Engaging Gen Z through authentic messaging

Engaging Gen Z through authentic messaging
By Michelle Ruiz-Ponce
Michelle Ruiz-Ponce
Partner, Integrated Communications
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It's Gen Z's world—we're just living in it.
Gen Z drives much of the cultural conversation on social media. This audience grew up in a different world as digital native internet users. Gen Z is the most diverse, culturally fluid generation, and they question everything.

Other audiences require a methodical and intentional approach, but Gen Z adapts very quickly. Meet them where they are—and if you do it authentically, they’ll embrace you and take you seriously. As a generation that’s accustomed to being part of the conversation, if not starting or leading it outright, they are looking for brands that don’t talk at them but talk with them. And brands shouldn’t expect an open invite to the discussion—they need to earn their participation

Building your brand strategy to engage with Gen Z

There are stark differences between Gen Z’s outlook and that of millennials. Where millennials tend to believe everything, Gen Z questions everything and are unfiltered and raw. They show you themselves—they’re playful and want you to see them unpolished.

To successfully market to millennials, brands should endeavor to learn how to work within the system. Gen Z flips that idea and is quick to say, “Let’s build a new system that works for everyone.” They speak their mind without caring how others might respond. We saw this in 2020 with the renewed Black Lives Matter movement: Gen Z was extremely vocal in pushing brands and publicly calling out any who tried to stand up for social justice but didn't practice what they preached.

One of the biggest differences between Gen Z and millennials is the transition from "me" to "we". Millennials tend to ask questions like, “How am I going to be the best me?” But Gen Z is all about community, expressing emotion, and showing vulnerability. They’ve been described as the empathetic generation: 49% of Gen Z found camaraderie when sharing their feelings of loneliness and sadness with others.

Brands should also pay close attention to the different regions within their market. Gen Z is different in New York than in Miami, London, or New Delhi; a Black creator in Atlanta needs something different than a Black creator in Los Angeles; and a Latino in Southern California is looking for a different approach than one in New York. It’s important to not only understand the Gen Z generation as a whole, but also how your brand can connect with them in a deeper way based on where they live, play, and eat. Gen Z responds well to personalization and seeing you take the extra step to get to know them and their community—opening the two-way dialogue they try to create for themselves.

The importance of authenticity and action

There are opportunities to take a stand, but actions speak louder than words and 66% of Gen Z feels companies can be part of the solution. Think about a topic, the intent behind it, and how it might apply to your brand and employees: What are you doing right now to bring a solution? What's your long-term plan and how are you making it happen internally?

Brands also can’t just show up once or on an ad hoc basis—they need to be strategically and intentionally involved in bringing value to these young consumers. Gen Z is watching, and they’ll call out brands that don’t authentically and fully show up for their consumers and the greater community.

Gen Z is very brand-loyal in building relationships. They also talk about brands that are distinct and stand for something. Understanding their values is important when trying to engage with them: human rights, environmental aid, political reform, and education are all top concerns for this generation. Take on something that matters—it doesn’t have to be controversial—and be willing to try something new online to meet them authentically.

Finally, be true to who you are as a brand. We can't be all things to all people. There’s an attitude in Gen Z of, “We don't have all the answers, but we can find them out together.” There isn't fear of failing, which is both powerful and refreshing.

Best practices for marketing to Gen Z

There’s a lot of opportunity with Gen Z to test, learn, and innovate, but there are a few things to keep in mind as your brand evaluates how to cultivate deeper connections with this dynamic generation:

  1. Don’t be shy. You can ask your audience directly, and Gen Z expects you to. Consider enlisting feedback from Gen Z cohorts or developing an ambassador group that can help inform decisions and pressure-test ideas. This demographic is accustomed to and comfortable with sharing their thoughts and voices, and eager to be a part of making things better.
  2. Know your purpose. Gen Z has high expectations around how brands use their power, resources, and influence. They’re encouraged by meaningful efforts to support and better environmental and social initiatives.
  3. Always be authentic. Gen Z knows marketing better than marketers. That means brands must be genuine and human in all that they do. After all, it’s Gen Z’s world—we’re just living in it.

Leveraging a partner to help your brand stand out to Gen Z

Partnering with an agency with experience working with this group will boost your brand. No one will have all the answers, but a partner with experience in identifying Gen Z’s needs and how to reach them will build a strategy and inform your processes. You also want someone who knows not just where they are now, but where they want to be.

It’s important to break through the noise and stand out from the crowd, so you need a partner who isn’t afraid of new ideas when it comes to customizing your brand and crafting a story. Gen Z is tech-savvy and always evolving. Finding a partner with the expertise to identify new platforms will put you ahead of the curve.


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Meet the author
  1. Michelle Ruiz-Ponce, Partner, Integrated Communications

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