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When marketing to the most global generation ever, think local

by John Wheeler
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    Yeah, it’s true: Gen Z is more global than previous generations.

    But that doesn’t mean they all share the same jokes, memes or slang. Just because Gen Z students frequent similar restaurants -- whether they’re New York or Sydney -- doesn’t mean they don’t have cultural differences.

    If you’re wondering why Hannes Becker, one of Germany’s most-followed Gen Z influencers, hasn’t hit it off in America just yet, or why there’s still a giant divide between British and American humor... then you’re on the right path to realizing that regional mindsets are still a thing.

    It’s easy to see why one might fall into the trap of believing Gen Zers are a single, cohesive unit, no matter what country or continent they inhabit. Less than 30 years ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the commercial internet, an engine that bridges the gap between people living in different cultures and countries. And it was only ten years ago when Steve Jobs first announced the creation of the Apple iPhone App Store, ushering in a second wave of digital transformation that continues to revolutionize how the world works, communicates, reads, shops, dates, plays games, exercises, sleeps, wakes and otherwise plans its day-to-day lives.

    It’s true that Gen Z has grown up alongside groundbreaking developments in global communications — the internet and smartphones to be precise. But if that’s true, it’s equally true we’ve let this digital revolution narrative color our thinking about Gen Z quite a lot — perhaps even a little too much.

    It’s a problem that doesn’t come with any silver-bullet solution. But it’s one brand marketers across the world need to devote time and energy in order to solve.

    To be fair, there are good reasons why marketers refer to Gen Z as the so-called iGen, or call them “diginatives” or comment on their mobile-first mindset. There are, in fact, plenty of studies that back up these claims. Just to name one obvious example: there are  troves of data that show us just how much Gen Zers love social media — whether that’s in North America or in China. Labels like “iGen” reflect genuine global patterns that give us a picture of how Gen Z consumes its news and makes its purchases.

    But that’s where the forest ends and the trees — the details and differences — begin.

    Marketers, we need to make a greater effort at pinpointing the cultural differences between Gen Zers.

    It would be a mistake to rely too heavily on a “global diginative” storyline for Gen Z. National, cultural and even sub-cultural differences among Gen Zers aren’t exactly a thing of the past. Our industry needs to take into account the differences between Gen Zers as much as we all-too-readily embrace the similarities.

    Here are a few specific examples: While it’s true North American and Chinese Gen Z students both love social media, it’s also a fact that Chinese Gen Zers use social media as a purchasing tool far more than their North American counterparts, who still prefer desktop.  

    And while it may be true that North American and European teens overwhelmingly receive their news via social media channels, the vast majority of Indian Gen Z students (76 percent according to a recent study by Tata Consultancy Services) consume their news via traditional media sources like television and printed newspapers. Given the sheer magnitude (and economic importance) of India’s Gen Z audience, that’s a difference that should be factored in when creating content for Gen Z.

    Appealing to regional and cross-national differences is something that will help marketers create the “you get me” moment. You know, the one that all consumers are hoping for — the one that makes something truly relevant and personally resonant to them.

    The key to relevance is combining local differences in messaging with a smart, globally meaningful brand strategy. This is what can put your brand in the headspace of Gen Z — no matter where they live — and ensures it stays there.

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