4 Ways Your Business Can Relate to the Growing Gen Z Audience

Opinion: Where is the right balance between persuasion and authenticity?

The more we try to tell Gen Z what to do, think or say, the more our engagement will be lost - Credit by designer491/iStock

Generation Z has built a reputation as hard-to-reach consumers, and that’s problematic for marketers attempting to target the largest generation, accounting for 26 percent of all people in the U.S.

It’s not that Gen Z are somewhere far out in obscurity—social and smartphones are all they have ever known. They don’t “go online”—they just are online. Perhaps it’s this intuitive understanding of digital technologies that has turbocharged their “BS” filters.

Growing up in a virtual world of nonstop targeted advertising, influencer marketing and social media campaigns probably makes you even more aware of what is real and what simply appeals to your beliefs—and, of course, what doesn’t appeal to them.

Here, in short, is the crux of the problem: Most advertising is biased. Nobody is going to buy the latest H&M pants if they were being advertised as “alright.”

So, how do you reach this generation? Where is the right balance between persuasion and authenticity? The mind boggles.

Give the Gen-Zers a place in the conversation

Firstly, keep in mind that this generation has been witness to acts of terrorism, the early 2000s recession and referendums like Brexit, where many young people felt that their voices were stifled by older generations—and all of this in the most formative years of their lives.

They do not feel that they can depend on previous generations for guidance and, therefore, they believe in making a change and are more interested in “participating in social activism and working for their success.” They don’t want brands to tell them what to do or think. They prefer two-way relationships where their voices are heard and acted on—and where content isn’t just targeted at them, but created in a collaborative fashion.

Present your company in a way Gen Z can actually relate to

Communicating in a relatable way is important for engaging this audience, and that means adapting the approach to fit different devices and platforms. 54 percent of Gen-Zers surveyed said they use multiple devices at any one time, with the average being 1.8 devices, which amounts to a whopping 10.6 hours per day. With so many different platforms to find them on, combined with an “eight-second attention span,” you need to catch their eye quickly.

Personally, I think the phrase “attention span” sounds a bit negative, and I prefer Fast Company’s alternative of an eight-second filter.

Either way, with all of this time spent on social media, they know what they like and can identify things that relate to them with super-fast efficiency. Authenticity is therefore integral, and this needs to feel consistent no matter what channel.

It’s 2018! So, make sure you act like it!

Gen Z wants their brands to be authentic because that’s how they like to live and interact with the world. They are socially aware and are more tolerant and open-minded about world issues.

With many countries legalizing same-sex marriage within their lifetime, along with campaigns for LGBTQ rights and #BlackLivesMatter becoming one of the most-used hashtags of all-time, Gen Z wants to make a difference, and it wants brands to follow suit.

Being a generation that is generally more tolerant means that Gen Z is open to different sexual preferences, races, cultures and traditions. They are more likely to identify with brands that also convey this openness.

The stereotypical middle-class family portrait will no longer appeal to their desires because the “norm” can now vary in color, size, gender, transgender and sexual preference.

And with this, keep in mind their entrepreneurial spirit. They do not like to be boxed into categories or labels. And the minute you try to do so, they will disregard your message as irrelevant. Your message to them is simple: We can help you be you and not stifle your innovative free spirit.

Make sure your brand or company promotes and embodies authenticity

With innovation comes individuality. Gen Z does not like to follow trends. And listening to them would be very beneficial.

Take Tiffany Zhong as an example. At the age of 21, she has already founded a business called Zebra Intelligence that teaches brands how to connect to Gen Z. Between juggling talks and other various conferences, she has managed to help many companies understand the Gen Z demographic and get featured on Forbes’ website. Having always been connected, they can innately navigate within the social media world, knowing how to identify with what’s cool—and also how to create what’s cool.

The next generation of consumers might be elusive to brands, but they are listening to one another. The more we try to tell Gen Z what to do, think or say, the more our engagement will be lost within this demographic. The more honest, authentic content people share, the more relevance, reach and resonance can be gained between their peers and the brands.

Melanie Mohr is founder and CEO of Yeay, an ecommerce site for Generation Z, as well as founder and CEO of blockchain company Wom Token, which helps brands tap into Gen Z peer-to-peer recommendations.