Gen Z consumers — myself included — expect more from brand marketers than ever before. Gone are the days when generic, broadly targeted billboard advertisements break through.
Today, I am accustomed to, and therefore expect, advertisements to be targeted directly to me. Not only towards my internet “look-alikes,” but to me as an individual. Ads, to me, are contextual. They know who I am, what I value, and find me at the right place and time.
As a Gen Zer studying and working in the field of digital storytelling, I am in the unique position where I am both consuming and creating content for Gen Zers. Speaking from personal experience based on everyday discussions with my friends, colleagues, and in classes, these are a few examples of what my generation expects from brands, and how marketers can address these expectations.
Allow Us Privacy and Personalization
Every time we click “accept Terms & Conditions”, “allow App access to X”, or agree to allowing cookies on our browser, we understand we are giving marketers access to data. 62% of Gen Zers are willing to share their purchase history according to a 2017 study conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF). But we view this as a transaction. We expect to receive something in return for that data — specifically: relevance. Essentially, I trade information for advertisements that are more relevant to my current context. For example, I appreciate an abandoned cart reminder, a push notification for a discount when I walk into a store, or a curated selection of similar products.
That being said, I desire respect around my information, and the digital realm is no exception to that. I want the exchange to be mutually beneficial and transparent, and my GenZ cohort is right there with me. According to Forbes, “data transparency as it relates to the purpose of its acquisition plays a role in [Gen Z’s] willingness to provide it.” Google Home’s device setup process clearly explains how allowing access to certain data benefits the overall user experience. Similarly, Facebook (client) CFO David Wehner announced at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in February that we can expect a Clear History tool to come later this year. This tool will empower users by allowing us to clear information the social network collects from third-party apps and websites. This is how a brand demonstrates respect and can successfully gain my trust.
In essence, Generation Z wants to feel in control, even if we aren’t. The NRF reported that the second most important aspect for making Gen Zers feel comfortable sharing information is that a company “provide clear terms and conditions in how to use my information.” The primary goal is not to stop collecting data, but rather to do so in a way perceived as non-invasive, and to utilize it to ultimately optimize the Gen Z consumer experience. If this is done, trust can be earned, ultimately leading to brand loyalty.
Listen to Us
Social media platforms have created new ways for consumers to communicate directly with brands and vice versa. Some brands are known for being active on Twitter, utilizing the platform as an extension of customer service. Members of my generation are more than comfortable messaging a brand or following and commenting on their Instagram posts with feedback, questions, complaints, or short form fan mail. In fact, we see it as the easiest way to contact a brand, as Twitter and Instagram are our natural digital habitats. But because of the instant nature of social media, we expect to be responded to quickly. So to build trust with Gen Z, brands need to be nimble and responsive.
Gen Zers seek validation through interactions on social media. Something as simple as acknowledging our comments with a “like” is meaningful. It is appreciated and remembered. A simple action builds a relationship and from there, my brand love and affinity will follow.
And Please, Be Transparent with Us
Finally, if nothing else, we ask for transparency. Now more than ever, consumers want to be informed about the entire ecosystem behind a brand. We engage with businesses beyond the product by attending brand pop-ups, sharing our favorite products on social media, and the like. Brands now have the ability to curate a “personality” through social content and storytelling. When done well, a very passionate, loyal consumer following that is connected on a personal, emotional level is fostered. However, the proximity granted by social media gives consumers more opportunities to be turned off by a brand. As the NRF stated, “Companies that can’t meet Gen Zers’ extremely high expectations risk rapidly falling out of favor — and leave the way open to competitors.”
When a brand communicates what goes into creating a product, it lets consumers feel like they are a part of the process and the story behind it. Building that sentimental connection between consumers and a brand is key in the Gen-Z market.
We Gen Zers are a growing market with high expectations for brands. We are not mere customers of companies, we are in relationships with them. Transparency is vital when it comes to both data collection and maintaining trust with Gen Z consumers. We expect timely responsiveness whether that be a change in marketing strategy or a simple “like” on an Instagram comment. Our generation is sensitive to digital presences and how they improve or impair their IRL counterparts. Yes, it is a lot. Yes, we are demanding consumers. But if brands can be aware of these touchpoints, they can be equipped with the tools to properly address Gen Z needs. And in turn, they’ll win us over.