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A CMO's guide to detecting bullsh*t when it comes to Gen Z

In the age of buzzword bingo, every CMO is bombarded with news of groundbreaking technologies and new trends. While I haven’t achieved CMO status just yet, I’m still targeted with a barrage of ads and messaging on LinkedIn about the “Top Five Things Every CMO Needs to Know About…. (fill in the blank) SEO, AI, Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, Chatbots, VR/AR” or whatever other hot online topic happens to be circulating that moment.

I’m not saying my bullsh*t detector goes off hourly, but with Gen Z’s mindset, marketers might only have one chance to get it right. And let’s be frank, it’s important they — ahem *we* — do.

All the tools in the universe will not propel you to the next level with Gen Z unless you understand one critical factor: contextBy context, I mean having an in-depth understanding of Gen Z offline, online and culturally that allows you to appeal to Gen Z without them calling BS on your brand.

Beware: The old adage, “A fool with a tool is still a fool,” still applies.

Let’s address the “Martech stack,” a favorite card to play in CMO buzzword bingo. A few years back all the talk was about A/B and multivariate testing. But the truth is many marketers didn’t even (and still don’t) know how to run successful tests that deliver impactful results. In many cases, a testing culture needs to be embraced along with a group of experts skilled at determining the best variables vs “random acts of testing”.

Here’s the thing: You might be one of the most powerful ad-tech companies in the world, but without the necessary team of human auditors to make sure the quality of your ads meets basic professional standards (i.e. no hate speech, no pornography, no violence, no fake news)... all the ad-serving technology in the world won’t save your brand reputation from suffering. That’s been particularly problematic when it comes to programmatic, another topic we’ve written about before.

Consumer research still matters and is more critical than you realize.

What Gen Z expects from brands is different than what their Millennial counterparts expected. Millennials were all about expanding their personal life experience, whereas Gen Z are on a mission to better the world.

So when you’re evaluating the best method for engaging Gen Z, the old celebrity endorsement may not be enough. Looking at a potential endorser’s social following is no longer what it takes to make a brand matter to Gen Z. The more important thing is looking at what a celebrity is actually doing with their celebrity status — and how they’re actively using it to contribute to a cause Gen Zers see themselves getting behind and participating in — and also happens to align with your brand’s DNA.

Even Taylor Swift can teach brands a thing or two. And so can brands like Patagonia.

And while we’re on the point of research, UNiDAYS, recently surveyed over 11,000 Gen Z college students in the US about what expect from brands. The survey revealed Gen Z expects brands to do just as much or more about social and political issues, especially when those issues are in sync with brand values.

Does this mean you need to be overtly political? Not necessarily. What’s important to Gen Z is that your brand stands for something beyond what it sells. This can just as easily be mentorship or career development as it can be environmentalism or social equality. The most important takeaway is to do good in a visible way, and mean it...or else risk setting off the proverbial Gen Z bullsh*t detector.

Gen Z - they’re mobile first and only consume digital ads, right?

Not exactly. And here is where all the AI tools in the universe might steer you wrong. If you’re only evaluating web vs. mobile and trends within your digital ad spend (SEO, social, retargeting, display, mobile), you’re probably mistaking the World Wide Web for the actual world. You know, the one where Gen Z lives.

The truth is that Gen Z actually like non-digital ads. In fact, a recent UNiDAYS X Ad Age study shows that 84 percent of students say they notice outdoor advertising, so who’s to say that OOH ads aren’t the right way to go for a brand running a campaign aimed at reaching Gen Z?  And for a generation that’s been dubbed mobile first from the get-go, it needs to be said that 64 percent of Gen Zers browse on mobile but when it comes to actually buying stuff 60 percent make their purchases on desktop. Again: context matters.

The buzzword bingo bandwagon might not be all it’s cracked up to be

There are usually two kinds of marketers: Those who talk a lot and those who listen. Gen Z requires marketers to listen closely. Research is still important, but we as marketers, still need to see data in context. The four pillars of marketing (the four Ps) still mean something, but we can’t lose sight of the fifth P: participation.  

If we want to succeed with Gen Z, we can’t allow buzzwords and newfangled technologies do all the sweet-talking for us. In fact, we shouldn’t be doing any sweet-talking at all. Without an honest appreciation for Gen Z’s actual interests, we might be talking nice and loud… but we need to make sure we’re not talking to an empty stadium.


UPDATE: October 19, 2018, 1:07PM EST: The accompanying image to this post via our Gen Z Insights newsletter has been corrected.

Laurie Heller
Laurie Heller
VP, Global B2B Marketing @ UNiDAYS

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