Marketing isn’t just about executing beautiful campaigns. Long before you get to that stage, the core of marketing is about understanding the customer perspective and making sure that your strategy is in line with their wants and needs. As time progresses, each generation has its own values, informed by their socio political and economic environment. As a result, brand strategy, messaging and marketing also needs to evolve to make sure you are still speaking to your target audience. Arguably, this has never been more apparent than with the emergence of Gen Z.
Who is Gen Z?
Bloomberg News describes Gen Z as “the group of kids, teens and young adults roughly between the ages of 7 and 22” in 2019. In other words, those born between 1997 and 2012. They are digital natives, and have been exposed to the internet, to social networks, and to mobile systems since early childhood.
The result is a generation that interacts completely differently with brands, content and information to those who have gone before. McKinsey describes them as a:
“hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experiences.” McKinsey also identified Gen Zers as having four core behaviours, all anchored in “this generation’s search for truth.”
The behaviours they identified include:
- Valuing individual expression and avoiding labels.
- Mobilising themselves for a variety of causes.
- Believing in the efficacy of dialogue to solve conflicts.
- Making decisions and relating to institutions in a highly analytical and pragmatic way.
What does Gen Z behaviour mean for your brand?
The upshot of these behavioural characteristics, is significantly decreased brand loyalty, and an increased value placed on experience over possession. Where a Millennial may have seen the value in owning a car they can afford to buy, Gen Z will see the value in renting the one they really want instead.
It is in part because they don’t own, that their brand loyalty is much less. They’re not tied into a 10 year relationship with a car brand, because they lease it and know they will probably return it in six months or a year, for example. They are entirely happy to go to a different provider of any given product or service if they don’t like the experience with one, because they know there’s a myriad of options available at the click of a button.
Gen Zs emphasis on experience and global causes, also means they much more savvy about a brand’s eco credentials, and are increasingly aware of the value of transparency and giving back. They’re not so interested in getting £10 off their next order, as knowing what their energy provider has done to offset their carbon footprint, or to invest in renewable energy sources.
Are your behaviours in line with brand values?
Where this can present a challenge for many brands, is twofold. Firstly, that you may simply not be appealing to your target market at all, and secondly, that your behaviours and your brand values may no longer be aligned. For a generation hell bent on truth and integrity, that can present problems both to your reputation and to your bottom line.
For companies looking to grow, maintain or even turnaround profits in an evermore competitive market, an acute awareness of your brand values and what they look like in terms of marketing messages and behaviours, can make all the difference. Particularly for brands who may have found profits dwindling in recent years, an assessment of customer values and realigning with them as a brand, may also present you with surprising solutions.
For example, last year our CMOs worked with a client whose business was in trouble. Sales were falling because the industry had become more competitive, and they were used to living off the momentum of a now outdated brand strategy. To fix the issue, they were focusing on price, assuming that evermore competitive pricing was what their customers wanted and valued.
However, when our team looked at the customer values (the target market being Gen Z), price wasn’t the problem; they were interested in differentiation. The company had a lovely brand story but they weren’t telling it.
The company ended up going through a period of seismic change, including a difficult period of shrinking and pivoting in order to get back on track. They ended up focusing much more on customer experience and ensuring that all members of the team were fully aware of brand values and how they translated into action. By the end of the process, positivity was higher than ever, and the end results were excellent because they had a clear direction, staff knew what they were all about, and customers were really satisfied.
It is not dissimilar to the story of Netflix. The streaming oligarch we know and love today started out as a DVD rental company, that self-cannibalised to meet the behaviours and values of the modern market.
Reinvention to stay relevant
It is not a new thing to consider constant reinvention to be a vital part of ongoing success as an individual or as a business. However, what is often missed is how deeply integrated brand values, business strategy and marketing really are with sales and business development. After all, if you don’t understand your customers, how can you communicate with and ultimately sell to them?
No matter how long a business has been around, keeping brand values aligned with behaviours, and keeping them relevant to your target market today, is imperative. However, more often than not, the missing links are only visible to someone with an outside perspective.