Down The House?

From Marketing Island

Let’s pretend you a are a multi-million pound, potentially multi-brand business who has an audience that are spending less with you than before. A familiar story to many. You want younger people to buy into your brand. You need them to, Gen Z. Teenagers. Adolescents. 16-24s. Whatever you want to call them, they will make up 40% of US consumers by 2020. But, and there’s always a but, they are mercurial, contradictory and very probably entirely different from your current audience.

What to do, what to do. The sky is falling in. Well, no. it isn’t, but yes, they are a complex cohort. There is a very real opportunity for brands that can navigate the stormy waters of the late teenage brain.

Case in point. Just this year, Football giants Paris St Germain, a club quietly getting on with revolutionising world football by turning their club into a luxury lifestyle brand dropped the Jordan brand logo on their champion’s league kits. Why did your average 35 year old go absolutely nuts for it around the world? Why did it create headlines? How could they drop a basketball brand onto a football kit and make it work? Because at the height of Michael Jordan’s star power, his brand equity, his commercial megastardom, those average 35 year olds were 18 year olds.

That time of our life is hardwired into our long-term memory. Neuroscience calls it the ‘reminiscence bump’. What you experience then, stays with you long after. It’s a critical time of identity development. Of figuring out what brands can do for you and say about you.

But today’s young adults are fundamentally different to the previous generation. Whilst millennials (I’m choking on the vagueness of the definition but forgive me this once) are digitally native. Gen Z (same, choking again) are socially native. They were raised on social media, It’s always been there for them, and against them.

Commenting, liking, viewing, reading, sharing. Someone is always watching. Their hyper-sensitivity to their peer group is colliding with the mass social connectedness of our world. They are creating their identity in an environment unlike any we’ve seen before. The idea of aspiration is being overhauled and identities are in a state of flux as they react to a stream of dopamine highs or lows constantly flooding into their social feeds. The fluid nature of their identity causes real problems when brands are trying to communicate to them. The contradictions are difficult to comprehend.

But again, there is a positive that we can take from that. Social technology is liberating and galvanising rebellion, this generation are literally changing the world around them by mobilising like minded people via social media. Think of the big topics of this year, single use plastic, mental wellbeing, gender equality. This generation is turning rebellion into activism. Listening to their peers, filtering out the propaganda and fake news greedily swallowed by older generations, getting to the real facts and propagating them.

So if you are ready to be transparent, creative, value driven and make a positive difference to something other than your bottom line, you are in good shape to benefit from the reminiscence bump and become a lifelong partner to a generation intent of burning down the house.

If you are not. Newsflash. You’re gonna have to make some big changes.

1. Set brand values that are relevant, not a brand essence that is ‘timeless’. I use parenthesis because I can’t count the amount of times I’ve experienced brands that get some kind of essence or northstar that is updated every time someone decides it’s time for the emperor to get a beautiful new set of clothes. ‘Masstige’ FMCG brands are serial offenders in the ‘change the label and the one page brand summary with really affecting anything’ category. Lynx made a huge strategic change to align themselves to their target audience, dropping the shallow ‘spray more, get more’ to demonstrating a deeper set of values around identity, being confident in who you are is what defines happiness. It’s allowed them to create broader conversations around issues such as Mental Health, Bullying and Gender.

2. Change your mindset. Create a portfolio of sub-brands that can really target your audience, and be prepared to learn from them. Here is a real opportunity for the likes of Unilever, P&G, Masterfoods etc to speed up their processes. Take a more entrepreneurial approach to NPD. And that’s not a glib comment, some of those businesses are so disconnected from reality, chasing points of percentage points in MAT that they can’t lift up their heads. Ranks of mid-tier mid-talent who have statistics and data coming out of their proverbials but don’t actually understand their target consumer. Vodafone knew that they would never win a youth audience with a brand that was heavily used by their parents so instead of sticking with the monobrand they created Voxi as a separate brand with an entirely different plan. Creating something that fits generates engagement, hammering square pegs in round holes doesn’t.

3. Focus investment and time on the rising stars and question marks, don’t hang on to dogs, don’t become attached to cash cows, the market changes too fast, it’s not the 1980s. The high street is dying, slowing bleeding out. Because corporate FDs are experts in managing decline for shareholders and not creating new for consumers. Put the ideas people at the top table. Management skills and Financial governance should be there to support innovation.

4. If your market crosses a broad variety of ages, focus on your place in the audience’s head. You don’t need the same connection with everyone. You can be a utility brand to one audience and a fashion statement to another if you understand them well enough. Patagonia is a credible, serious outdoor brand worn by professional climbers, surfers and more. They are making great technical products that perform incredibly well. They also have real style chops too, look around at any fashionable 20year old and the likelihood is they have some Patagonia gear. They are company that understands how to live by their values, probably better than any other. A real market leader.

5. Find or build a team that works quickly. No point having a networked agency fighting with itself over budgets and processes if your audience have changed their mind by the time your brief is written. Traditional research methodology takes too long. If your insight teams don’t move at the speed of culture you are already starting to smoulder.