They’re the generation many of whose members don’t remember hip-hop before Drake, video before YouTube, or life without social media. Their oldest members were barely out of the womb when Taylor Swift scored her debut hit.
They’re Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, and earlier this month, more than 30 marketers, creators and entrepreneurs in that age bracket presented at digital marketing agency JUV Consulting’s two-day ZCon event in Los Angeles, where the focus was on how brands can best reach these in-demand consumers.
“If you want to connect with Gen Z, if you want to talk so much about Gen Z, you have to talk to us,” JUV co-founder and CEO Ziad Ahmed said at the conference, noting how marketers have left Gen Z out of the creative process. “There are so many conversations about us that do not center our voices, and it’s time for that to be passé, and for that to be a part of the past.”
What came out of ZCon were several ways brands and marketers, not to mention advertising media, can reach Gen Z consumers with greater success – one of which was, perhaps surprisingly, moving away from social media, due to negative feelings about these platforms dating back to childhood, and the desire to develop communities in other mediums.
“How I approach [social] platforms now is that they’re a starting point,” Jules Terpak, a content creator, tells Ad Age. “It’s a starting point for ideas [and] connections, but you want to move those offline as much as possible. In the creator world, it’s like, is what you’ve built on the internet sustainable in real life if this platform goes away?”
Also mentioned was replacing an “always on” social media strategy, centered on frequent posting, with an “always there” approach focused on online community management, such as replying to comments and popping up in other users’ comments sections. At ZCon, Zaria Parvez, Social Media Coordinator for language-learning app Duolingo, noted that if social content isn’t rooted in what Gen Z consumers are hearing about, seeing and even taking part in while on social media, it doesn’t matter how often a brand posts content.
Addressing older marketers who may feel out of touch with Gen Z, Parvez stressed that age is less a factor in Gen Z staying on top of social media trends or hot topics, as opposed to how immersed they are in online culture. “I think there’s this emphasis that [older people] feel like they might be irrelevant or they’re not going to get it,” she said, “but honestly, it’s just a matter of being on the platforms and then connecting with the people who do get it and learning off of each other.”
One powerful way to reach Gen Z is with brands led by creators with whom they’re familiar, as in businesses owned by online influencers such as Mr. Beast and Emma Chamberlain. According to a report from The New Consumer and Coefficient Capital, more than half of Gen Z consumers consider it extremely or very important that a brand’s founder is someone they “trust or admire.” while 44% of said they prefer creator-founded brands to those without an influencer founder.
“There are so many brands that are coming up now because there’s more creators than ever [and] more celebrities than ever,” singer/actor Pragathi Guruprasad, who co-founded skincare brand Soma Ayurvedic, said at ZCon. “In terms of what you want out of a leader who’s building right now, intention and vision are so important.”
ZCon speakers also noted the need for marketers to do better at reaching a more diverse group of Gen Z consumers, often due to a lack of diversity among those brands’ creative teams, with the suggestion that marketing that could be interpreted as racist is often the result of “brands not having the right faces in the room.”
Brands should also take note of Gen Z’s increasing use of TikTok vs. Google as a search engine. At the conference, Sophia Dennis, founder and CEO of theater and film production studio Phace Media, suggested that search engines have “shifted into creator spaces,” and that search engine marketing may eventually shift to TikTok and other social platforms.