Ziad Ahmed founded JUV Consulting, which works with brands like Unilever and BET, at age 16. Now 21 and heading into 2021, he shares how brands can connect with Generation Z.
Verizon – Ziad Ahmed has one question for brands in our post-pandemic world:
What is your why?
What he means: Every person who works at a company should know why they do what they do and be able to sum it up in a single sentence. “You should know what your mission statement is and why you’re showing up to work,” he says, “because if not, why are you going there?”
“Then, every decision that you make should connect back to that why,” he adds. “For me, I run a business. We exist to empower young people. That’s our why. Every decision that I make, I’m asking myself, does this empower or disempower young people?” He repeats it: “What is your why?”
It’s a worthy mantra for employees in all sorts of fields to consider as industries reckon with how to operate in an uncertain future, and Ahmed is the unlikely guru perfectly suited to these times.
Ahmed founded JUV Consulting at the ripe old age of 16—he’s now 21—and balances managing 15 full-time employees, 100 contractors and the 3,000 Generation Z denizens that are part of JUV’s insights network with normal 21-year-old stuff, like college. He’s a senior at Yale University, studying social media’s impact on political elections.
Pre-pandemic, Ahmed touched down in three to four cities a week, meeting clients and speaking at conferences. These days, he’s hunkered down in Princeton, New Jersey, at JUV’s temporary offices. But he’s still got insights on how companies of all stripes around the world can best make an impact moving forward. Here are five of them:
1. Link for-profit with social impact.
In Ahmed’s opinion, social impact should be baked into every new product launch or business venture. Take, for example, the #UnpackThatChallenge that he helped JanSport roll out at the end of March.
As schools started to talk about closing down, he started thinking about the anxiety that Generation Z were feeling. Within nine days, he corralled 10 diverse TikTok creators to produce immersive videos that showed them unpacking their JanSport backpacks, setting up new at-home workspaces and talking about how they were dealing with the COVID-19 curveball.
“We also paired it with social impact,” he says. JanSport gave 12,500 backpacks filled with necessities to World Central Kitchen, which distributed them to young people in need. “We got 20 million impressions using the campaign hashtags,” he says, and helped the brand do a world of good as well.
“It was a really wonderful moment that showed exactly what we’re capable of and that when companies choose to be thoughtful and compassionate and try to make the world a little bit better, it can be a beautiful thing,” he says.
2. Get to know Generation Z.
In the wake of the pandemic, many of the 2 billion people who make up Generation Z are questioning everything. “There is increased criticism, skepticism and distrust when it comes to business,” Ahmed says. “A lot of young people are increasingly disillusioned with the systems that exist” and eager “to speak out and demand a lot more and a lot better of businesses.”
They want to buy from brands that endeavor to be sustainable and ethical. “More of us are living healthier lifestyles,” he says, “we’re working out more, eating healthier, because we have the space, time and agency to.”
He implores companies to make an effort to get to know young consumers, if not on their own, then by engaging a consultancy like JUV, which provides clients with influencer marketing, creative services and experiential marketing—and teaches them about the specific sector of Generation Z individuals that they’re trying to reach. “We do a lot of core workshops, curricula and crash courses on Gen Z culture and what we’re feeling,” he says, but, bottom line, “we push our clients to be better,” and to show up in “the most bold and beautiful and brave way.”
3. Lean into mobile.
All that time young people spend on their phones is not for naught. Generation Z—along with pretty much every other generation—is doing more on their phones than ever before: learning, reading, shopping, socializing, dating.
“No one goes on TikTok on their computer,” Ahmed points out. “No one goes on Tinder on their computer.” The companies that figure out how to reach consumers where they are—on their phones—will be the ones that succeed in this new era.
4. Let your co-workers show up as their full selves.
With the line between home and work irrevocably blurred, Ahmed thinks it’s time for a new code of workplace conduct. In essence: Let employees be the same person they are in the “office”—whether it’s virtual or IRL—as they are during their off hours. (Barring, of course, any behavior that would be seen as harassment or any comments that display racism, sexism or homophobia.)
“There’s a lot of subtext that dominates the business world like, ‘Oh, you can’t say that here,’” he says. JUV does not abide by that. “We talk about politics at work. We talk about our personal lives at work. We talk about all of us.”
“The most important thing for me as CEO,” he adds, “is that every person who walks through our door knows that I don’t expect them to check their identity, baggage or trauma at the door. We are those things, all of the time.”
5. Try new things—the riskier, the better.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the best-laid plans go to waste. Given that, the bar for trying out new, potentially successful strategies or modes of business should be so low, it’s practically ground level.
“There’s been a lot more experimentation and risk-taking than we’ve usually seen,” Ahmed says. He sums up his attitude to experimentation in a single sentence: “These are unprecedented times, so we might as well.”
And if you can put passion behind that new idea, all the better. “I always tell my team, ‘Don’t pitch any ideas that you’re not obsessed with,’” he says. “‘Don’t pitch any ideas that you’re not proud of. Don’t pitch any ideas that you wouldn’t be excited to see in the world.’ I think that ethos is what has gotten us here.”
Disclaimer: Verizon and Verizon subsidiaries have been and currently are a client of JUV Consulting.