The tech company’s strategy positions consumers as brand partners
Emily Ketchen of Lenovo and Shaina Zafar of JUV Consulting at Brandweek.
Emily Ketchen knows that despite its reputation as a marketing-averse demographic, Gen Z is quick to advocate for the brands that align with their values—and any brand that is not prepared to both establish and prove a commitment to meaningful work will fall behind.
Ketchen, Lenovo’s CMO and vp of international sales and the computing company’s Intelligent Device Group, sat down with Shaina Zafar, co-founder and CMO of Gen Z-focused agency JUV Consulting, to talk through making her company an attractive place to work while treating consumers like partners who have a real stake and voice in the company. As she put it, Gen Z “does not to be spoken at. It wants to be spoken with.”
Ketchen looks for opportunities to weave social impact into Lenovo to both attract talent and expand its consumer base. These priorities manifest in internal work that keeps employees satisfied and external initiatives that she hopes will turn passive buyers into brand loyalists.
Celebrating generational passion
Lenovo’s Work For Humankind initiative sends staff members to Chile’s Robinson Crusoe Island to boost its internet access, which allows communities to keep track of endangered wildlife. In 2022, the brand tapped Queen Latifah as the face of Evolve Small, an initiative that provides financial and technological support to minority- and women-owned small businesses.
For Humankind was a direct response to research around the future of work, according to Ketchen. Beyond debates on balancing in-person and office work, the priority among younger generations coming out of the pandemic was engaging in work that drives social change.
“It’s not about throwing things into the ether that aren’t going to resonate,” said Ketchen, emphasizing the importance of creating a “porous brand” that internalizes consumer feedback and adapts to changing needs. “It’s a relationship, and you volley back and forth and you listen carefully.”
Zafar, whose Gen Z staff stresses the need to “talk to us, not about us,” emphasized that younger generations are not interested in being treated like guinea pigs—and if brands want to win them over, they must invest in a community-first strategy. She recognized Lenovo’s internalization of Gen Z’s personal interests in travel and work that extends beyond personal enjoyment and monetary gain.
While Gen Z is dominating marketing conversations, Ketchen and Zafar also spoke to the importance of intergenerational connection. The core of every winning strategy, said Ketchen, is defining what the brand means for its employees and opening a discourse on opportunities for improvement.
“There is tension in intergenerational discussions, but I think that’s a good thing,” she said. “It’s in the tension [from which] comes the best integrated marketing.”