Zoom in: Learn What Gen Z Expects From Brands Post-Pandemic
With 200 million users worldwide and nearly 20 percent of American students counted as users, Brainly is now the world’s largest online learning community. Not just for the Gen Zers it serves, but also for myself as a student of this increasingly influential demographic. This new generation is being shaped now more than ever as habits, likes and dislikes are changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social distancing and global orders to quarantine have led brands and advertisers struggling with how to connect with this elusive group. Gen Z, the demographic born between 1997-2012, are digitally born, raised on creativity, and already far more conscious of the systems they inhabit than their forebearers. This presents whole new challenges and opportunities for brands wanting to appeal to Gen Z on a consumer level.
Based on Brainly’s knowledge base, let me share with you what I’ve learned about marketing to Gen Z and where we see the marketing trend lines heading post-pandemic.
Mobile Carries the Conversation With Gen Z
Continuing the trend of recent years, mobile platforms will dominate Gen Z media consumption. This is partly due to the constant innovations on the mobile hardware market that keep young consumers on their toes. When surveyed by Brainly, nearly 35 percent of Gen Z consumers identified social media platforms such as Snapchat (50.3 percent), Instagram (59 percent), and YouTube (42 percent) to be a great escape for mental health expression during the pandemic.
Gen Z’s attachment to mobile is, of course, further driven by the accessibility of these platforms. Total portability along with widespread 5G connectivity is a recipe for obsession. This is especially true given the lack of privacy in one’s own home as a teenager living under the roof of parents and with recent quarantine restrictions, it only makes sense to live an entire digital life under dinner tables, behind sofa cushions, and over comforters in bed.
For brands targeting Gen Z, this necessitates a prioritization that says “mobile first.” In every feature ideation and design decision, the mobile experience must be considered before and above the desktop experience. Simple as it sounds, this paradigm shift is deceptively difficult for those of us who grew up on Netscape over Netflix. Desktop remains a much more spacious platform for designers and developers to work in, and it still delivers the most comprehensive visual experience to the user. We were all raised to think of a desktop first and only.
However, mobile does have obvious upsides in terms of guaranteed hardware like a camera, a microphone and speakers, which cannot be assumed to be a part of every desktop setup. Leveraging this technological common ground in innovative ways will be key to creating and meeting needs on the platforms that tomorrow’s consumers already live through.
The Content Generation Continues
Whereas the signature business model of the 2010s was ad service, I believe post-pandemic creativity will be defined by user platforms. Starting with blogs, followed by legacy social media, then amateur streaming, and a massive podcast boom, the appeal of content creation has risen right along with its accessibility. Everyone under a certain age is an artist, an entrepreneur, and an activist, and Gen Z is paying close attention to these popular roles. Beauty brands, for example, are cashing in on the new-found interests of this group. However, with the shift of Gen Z’s attention to celebrities and influencers for product recommendations, prestigious brands will have to play catch up. A 2019 survey revealed that 80 percent of teens say they get their beauty tips from influencers, and only one heritage brand, Clinique, ranked among the generation’s 10 favorite skincare brands.
For any business with a digital presence, the opportunity is right there: support Gen Z's personal expression. Just consider the most loved brands among Gen Z: Google, Netflix, and YouTube. All platforms, all highly personalized. The more users interact with these brands, the more invested in them they become. All their emails are with Google, their cultural touchstones come through Netflix, and they attempt to make their own videos on YouTube. Gen Z is loyal to these brands not because of their branding, but due to the function they serve in self-expression. Whether by offering tools, inspiration or a virtual megaphone, the brands that help along the new renaissance will be remembered for it.
Gen Z is Watching Your Brand Now More Than Ever
The newest wave of consumers is the first to have originated in the digital ocean. Even millennials had to learn to surf the web; Gen Z is on the web. As such, they have a native understanding of the mature internet as a virtual reality with its own fully formed society. The post-Napster generation expects to pay for online services, understands legal restrictions, but also requires promises to be kept. Gen Z is paying close attention to how brands and retailers are handling the pandemic and social issues. Similarly, paying empty lip service to their ideals is widely received as malicious co-opting of organic movements. Remember Pepsi and Kylie Jenner? Or take the Climate Action movement as a more pointed example. This is a movement that, by all rights, belongs to Gen Z, and it's not served by disingenuous support from companies with conflicting interests. The most politically aware generation since the 1960s recognizes this. Taken together, facilitating expression is great; copying it, not so much.
Gen Z only knows URL and IRL as integrated, not separate. Thus, they require honesty and respect in both instances. The digital economy is one of trust, and only brands operating in good faith will keep the trust and loyalty of Gen Z post-pandemic.
Eric Oldfield is chief business officer at Brainly, the world’s largest social learning community bringing middle school and high school students together to make learning outside the classroom highly engaging, effective and rewarding.
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