Reaching Gen Z
If you’re anything like everyone (and most of us are), then you don’t have a clue about Generation Z, becoming popularly known as “The Pivotals” and for good reason. Finding out how to connect with the next generation of consumers is a critical marketing understanding for any company.
Who are the Pivotals?
They are diverse in gender, ethnicity, and style. They’re primarily ages 13 to 34 — which is to say, Generation Z with some young, or Trailing Edge Millennials thrown in. They’ve been raised on the internet and are perhaps more informed than any consumer group before them. They watch up to four hours of digital content and pick up their phones more than 160 times a day, and have an aggregate income of more than $480 billion. They are, in sum, the next generation of consumer. And some companies are beginning to understand them — to understand how to court and serve and excite them.
There are some companies that have been taking a good look at them. They are holding an insight that every company wants. Parker Associates is keeping tabs on them and taking a look at the analytics to understand exactly what this new consumer wants — not just for specific brands for which they seem very focused, but for all brands.
One of the key understandings goes beyond any marketing message or product development. The Pivotals self-educate through content consumption. They’re the driving influence in household decision-making. They have more information, more expertise, more insight than any generation before them. Their knowledge is at their fingertips and they are not afraid to use it.
What does that mean?
It means Pivotals want to know everything about a brand. And they’d better like what they hear. They don’t take kindly to anyone trying to fool or confuse them with misleading advertising or tactics. It’s not their style and they can even get nasty about it.
To appreciate how unique Pivotals are, someone needs only to hang around at a Con…any Con. If you don’t know what a Con is, you’re not alone. Anyone over 35 may have difficulty with the term. It’s a Convention and is a common gathering ground for the Pivotals. They like to gather and they like to touch and feel the products they are interested in. But, it’s not just about what you are selling, it’s about what you stand for as well. Have your company’s products been certified by PETA for being cruelty-free, which turns out to be a hot subject for example. Or, are your using Environmentally Safe packaging, another hot subject. Be aware that THEY are aware. It’s going to make or break you.
No one over 29 cares, probably, but all the kids in their teens and 20s will be very, very particular about only buying cruelty-free products or environmentally safe products, or will be interested in the viewpoints of the company regarding the world in some way or another. They don’t buy stuff just to buy it, they have to have some comfort in feeling they are making a difference. They are a consumer wanting to be so educated on a brand’s position. This will be critical with the Pivotals. And, they’re coming!!!
That’s the pattern: Pivotals are involved. They want to know what a brand stands for and whom it stands with. Authentic commitment to equality, acceptance, and ethics is cheered, while a misstep can trigger outright hostility. This can be jarring for companies, especially more-established ones. Victoria’s Secret discovered this in November of 2018 when, ahead of its annual fashion show, their chief marketing officer made disparaging remarks about body inclusivity and transgender models. Shortly after, the company’s CEO resigned. That same month, Dolce & Gabbana triggered an international firestorm after releasing videos that many saw as racist, featuring a Chinese model struggling to eat pasta with chopsticks. Pivotals don’t just talk about these things, they really care.
Brands have gotten used to a Millennial audience that was lax about holding them accountable. That won’t be the case with the Pivotals. You’re going to have to get used to Generation Z. The Pivotals will absolutely to hold them accountable for whatever they stand for.
Businesses are grappling with how to engage young shoppers who use their dollars to send a message. Parker Associates is ready to let you know how to handle this generation as we regularly consult on how to handle this shift. We help companies understand content, publishing, talent, influencers, culture, diversity, ethnicity, gender fluidity, and what spirituality means to this audience. Pivotals find it all very, very important and you should not take it lightly.
Have a reason for what you’re doing, or face the consequences
Pivotals want to know why you are doing what you are doing. They don’t mean it idly, either. They seriously want to know and they WILL hold you accountable. Millennials had interest, but they didn’t hold your feet to the fire. The Pivotals will. Have a story and be passionate about it. The Pivotals will love you for it.
Take a look at the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) report that’s out there. The goal of this report was to take a holistic, data-based look at the way Pivotals think, both about themselves and the world around them. Key findings include that 52 percent of males and 27 percent of females reject gender labels. Forty-four percent of this generation draws from two or more cultures to create what it sees as its own unique culture. Eighty-seven percent is tired of “everything looking so perfect on social media.”
The report’s concluding recommendations sound simple: Don’t just target consumers; you must recognize, include, and feature them.
These insights have helped shift brand messaging. In recent Super Bowl ads from T-Mobile, for instance, ran celeb-heavy spots featuring Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg, and Martha Stewart. However, they changed their tune, sort of speak, recently. They shifted to a spot called “Little Ones,” a video of nine babies of different genders and ethnicities. In a voice-over, Kerry Washington says: “Some people may see your differences and be threatened by them, but you are unstoppable. You’ll love who you want. You’ll demand fair and equal pay. You will not allow where you come from to dictate where you’re going.”
T-Mobile changed their approach dramatically. Do the babies reach their customers better than another Drake video? Yes. Think of Gen Z — this is a group of people that organized the March for Our Lives on social media. They’re powerful, and they don’t want to see another celebrity-driven ad. The Pivotals are deeper than the Millennials. They give more thought to things and aren’t easily swayed by simple statements from a celebrity or whoever. T-Mobile has a new view, shine a light on gender equality, break down traditional standards, and encourage everyone to be their authentic selves — things that are built into our DNA. The Pivotals can relate.
Generation Zs, Pivotals, desire to be seen and heard for who they really are. It’s something that many older generations struggle with. Previous generations wanted more conformity to a super-normative life. The Pivotals are anything but that.
I Am Pivotal, Hear Me Roar!
For Pivotals, the polished, untouchable celebrities of before will lose their appeal and be replaced by people who seemed more raw and transparent. Jennifer Aniston won’t move millions of bottles of Smartwater forever. Younger, digitally native entertainers are ultimately becoming more potent to a brand partnership and brand development than any traditional celebrity. According to the FOMO report, 73 percent of the audience said they are more influenced by people they follow on social media than traditional celebrities. YouTube Influencers will be more powerful to this generation than traditional celebrities. It’s who they are.
Making products more event-consumer-facing with an attitude that runs counter to industry norms will work better for the Pivotals. It’s about community, self-definition, expression. It’s not just a push against traditional standards, it’s a humongous shove: Get off of me; we’re going to start to define who we are and how we live. I am Pivotal, hear me roar!
At first, that could seem threatening to older brands. But soon, you will learn just how valuable it is to arrive in person and meet the new generation of fans. You have to be where the consumer is. By associating with the Pivotals, brands will discover a shortcut to a consumer they may struggle to understand. They could arrive and say: We’re here — because we get it.
It’s okay to say, “we are a brand and we are a for-profit company,” but be aware that you need to create and produce outcomes of change. Gen Z, the Pivotals, are an audience I honestly believe will go on to make a big difference in this world the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Greatest Generation. They don’t get caught up in the shoulda, coulda, woulda. They just do it. So, you can’t sit on your hands.
David WB Parker is a principal of Parker Associates of Jacksonville, Florida, marketing consultants to the real estate industry; President of PTC Computer Solutions, IT Specialist, and an active real estate sales professional with Barclay’s Real Estate Group based in Jacksonville, FL. He is also a principal partner of the REMA Team of professionals. He can be reached at 904-607-8763 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.