What could a K-pop band, Anime series, and TikTok-famous YA novel have in common? A strong fanbase (that maybe borders on obsessive).
Brands aiming to connect with Gen Z can draw inspiration from the approaches taken by fandom cultures to build their brands, foster engagement, and nurture loyalty.
- Embrace a ‘Phygital’ Landscape: ‘Phygital’ approaches, like live streams, pop-up shops, and augmented reality, are becoming the new normal for previously segmented digital and IRL experiences.
- Lean Into Community Building: Create exclusive communities for your brand, encourage charity involvement, and engage on social media.
- Innovate and Adapt: Don’t be scared to try something new; beta-testing big ideas can go a long way.
- Keep it Real and Emotionally Driven: Humanize your brand. From quirky TikTok content to addressing societal issues, actions like these can help foster emotional resonance.
1. Embrace the ‘Phygital’ Landscape
Musical artists, authors, and show producers are starting to cover their bases in-person and virtually, leveraging several ‘phygital’ avenues to keep their audiences engaged. From bringing the Demon Slayer anime to life on stage to hosting live-stream ACOTAR book talks to experimenting with pop-up shops, fans are given unique opportunities to support their favorite people and content.
In a recent study, more than half of the participants (60%) say they participate in in-person engagements at least once per week and as much as multiple times per week.
Brands can benefit from optimizing ‘phygital’ tools. At JUV, we partnered with Starry to offer ZCON guests Starry Polomas during our ‘Prom’–an activation integrated seamlessly with the event that may have converted some of us to Starry Polomas ONLY.
With Coachtopia, a sustainable sub-brand from Coach, we built a beta community of 100 Gen Z fashionistas, climate activists, and creators who offered their Gen Z expertise to spread the word about Coach’s Circularity model. These community members ended up in photoshoots and IRL fashion-related events, and the collection even graced the red carpet of the MET Gala.
2. Lean Into Community Building
For BTS and their “army,” community means having access to enclosed online groups where fans can interact with each other and receive updates on the band. It also means working together for a cause; the ‘One In An Army’ fundraising initiative started in 2018, when fans united to raise money for several humanitarian crises, from education in underserved countries to disaster relief.
Fans of ACOTAR have taken TikTok by storm #acotar has amassed 6.8B views. And yes, maybe we’ve done our fair share of scrolling through fan art of the Bat Boys (#iykyk).
Brands can follow suit and foster a sense of community among consumers by creating unique experiences and offering opportunities to join enclosed groups. Brand ambassador programs like Bumble Honey and beta communities like Coachtopia are examples of vetted communities offering exclusive perks and turning customers into brand advocates.
3. Innovate and Adapt
During BTS’ rise to stardom, they took inspiration from the Western music industry. They tailored their production and style to maintain their global audience and evolve over the years without leaving K-POP culture.
Like artists, brands don’t need to change the core of what they represent and what they sell to keep Gen Z loyal. Instead, brands should focus on innovation–intentionally adapting products and services to meet Gen Z consumers’ evolving needs, interests, and preferences is essential.
It’s not only about what a brand sells but how it sells; innovation can look like creating content inspired by the latest TikTok trend or experimenting with ‘phygital’ activations.
Duolingo went from being a green owl to being the green owl through innovative social media strategy. More recently, the team attended the Barbie movie premiere and tabled at an Eras tour concert. At ZCON 2023, Global Head of Social Media at Duolingo, Zaria Parvez, spoke about how their infamous social media strategy all started when she accidentally commented from the brand account rather than her own, but it was the adaptability of the brand to listen to the response from viewers and re-imagine their strategy that allowed it to take off.
4. Keep it Real and Emotionally Driven
A significant factor contributing to the success of BTS, ACOTAR, and Demon Slayer is their ability to create emotional connections with their fan base. Addressing societal issues with the BTS army, emotional storytelling in ACOTAR, and resonating themes in Demon Slayer capture the hearts of fans.
In 2022, JUV partnered with GBH to run the @arthurpbs TikTok account, bringing trendy but nostalgic content to viewers. Not only is it important to create fun content that resonates with Gen Z, but also content that focuses on your brand’s CSR efforts.