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10 Ways to Speak the Same Language as Gen Z

$html.esc($author.firstName) Smith By Geoff Smith on April 6, 2016

This 18-and-under crowd was raised online and has big demands for brands’ ability to have fun, create a conversation and behave in socially responsible ways. Winning the loyalty of these ‘centennials’ won’t come easy; these tips can help.


It can take years for marketers to really feel like they understand a new generation – and Gen Z, or the “centennials” generation, is no different. Over the last year, research about this under-18 crowd has been trickling out from multiple industry sources.

Determining which traits to target now and which to devote more time to is the name of the game at this early stage. But centennials already share a number of common characteristics, as evidenced by their behaviors and interactions with brands and other online and mobile content.

Based on all of this, here are 10 ways brands can start speaking the same language as Gen Z – and winning their loyalty.

Ladies Walking1. Create conversations and experiences, rather than tell your brand story. These consumers are growing up with advertising that is tuned into them, so they’re tuned into it in return. But they will only stick around and pay attention if your content entertains them, gives them something to talk about or share with their friends, or has an extended interactive element. Traditional brand or product pitches need not apply.

2. Be quick and to the point. Centennials are said to have an average attention span of 8 seconds, so messages should be simple and include more visuals. Marketers are already trying to appeal through short-form content platforms like Snapchat and Vine, while Facebook and Pinterest have introduced new super-short video and advertising options that catch users’ attention quickly and let them choose to extend the experience from there.

3. Think in terms of product marketing, not just brand marketing. Sixty percent of centennials say they are more likely to connect to specific products than with the companies or brands themselves. This means brands can no longer rely as strongly on their good names to appeal to this generation. Instead, they should consider dedicated product marketing strategies for individual products –essentially treating each new product campaign with as much care as they would a brand campaign.

4. Leverage centennial influencers. Centennials rely on their peers to make purchasing decisions, so more brands are leveraging the social gravitas of influencers who are most popular with their target audiences. (Think: Instagram takeovers, where brands temporarily turn their social media channel(s) over to an influencer.)

5. Give them social currency. Centennials are always connected and 60% of them say they like to share their knowledge with others online. They also yearn for self-validation and constantly search for others that share their beliefs, especially on social media. Knowing that this generation is all about collecting, sharing and forming its circle of followers and friends, brands can help by equipping them with sharable content, giving them access to exclusive opportunities they can include their friends in, or recognizing them publicly for different forms of loyalty. They can even motivate them for sharing branded content.

6. Be socially conscious. Company beliefs and values are important to younger consumers, but centennials naturally gravitate toward brands that are socially conscious. This includes brands that are genuine, sustainable, honest and ethical. For example,

Charity: Water resonates well with this group for its transparency. The nonprofit’s website shows consumers exactly where their donations are going so there’s no uncertainty. A small effort like this goes a long way.

7. Let them know what they’re getting for their brand loyalty … ASAP. With centennials’ short attention spans and acute focus on getting what they want, it’s important that brands front-load their interactions with a very clear answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” This includes spelling out benefits for joining your rewards program, as well as communicating indirectly that your brands are useful and exciting.

8. Engage them across screens. While millennials are known to be fairly addicted to their screens, centennials basically live and breathe technology. The Internet has been part of their lives since Day 1 and their regular routine involves multitasking across five screens – TV, phone, laptop, desktop and either a tablet or some handheld gaming device. If you’re just on one of these, you’re at risk of losing out. Take it a step further by rewarding them for interacting with you on multiple channels and devices – for example, offering loyalty points for checking in at your retail locations.

9. Show them the playful, human side of your brand. Since this group has more access and greater expectations of brands, companies must be creative to stand out. Brands like Oreo that regularly choreograph in-person events with social tie-ins (like its 2015 Solar Eclipse stunt), know how to stay fun, relevant and social. These types of efforts speak to the hearts and minds of this growing demographic.

10. Reward them with cool prizes – as a rule, not a novelty. Other generations enjoy being rewarded; Gen Z has been brought up to expect it. They’re acutely tuned in to the relationship between the brand and what it’s willing to do to cater to them.

Zumiez, for example, keyed into this early and introduced the Zumiez Stash loyalty program in 2012. The retailer rewards members with autographed postcards, posters and T-shirts; limited- edition merchandise; cool gear that appeals to the skaters, surfers and snowboarders in its audience; and special access to unique experiences. To earn points redeemable on rewards, members watch videos, connect their social accounts, tweet, read email and enter product purchases. Brands that do not adopt an incentive-driven mindset should not be surprised if these young buyers don’t become longtime loyalists. Each one of these tips has several applications – online, socially, in-person, on mobile and everywhere else brands interact with consumers. Brands that keep these guidelines at the root of their efforts will have a much better shot at appealing to a discerning audience and winning it over early to earn its loyalty.

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Meet The Author

$html.esc($author.firstName) Smith
Geoff Smith

Geoff Smith is senior vice president of marketing at CrowdTwist. Refer to CrowdTwist Partner page for details.