Aligning Your Brand with Gen Z: The Challenge of a Successful Outcome

Whether “Boomers” like it or not members of Generation Z are the future of our era. In the next 30 years they will become the vast majority of business owners, bankers, doctors and lawyers. While most are none of these yet, they do however make up a burgeoning segment of consumers ­– radically different than any other consumer segment that has come before them. Gen Z is an extremely diverse, tech-obsessed and brand agnostic group of consumers that seems to elude the majority of legacy brands targeted marketing efforts. In order for corporations to capture the hearts and minds of Gen Z consumers they must first answer one crucial important? question. What do they want?

So, why have most legacy brands spent millions of marketing dollars only to make little to no connection with Gen Z consumers?

What Gen Z consumers may lack in people skills, they make up for in tech and digital ad literacy. Through enduring a barrage of ads, content and branding, they’re able to see past corporations seemingly clever ploys to earn their dollar votes. While members of Gen Z spend an average of 40 hours online per week, and undoubtedly see an overwhelming amount of ads and content, they also are avid users of ad-blocking software and are notorious for despising heavily branded content.

Coincidently, large brands seem to think that constantly plastering their logos and brands on the screens of Gen Z consumers will result in a high ROI and long term brand loyalty. That could not be further from the truth. Gen Z does love content, and that does include promotional content. However, the empty, repetitive, and meaningless content created by many legacy brands is exactly the content that they hate. If you can’t picture what type of content that is being referenced, I’ll be a little more specific. Instagram content with unrealistic b-roll footage that has no relationship to the product or brand, unnecessarily cheesy two minute long Youtube ads that play before the video, Twitter ads that highlight the brand over the product, and experience and TV ads where the logo and brand have egregiously high usage rates.

It is not that branding and content aren’t important, because they most definitely are, but Gen Z consumers are hesitant to react positively to “creative content” or “unique branding” simply because there is an absurd amount of it out there. Furthermore, brands are not differentiating their content, it all seems to use the same footage, similar influencers and identical sales pitches.

So, what exactly differentiates content, and how can brands create steady streams of engaging content that hits home with Gen Z consumers?

Authenticity drives differentiation in branding and content in the eyes of young consumers. Staying true to brand identity, values, and culture across all marketing channels and in promotional content creates a visible appeal that creates a lasting impression with Gen Z consumers. By doing this, corporations are forced to make the product and experience the highlight of the ad, which is a critical aspect of successful ads targeted towards Gen Z.

Nike is maybe one of the most obvious examples of how being authentic to your brand in all of your marketing content creates a long lasting impact with Gen Z. Nike has always embraced being a champion of athletes and the causes they fight for. When Nike released their ad campaign demonstrating their unwavering support for Colin Kapernick and his cause, they doubled down on their brand identity, values and culture. Staying true to what the company has stood by for over 50 years has proven to be extremely successful. Nike was aware that a certain segment of consumers would disagree with their stance, and in turn would most likely turn to other brands for functional and sports apparel. The ramifications of their stance on their balance sheet was not important to them, what was important to the company was… their stance. Regardless of the projected financial ramifications of their message, Nike, did make valuable and concrete connections with Gen Z consumers. In turn, these connections that will end up in billions in revenue and massive consumer lifetime value (CLV) numbers.

Nike is clearly one of the most obvious examples of how being authentic in all aspects of marketing will create rapport with Gen Z. W Hotels is a lesser known brand that has also doubled down on their brand identity and image. Rather than hastily change their identity and image, based on demographic and psychographic shifts in their target persona, W Hotels changed certain aspects of the content they produce and how they distribute it. Taking into account the psychographics of Gen Z and Millennials they are clearly making the right decision. However, the purpose and overall message of their promotions have stayed the same. By working with agencies like Team Epiphany and strategic influencers, W Hotels simply made their content drastically more modern, simplistic and authentic. W Hotels strategically shifted their use of marketing channels heavily towards social media, which also demonstrates that connecting with young consumers means creating the right content and putting it in the right place.

Being authentic to your brand is just one component to creating successful Gen Z targeted marketing campaigns. Constantly evolving social media and popular culture trends dominate the minds of Gen Z consumers, so what else must brands incorporate into their marketing strategies to improve their connection with young consumers?

Brands must adopt lean and agile marketing teams that can quickly create content to keep their young consumers engaged. Churn rates among Gen Z consumers are especially high in most product categories, and legacy brands are struggling to develop the brand loyalty and retention rates that they had achieved within other generations. Amid dropping CLV projections and sky rocketing customer acquisition costs, brands must constantly create short term marketing campaigns, based on popular trends, that convey the purpose of the ad and further their brand image and identity. Through this, brands will be able to achieve higher retention rates and an increased average CLV among Gen Z consumers.

Catching lightning in a bottle is a good metaphor for this strategy. It’s imperative that corporations leverage bespoke opportunities to connect with their consumers, especially when there are certain industry, social and cultural occurrences that the brand can capitalize upon.

Bud Light has a rich history of being authentic to their modern, upbeat brand and constantly having their hand on the pulse of meteoric trends. Time and time again they have capitalized on the trends that their consumer base cares about. Recently, they released a string of ads that feature Post Malone trying their new Bud Light Seltzer. Post Malone is a cultural icon of our current generation that is an undoubtedly authentic fan of all things Bud Light. By showing Post Malone’s delight in trying Bud Light Seltzer, they demonstrate that all types of beer fans will love the light and refreshing taste of Bud Light Seltzer. The promotions are product forward and experience oriented, both of which are key ingredients in ads that successfully appeal to Gen Z consumers. The ad leans into Post Malone’s hilarious public obsession with Bud Light and the growing popularity of hard seltzer, which demonstrates that the right form of humor can be effective when marketing to young, socially aware consumers.

Gen Z is a complex generation that’s becoming extremely hard to capture the attention of with the saturation of traditional content being pushed out. The generation’s diversity, tech forwardness, lack of soft skills and disdain for monolithic, bureaucratic corporations all play a role in making it the most misunderstood generation to date. This doesn’t necessarily mean legacy brands and Fortune 1000 companies can’t gain the trust and loyalty of these consumers — however, by refusing to compromise your brand identity, values and culture for a quick sale, crafting lean and agile marketing campaigns and leaning in to what your Gen Z target market actually cares about, brands can swiftly and efficiently capture the hearts and minds of Generation Z.




Brand enthusiast, contrarian thinker, ever-learning entrepreneur and student-athlete.

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Ben Grosse

Ben Grosse

Brand enthusiast, contrarian thinker, ever-learning entrepreneur and student-athlete.

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