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How influencers shape Gen Z values and purchasing decisions

by Christina Germano
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    Marketers, you’ve probably heard about or worked with influencers, but do you know just how impactful—or potentially detrimental—they can be to your brand? Let’s take a look.

    These days, marketing to Gen Z depends heavily on having influencers on your side, whether it’s by getting micro-influencers on board or hosting a contest to gain new brand ambassadors. Gen Z influencers on Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, TikTok, and other emerging social platforms are expertly connecting with modern day consumers, who crave the authenticity these ‘real people’ bring to the table. 

    More than ever, Gen Zs want to be marketed to by real people who have authentic connections to the brands they represent. The brands that recognize this and cultivate genuine relationships with influencers will gain the loyalty of this coveted audience. In turn, brands that show a blatant lack of authenticity can actually lose trust among Gen Z consumers.

    Of course, partnering with real people can have its pitfalls—not every influencer campaign is a raging success, and an influencer fail can actually be damaging to your brand. Here are a few examples of how Gen Z influencers are shaping this generation’s values and purchasing decisions.

    Maybe they’re born with it

    Maybelline is a classic brand that has kept up with the ever-changing times. Originally (and still) popular with older generations, Maybelline has leveraged Instagram to cultivate a strong connection among Gen Zs. 

    Prior to the pandemic, Maybelline capitalized on the buzz around Fashion Week, and they were able to generate almost 3.6 million likes on Instagram and engage with 13.9 million users—all with just 230 sponsored posts. They did this by partnering with 15 influencers from 15 different countries who all used the same hashtag, #maybellineitgirls. By marrying a traditionally elite event—Fashion Week—with relatable influencers, Maybelline’s message was that anybody can be an “It Girl.” This approach supported their goal to develop the brand identity as one that is accessible and inclusive, values that resonate with the Gen Z audience.

    TikTok is Gen Z's sweetheart

    Gen Zers are used to being marketed to on Instagram and SnapChat. They can spot an influencer, and they know they are being sold to. However, as long as the influencer is authentic and the brand’s values align with theirs, that’s not a problem. On TikTok, influencing is less obvious—for now, anyway—because this video-based platform is still mostly populated with amateur content.

    One early influencer, baker Leanne Bailey, stumbled into the gig when she reached one million TikTok followers and was approached about posting sponsored content. In her case, she gets paid to post videos with particular songs, and when those posts get shared, what started as sponsored content becomes an organic trend. This is possible because, although influencers have to tag sponsored content with the hashtag #ad, the people who share it don’t have the same requirement.

    Even in spite of the recent controversies surrounding TikTok, the platform itself sets the bar high for authenticity and human connection. After exploding in popularity since the onset of global stay-at-home orders, TikTok released a commercial that cleverly touches on the humor, humanity, and authenticity of the platform. So even though the platform has faced a tough round of PR lately, it doesn't look like Gen Z influencers will stray from TikTok anytime soon.

    Gen Z influencers aren't always a success

    Unfortunately, some brands and Gen Z influencers have missed the mark, especially in the tricky climate that is 2020. Given all the changes and challenges the world has faced this year, Gen Zs are keeping an even closer eye on brands and influencers than before. And they haven't been afraid to call out inauthenticity or problematic behavior when they see it.

    In June, amid Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation, Instagram influencer Kris Schatzel was called out for using a protest as a photo opportunity. Gen Zs were quick to respond on Twitter and Facebook, threatening to "cancel" Schatzel for what they saw as a blatant display of disrespect and opportunism—which is exactly the opposite of what Gen Zs want to see. 

    This year has led some marketing experts to ask the question: Is 2020 the end of Gen Z influencers as we know it? Probably not—but it certainly is changing, and influencer's actions are under greater scrutiny than ever before. But that doesn't mean the value of influencers is lost. If anything, the value of authenticity and doing good is even greater than before. 

    Authenticity is essential

    Gen Z influencers are a marketing phenomenon—and that's not going away anytime soon. In fact, Gen Z’s preferences for advertising with real people will continue to grow as this generation ages and experiences tumult and challenges like we've seen in 2020.

    Brands: Remember that Gen Z influencers have the power to boost your brand, but they also have the potential to blow it up in a bad way. Working with influencers whose values align with your brand’s is absolutely essential for success—now more than ever before. Gen Z has little patience for fake news, and this extends to the brands they trust. To learn more about how you can authentically reach this important consumer audience, check out The Gen Z Marketing Playbook.

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