Earlier this October, Alex Gallagher, CMO of UNiDAYS, spoke at Advertising Week in New York about the relationship between marketers and Generation Z — and the need for marketers to understand their own particular brand’s relation to Gen Z in all its depth, nuance and detail.
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.
Want to know something that’s even harder than marketing to Gen Z? Becoming an entrepreneur. Yet that’s precisely what 64 percent of Gen Z college students want to do with their lives, according to a joint study by Internships.com and Millennial Branding. And that’s not the half of it. According to another Gallup survey, 42 percent of them want to “invent something that changes the world.”
A few centuries back — long before your great-great-grandma ever bought her first Kindle eBook (just kidding; didn’t happen) — the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a treatise called The Social Contract. The book’s basic argument ran something like this: Kings, emperors, etc., dukes, etc. — the powerful folks of the 1700s — shouldn’t get to dictate the rules of society without the express consent of the people they governed. Rousseau’s book helped accomplish a whole bunch of things in its time (see the American and French Revolutions). But don’t worry. This isn’t a history quiz. This is about cutting-edge marketing. It’s about how the idea of a “social contract” — and the consequences of violating it — continue to ripple throughout our own data-driven age.
There was a time — not so long ago — when Enron executives were collectively known by their clients as “the smartest guys in the room.” There was a more-recent time when Volkswagen held an unimpeachable track record for emissions safety — until the so-called Dieselgate scandal came to light, sending its stock prices plummeting by 40 percent. There was even a time, at least before the release of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” when Jay-Z thought his street cred and talents as a rapper would keep his personal brand untouchable.
As Seth Godin once put it, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” But with the rapid rise of online coupon and discount affiliate marketing programs to drive ecommerce, the conversation around “what it means” to be a brand is shifting - and not necessarily for the better.
Across the board, the surveys all say that Gen Z feels confident about its future - and believes it can “change the world” when it comes to creating a more equal society. As a recent study on Gen Zers from Barkley and Futurecast suggests, brands appealing to Gen Z's innate belief in equality – as well as those that find ways to benefit and contribute to the future success of its individual members – stand a greater chance of gaining recognition and traction with the larger demographic.