The next consumer-powerhouse generation can be summed up in just one letter: Z. And though its youngest members might be just now becoming teenagers, Gen Z makes up 26% of the US TV audience—the largest segment of our population.
Unfortunately, marketing to this younger audience isn’t easy. For one, it’s made up of tech-savvy digital natives, and the way they shop strays from what’s considered traditional. Even loyalty programs and coupons, which influence the purchase decisions of nearly 75% of Millennials, have little effect on Gen Z.
But if you can hook a youthful consumer, chances are you can integrate your brand into this person’s identity and eventually establish a lifelong customer. (Come to think of it, I’ve still got a pair of Doc Martens from when I was 18. Sure, I don’t wear them anymore, but those boots were very much a part of my identity.)
And members of this generation, like those of any other generation, define themselves by their tastes in everything from clothes to music to food.
The Subculture Culture
To really understand what motivates Gen Z to buy one thing over another, you need to look beyond its demographics and dive into the subcultures it identifies with. For these consumers, it’s about assuming a badge and telling the world, “Hey, this is me.”
Not that there isn’t any fluidity, however: They can easily move from geek to emo and back again. As a result, there are nodes of subcultures. And if you’re able to tap into them, Gen Z members are much more likely to pay attention to you.
Another differentiator of Gen Z is its desire to always be online. Even if Gen Z individuals are in a mall, they’ll pull out their mobile devices to look for those cool shoes someone was wearing. In fact, 50% of Gen Z consumers say they’ll be doing more research on clothes this coming year.
When you understand the key elements of these subcultures, you can more succinctly target Gen Z. You know the subtle nuances, allowing you to tweak your messaging so that it resonates better. And of course you shouldn’t be saying the same thing on Twitter as on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat; these consumers go to platforms for very different purposes and needs, and your messaging should reflect those.
Cosmetic companies, for example, are tapping into approaches that aren’t necessarily media-focused yet yield great value by harnessing partnerships they know can help them reach their target audience. These strategic brands understand that this generation—or at least half of all teens—wants to see “someone like me” in beauty advertising.
This target audience grew up learning how to apply makeup from YouTube videos, ultimately creating a marketing and communication platform of their own.
Three Ways to Tap Into Generation Z’s Diverse Subcultures
How do you use subcultures to connect with Gen Z consumers and integrate your brand into their identity? Consider the following strategies.
1. Build experiences into your campaign
When you tie a brand to concerts, block parties, sporting events, etc., you draw consumers to your product, creating a connection that compels them to buy. And, given time, those connections can turn into loyalty. However, they must feel honest and authentic: If you’re hosting experiences on one side and then saying something entirely different in all other elements of your marketing campaign, Gen Z (and not just) will see right through you.
Red Bull is a prime example of strategic marketing that focuses on the power of experiences. Known for its unique sporting events, the energy drink purveyor is now exploring augmented reality by bringing an extreme mountain-biking course to smartphones. In fact, Red Bull no longer considers itself solely in the beverage industry. It’s become more of a media company—or, really, a multiplatform media machine.
You can also commit to immersive experiences that attract Gen Z subcultures. Consider the trends that easily connect with your brand and then brainstorm interactive opportunities that both promote your product and get members of Gen Z buzzing.
2. Embrace the white space
You might think of media purchases as the middle of the bell curve, but consumers are bombarded with so much advertising these days that it’s become much easier to ignore. Besides, Gen Z is adept at downloading ad-blocking software.
To succeed, you need to think about advertising in context to the consumer and find the white space where you can entertain and capture attention. Sometimes, those places seem contradictory to what the data might show, but that just means you need to be more creative when trying to reach younger audiences.
Some years back, our agency worked on a campaign for Chase, targeting a business audience. Business travelers are always in need of an outlet to charge their phones, but few charging stations existed—or the outlets didn’t work. So we bought the outlets in airports, made sure they were in working condition, and messaged in this white space.
Follow suit by making a list of white spaces in your community. They might not be top of mind at first, so consider your habits and routines to pinpoint services and locations you frequent daily. Often, marketing opportunities are hidden in plain sight.
3. Get to know your audience
Engaging in conversations with consumers can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, if you want to ingrain your brand into Gen Z’s culture, you must be willing to learn from them.
After all, Gen Z is probably the most diverse generation in history, with just 52% under age 18 are white. The same can’t be said for Baby Boomers, who are 75% white.
Vodafone didn’t take these statistics lightly, deciding to launch a mobile network, Voxi, for people under the age of 25. In doing so, Vodafone tapped young creatives to develop its marketing campaigns, which put the company and its new network in a better position to speak to Gen Z. The people behind the messaging are a part of the target demographic, so it resonates in an authentic way.
Start to know your audience by walking through what your biases are and allowing people to explain why they think the way they do. However, don’t attempt this alone. Invite someone who is very much your opposite along for discussion. Having multiple perspectives and interpretations can help you become more open and understanding of the diversity within your target audience.
The more you’re able to understand the nuances of Gen Z subcultures, the easier it will become to tailor your messaging—either to the audience or the channel. You can adapt your creative, make it much more personal, and really tap into what drives these consumers to buy.
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