October 21, 2021
From Millennials to Boomers, we’ve all been the coveted buying power, the workplace majority—or conversely, the generation that “ruined everything” built by the ones before us. And we’ve likely caught ourselves passing similar judgment on Gen Z, who is currently in that hot seat.
In my 2021 Content Marketing World co-presentation with Marcia Francis Horner, Web Strategic Development Manager of The University of Kansas Health System, we tackled this burning question: Since we can empathize with Gen Z, how can we better communicate with them?
Marcia and I polled 50 Gen Zers we know and love, and we referenced the latest research into this generation’s social media, communication, and buying trends. Our research pointed to a marketing basic that is easy to forget when pursuing “business as usual.”
To better connect with Gen Z through content and at work, we need to understand the people this generation comprises—not just kids born after 1997 but parents, professionals, executives, community leaders, doctors. They’re poised to be the most educated generation, and they’re the most racially diverse generation in U.S. history, according to Pew Research.
And we must acknowledge their communication styles and respect their values without shoehorning ourselves into their channels and inboxes.
Here’s a quick list of takeaways from our presentation, “Marketing Urban Dictionary:
A Guide to Help Your Brand Communicate with Gen Z.” Hit me up if you’d like to discuss these points more in depth and create a plan for your organization. Schedule time with Mariah.
Demonstratable value is the No. 1 reason Gen Z engages with a brand. Time is precious to them, and they will engage with long-form content that shows its worth in the first few seconds of audio/video (or 1-2 lines of text).
A Marketing Dive survey found that more than half of Gen Z teens stopped buying or using brands they deemed unethical and one-third are skeptical of brands’ claims of supporting causes. Two-thirds are more likely to buy from brands that support charities they value.
Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with on-demand content technology, and thousands of channels clamor for their attention. They inherently can see through brand bologna, and they’ll bounce to a competitor if your content doesn’t prove valuable.
Present resources in a way that is fun, entertaining, and aligned to their priorities. We found that Gen Z prefers to engage with organizations that authentically advocate for mental, physical, and financial health; social and climate issues; and education.
Pro tip: In every piece of content you publish, show (don’t simply tell) the audience how your product or service can make life better or easier. Simple content changes—no development required—can make a big impact on how your content resonates with Gen Z. Message a Stamats content strategist to talk strategy.
Creating value-driven content is only half of the equation. Where you distribute your messaging is equally important. Gen Z is online almost constantly. Focus on four platforms to distribute your blog, audio/video, and infographic content:
Start with one platform and see what performs well until you have a solid understanding of which types of content your viewers prefer. Then experiment with repackaging one piece of content to fit each platform’s strengths. You can cross-post content from these platforms, as well as repurpose it on your website, to reach more relevant audience members. Talk with a Stamats digital strategist today.
Pro tip: At work, Gen Z colleagues may prefer to connect in a variety of ways, including chat messages (e.g., Slack, Skype), video calls, email, and meetings. They may be the most digitally savvy of us all, but that doesn’t mean they don’t value genuine connections, including face-to-face communication.
Bonus tip: When knowledge sharing, avoid phrasing that emotes a “back in my day” or “you’re so young” tone. Though you might be trying to be funny, these comments minimize Gen Z’s perspectives and experiences. Show them how you think a process should be handled instead of telling them how things “should” be.
Like each generation before them, Gen Zers have their own slang that comes and goes. If you misuse their exclusive phrases, they won’t take you seriously. Here are a few common terms Gen Zers use, what they mean, and which to avoid in your marketing and professional communications:
Pro tip: If you aren’t sure how certain content might be received, ask your Gen Z colleagues, friends, and family members for feedback. Better yet, work with a focus group to ensure your intention is aligned with your audience. Message a Stamats researcher to discuss market research options.
In a two-minute ad titled “The Naked Truth About Laundry,” Dropps CEO Jonathan Propper disrobes and speaks to the sustainability and safety of the company’s laundry pods—in a bathtub. He has also posted TikTok-style dancing videos on Instagram. The content is funny and self-effacing, eliciting a must-watch vibe. It shows the CEO’s willingness to experiment with a new platform without trying too hard.
The University of New Mexico Hospital embarked a 10-to-100 campaign to encourage 100% of hospital staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in 10 days.
Part of their campaign was a TikTok video recorded by a staff member’s 17-year-old daughter. The teen showed herself going to the appointment, getting her shot, and moving her arms around in a funny TikTok dance. They shared the video across social and on their website. This firsthand account from a young person concerned for her family’s safety helped the university get closer to their vaccination goal.
In 2019, then 21-year-old Carson King appeared in ESPN’s Game Day with a homemade sign asking viewers to Venmo money for more Busch Light. He got a few hundred dollars, which he announced would go to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Thousands of dollars poured in, poising King as a fundraising phenom.
But three years earlier, King had tweeted hurtful comments that turned up in a local news profile. Instead of striking back, King thwarted “cancel culture” by owning up to his mistakes and apologizing for his poor behavior. He has now turned his football sign into a campaign that has raised over $3M for kids with cancer.
Gen Z is committed to living their values, and they expect the same from organizations that want their business. They see your company, college, or healthcare institution not as a “brand” but as a reflection of the humans running it.
To gain Gen Z’s trust and loyalty, you must earn it. Be real, be honest, and be flexible. Gen Z stands for a more honest and transparent marketing future, and all of us can get behind that.
Ready to rethink your Gen Z communication strategies? Request a consultation with Stamats today.