By Sammy Park
While many have written about Generation Z (youth born between the late 1990s and the late 2010s) as narcissistic teens addicted to social media, there is no denying their value as a potential client base.
Despite the millions of dollars poured into online advertising, only a tiny fraction of ad campaigns really affect where Generation Z spends money. This market, which has consistently confused businesses, remains largely undefined and difficult to attract.
In a world where websites like YouTube have more viewers than any US cable channel, an online presence is critical for any company that wants to succeed.
Gaining social media followers is one of the keys to expanding a business’s market. And cultivating a consistent brand on Instagram and Twitter that defines a company is necessary.
Generation Z has spent countless hours scrolling through Instagram and can easily recognize advertisements.
Overexposure through easily bought “influencers” is the reason most of the skinny tea and waist-trainer ads (despite endorsements from all of the Kardashians) don’t send millions of teens rushing to the nearest vendor.
Making endorsements and advertisements sound genuine is critical to actually attracting Generation Z.
Hiring social media influencers with a legion of fans means nothing if the product they are advertising is not useful or tantalizing to their fan base.
Choosing an influencer who is on brand is the first step in creating a buzz on social media and the internet.
Positive interaction between company and consumer on social media is what Generation Z is attracted to, so quickly responding to concerns or inquiries about products is partly what feeds a youth market.
Create brand loyalty by making Generation Z feel like they are not just another customer. The companies who have a massive youth market, like Colourpop Cosmetics and Forever 21, have found a way to do this.
By using customer-generated content for social media posts, the companies have grown their market and gained a reputation for reliability.
When companies repost a customer’s picture, the result is a mutually beneficial relationship in which the customer both receives exposure to the company’s following and exposes the company to their followers.
Another way to create brand loyalty is to connect your product or service to a bigger problem or societal issue.
The shoe brand TOMS is an excellent example of this.
TOMS, which started in 2006, promised to provide a pair of shoes to underprivileged children in exchange for every pair of shoes a customer bought.
Soon, the canvas shoes seemed to be synonymous with people who were responsible consumers. By creating a product that sent a message other than “Look at me!” TOMS captured the youth market.
More recently, the clothing brand American Eagle Outfitters has had enormous success with their lingerie brand Aerie.
By using unretouched photos and showcasing plus-size models, American Eagle became the center of positive discussions about their progressive branding.
The ad campaign soon made headlines and further expanded their market.
They reflected the diversity of their target market (women in their late teens and early 20s) and reaped the benefits of inclusive advertising.
Of American Eagle’s three sub-brands, Aerie is the only one that has lasted more than a few years, and it is still growing.
Projecting that a brand is diverse through every available outlet creates a larger, more loyal market.
Despite calculated and expensive campaigns and advertisements, the best way to connect with Generation Z is by being inclusive.
Generation Z is the most racially diverse age group in the US, and attempts to attract their attention have to take their multiethnic backgrounds into account.
Due to the prevalence of social-justice issues on social media, companies also have to think about their products and ad campaigns in relation to marginalized groups so that they do not alienate an entire group of people and cause backlash.
When American Eagle and other youth-oriented brands create products that serve all types of people, their potential market increases.
By hiring diverse models and indicating that the people who buy their products are not homogenous, companies will appeal to the younger generations.
Inclusivity sends a message that anyone can be a part of their brand. A failure to make Generation Z a part of your target market will guarantee a struggling business.
Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point in the future… because Generation Z will eventually make up the bulk of the world’s consumers.