This article was originally published on PR Daily in March 2016.
There’s a new audience in town—called Generation Z.
Similar to millennials, Gen Z—sometimes called Gen WE—consumers are complex, but they’re also more self-aware, success oriented, socially responsible and globally minded than their predecessors.
Proprietary research from the communications agency Zeno Group suggests taking a genuine approach to this enigmatic consumer group.
Here’s a breakdown of the study, along with a few takeaways for marketers left scratching their heads:
Consumers in this age group (18 to 25) are tech-driven, but data from the study—dubbed “The Human Project”—show that they are also more inclined to unplug from their devices.
“This generation was born on the Web, [but technology] doesn’t hold the same ‘magic’ as it does with other generations—or their parents,” says Therese Caruso, Zeno Group’s managing director for strategy and insights. “This is the first post-tech generation that will abandon their phones or tablets to ride bikes or hang out with friends. They are also hyper-aware of health and wellness and the connection between health and overusing technology.”
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Caruso says marketers should adopt an integrated outlook:
To connect with today’s youth, marketers need to go beyond the technology. Offer a solution that’s not just engaging and entertaining, but that enhances their everyday lives more holistically.
Zeno Group surveyed 5,000 people hailing from the United States, Canada, China, India, Australia and the United Kingdom. Despite cultural differences, all participants shared an interest in health and wellness.
Out of 92 values, health was ranked first among Chinese youth. In the U.S., more than 70 percent of respondents admitted to reading nutrition labels before making a purchase.
Although this might seem problematic for PR and marketing pros for big brands such as McDonald’s and Coca Cola Co.—which target younger audiences—Caruso says it’s nothing for marketers to lose sleep over.
“Though Global Youth worry about their health and work hard to maintain it, they also understand the importance of balance,” she says. “They indulge in unhealthy foods and sometimes don’t get enough exercise, but they are educated and aware of what comprises good health and how to achieve it. They enjoy fast food and soda, but know how to incorporate it into their lives in a more healthful way.”
When appealing to families, Zeno data suggest that brand managers should focus their messages directly on Gen Z consumers. Only 22 percent of parents surveyed said they exclude their children from household decisions.
From buying toothpaste or cereal to determining the next destination for a family getaway, Gen Z plays an influential role in the decision-making process.
What’s the best way to do this? Caruso says it starts with acting human.
Marketers often make the mistake at looking at people as targets and not as people who make decisions based on human values. [Zeno Group’s] unique methodology examines the values, the hopes, the fears and the motivating behaviors across multiple lifestyle categories that determine how brands and organizations should connect with people in meaningful and differentiated ways.
Gen Z wants to be treated as a brand’s best friend.
For brand managers to connect with the younger consumer, the Human Project suggests focusing on shared values and beliefs and telling a compelling story.
“It is no longer enough for marketers to understand category-specific behavior; [they] must now tap into a deeper set of core values,” Zeno Group CEO Barby K. Siegel says.
Caruso says connecting with these consumers involves building trust:
Brands sometimes just examine simple demographics, like what people are reading or buying [versus] who they really are as people. We look at people on a more personal level by understanding [their] core values, hopes, fears and aspirations. When you understand people in this way you can build trust and loyalty; this will ultimately [lead to] people evangelizing your brand.
As this generation of consumers moves quickly, it’s best not to dillydally if you adopt this modernized marketing mentality.
“It is imperative for marketers to understand what matters most is reaching specific audiences with the right messaging, nuances and spirit,” Caruso says.
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