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Mind your Ps when marketing to Gen Zs

by Laurie Heller
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    Many marketers still live by the four Ps of marketing: price, product place and promotion. But those who market to Gen Zs need to add another fundamental P to the mix—participation.


    Once upon a time, at the height of the Mad Men era, an American marketing professor and author named Jerome McCarthy was hard at work and introduced the concept of  “The Four Ps” of marketing (product, price, place, and promotion). Since the years of shift dresses, mid-century modern appointed Madison Avenue offices that permitted smoking, the 4 Ps have become a ubiquitous and timeless staple of marketing that has never gone out of style.

    Nearly every ad agency, marketing department and academic still considers the 4Ps to be a cult classic—the right foundation for unearthing points of differentiation and building a solid marketing plan and positioning strategy.

    Admittedly, I’m a longstanding adopter and proponent of the 4 Ps of marketing. But what I’ve come to realize is that those 4 Ps start to show their Mad Men roots when you look at evolving consumer behaviors and adoption of different platforms.

    While some can argue these elements fall under Place or Promotion, I feel pretty strongly that we’re at a crossroads where we need to look at the Ps with a fresh set of eyes, namely when we market to our favorite digital darlings: Gen Z.

    Anyone who is an active reader of this blog knows that Gen Z is often referred to as having an 8-second attention span. Zs want brands to mean something and embody their values. And as we’ve written here before, they don’t want your marketing strategy. Instead, they want to be a part of it.  If Mr. McCarthy was still around today, I’d love to grab a coffee with him and propose a 21st century evolution to the 4 Ps and introduce P#5: Participation.

    Let’s take a look at how and why this makes sense. Any youth marketer knows the days of the one-size-fits-all marketing approach are long gone. We all hear the latest marketing buzzwords about sophisticated segmentation, AI, AR and VR—and all that’s fine and good—but we’ve also heard the expression “A fool with tools is still a fool. You've just made them more efficient.”  While new tools and technology are great, if you’re not paying attention to one of the most fundamental traits that truly sets Gen Z apart from prior generations, you’re doing yourself, your brand and Zers a disservice.

    So what do I exactly mean when I say “participation”? You might automatically think social media—and yes, while that’s true, social media is just the beginning. Gen Zers want their opinions to be heard and they want brands to just “get them”—especially since they are increasingly immune to advertising.

    The rules of engagement have changed and mark a dynamic shift in how we as marketers, converse with Gen Z.

    Some brands have already recognized and adopted what I’m calling the participation trend and incorporate it into their marketing efforts. TOMS shoes and Warby Parker with their buy a pair, give a pair programs create a sense of belonging and shared purpose. With each purpose, consumers gain more than just an accessory. They participate in building the brand by investing in what the brand stands for.

    For another example, take Target. In 2010, the company pledged to donate $500 million to education and launched a college acceptance letter competition. Consumers were asked to  submit videos of them opening their college acceptance letters and Target then showcased some of the most compelling entries. While this was done eight years ago, this isn’t the first time Target’s been at the forefront of the participation trend. They recently announced three separate clothing lines designed just for Gen Z, and have even solicited design advisory boards consisting of Gen Z influencers.

    So, what’s a marketer to do when it comes to Gen Z? The old notion if you build it they will come, doesn’t necessarily apply. Our recommendation? Take a look at your Ps:

    • Product: Is it meaningful?  Is it on trend? Is it unique? Does your band have something positive it can get behind without seeming forced?
    • Price: Does it provide value? Are you incentivizing Zers to shop/wear/share it?
    • Place: is it available online? Accessible via mobile and desktop?
    • Promotion: Are Zers finding out about it on platforms they already use and trust? Instagram, SnapChat, UNiDAYS?
    • Participation: What are you doing to get them involved in your brand? And how and where are you telling that story or getting them involved? Quick tip: read here.

    And lastly, if you want to know a bit more about Gen Z and what they want, have a watch and hear from them directly.




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