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Why brand + ecomm marketers need to partner to win Gen Z

by Laurie Heller
    Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19

    Turn first-year students into lifetime fans

    Gen Z first-years are storming the back-to-campus retail scene with shopping carts at the ready. Be it homeware, tech, or beauty, they’re gearing up to out-buy...

    Hey, kids! For today’s #marketing lesson, I’m going to teach you a new dirty word. Feel free to exclaim it at the dinner table, sing it in the shower or shout it from the rooftops so all your neighbors can hear.

    But seriously, don’t use it online. Especially if you happen to be a member of the e-commerce team of your marketing department. Because this particular double-four-letter word is not the word any brand marketer ever wants to hear: “DISCOUNT”.

    Never ever. Especially when it comes to marketing to Gen Z.

    Here’s the thing: Gen Z consumers aren’t simply looking for “d*scounts” on the products and services they buy. They’re looking for meaning. They’re looking closely at how you present yourself as a brand—on social media and otherwise—in near-real time.

    Just how closely? According to one recent report, Gen Zers are the only generation that are “two to three times more likely to be influenced by social media than by sales or discounts.”

    That’s a staggering admission — and it puts a major onus on brand marketers to ensure their company stands for something beyond posting bottom-line profits. Why? Because standing for something — in the cacophonous sea of social media — is one of the few ways a company can truly stand out to Gen Z.

    Which leads me to my next point: the damage done to your brand image if you partner with too many affiliate marketing platforms in order to meet your bottom-line sales figures.

    Affiliate marketing: a race to the bottom of your brand in search of short-term profit

    But before I go any further… a virtual show of hands, please. Raise your hand if you’ve ever done business with an affiliate marketing site (a.k.a. coupon site) at some point during your illustrious career in marketing. (And if you happen to work exclusively in ecommerce... you might as well go ahead and raise both of your hands.)

    Having sat on both the brand marketing and ecommerce sides of youth-focused B2C companies, I’ve seen firsthand the delicate dance it takes to balance the needs of branding with commerce. Truth be told, it’s about as easy a world to navigate as the Strait of Magellan.

    Here’s how it tends to go down: The brand manager wants to elevate their brand; they want it to be seen as aspirational to their most influential consumers. Meanwhile, seated at another table somewhere in the open-office floor plan of your company, the ecommerce manager is busily striving to make their quarterly number.

    What happens when the ecomm team is halfway through the quarter and the manager realizes they’re probably not going to hit the lofty revenue goals they projected? More often than not, they resort to affiliate marketing channels — affectionately referred to as the IV drip — the old standby that brands have a love/hate relationship with.

    I’ve sat in meeting after meeting brainstorming how to “spin” d*scounts differently. Rather than say clearance, why not call it “a VIP event”? Rather than simply stating the obvious and saying, “40 percent d*scount sitewide”, why not rearrange the deckchairs and call it another “customer appreciation week”? 


    As marketers, we try to convince ourselves the IV drip is still a great way to acquire new customers. But this just perpetuates a vicious cycle of couponing to the masses. When our brand appears on the same d*scount coupon site right next to its competitor, all notions and nuances of “branding” and “image” go straight out the window.

    There’s something to be said for the company you keep, especially when Gen Z is by far the most-complicated and hard-to-engage generation that marketers have ever encountered.

    Yet d*scounting — and the subsequent need to partner with coupon sites in order to run promo codes and promote yet another so-called “VIP sales event” — remains a trap few brands can escape from. After all, money is money; the bottom line is still the bottom line.

    In theory, brand and e-commerce ought to work together. But partnering with the wrong affiliate sites can create a second “dirty D” word: namely, a divide between these two departments.

    On the brand side, there’s no targeted messaging or creative to engage your most important consumers. On the commerce side, there’s an incessant and desperate need to meet unrealistic KPIs at the expense of every other department in the company.

    Solving the divide between brand and bottom line — while still appealing to Gen Z

    So, what’s a marketer to do?

    The answer, my friend, is to partner with a Student Affinity Network, not an affiliate platform.

    Millions of engaged Gen Zers around the globe come to our UNiDAYS Student Affinity platform and app expecting and actually wanting to engage with brands. We’re different from an affiliate site in that we’re a closed, members-only network with a verified group of college students.

    Sure I may be biased, but it’s honestly the best kind of Gen Z segmentation strategy you could ask for. A Student Affinity Network is a place where your most influential consumers (i.e. students) come to every day expecting to engage with brands they already love. And they come there by the hundreds of thousands and millions.

    As a marketer, you don’t have to worry about the wrong audience seeing your brand and being merchandised around others that don’t fit your brand’s image. And as a e-commerce manager, you need not fret about being unable to engage your audience at the scale necessary to post those massive quarterly profits you wanted to.

    Try and find an affiliate partner who can promise you all of that and engage Zers (known for their eight-second attention span). Try to find an affiliate partner with a site and app that students linger on for minutes, rather than seconds. It’s a match made in heaven — and it makes for smoother sailing between ecomm and brand managers.


      Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19


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