How to Create Content Generation Z Will Actually Enjoy
Older generations—the kind of people who get offended by an “Okay, Boomer” meme—make a sport out of mocking “Millennials.” Those Millennial kids, so self-absorbed, disrespectful of authority, addicted to their phones, with their participation trophies and their safe spaces!
Newsflash—the leading edge of the Millennial generation is pushing 40. Most of “the kids” that those Boomers (many of whom aren’t Boomers) would really like to get off their lawn are no longer Millennials. They’re a whole different thing … and they’re about to change everything as they assume their place as the biggest segment of the consumer population.
Meet “Generation Z,” sometimes shortened to “Gen Z” and sometimes called “Centennials” or “iGen.” They were born between the years 1996 and 2010, immediately after the cutoff of the Millennial generation. In 2020, that would make them anywhere from fifth-graders to recent college graduates entering the workforce or advanced studies.
A few things you should know about Gen Z right off the bat …
- Most Gen Zs got their first smartphone at the age of 12. Yes, they spend a lot of time with their face in their phones, but their screen time is actually comparable to the time older generations spend watching TV or looking at computer monitors.
- Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse generation in history. Whereas roughly 22% of the American Baby Boomer generation belonged to what used to be called “minorities,” nearly half of all Gen Zs are “people of color,” with at least one non-white parent.
- Gen Z is more financially responsible than many of their predecessors. 21% of Gen Z has been saving money since the age of 10. 35% save for retirement or plan to do so in their 20s, 10% of them in their teenage years. 42% of them have some sort of job or side hustle, and they are more likely than their Millennial predecessors to mistrust credit cards, student loans, and other forms of debt.
- Gen Z values education. Less interested in video games than their predecessors, many of them regard higher education as a pathway to prosperity. They don’t stop there, however—they pursue knowledge on their own from non-school sources, with 33% watching online lessons and 52% using social media or YouTube to help them study.
And last but not least ...
- Gen Z is the largest generation ever. Yes, you heard that right, Boomers. There are 72 million Gen Zs in America, meaning this demographic group, 14 years wide, comprises nearly a quarter of the US population.
Okay, Boomer, time to take notice. As the largest generation ever, Gen Z is poised to hit every marketplace harder than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. By 2026, Generation Z will have massive buying power. They will dominate the retail consumer base.
Any brand or business that invests the time now to understand Generation Z and target content to their distinctive traits and preferences is investing in its own long-term prosperity.
This guide dives deep into how to create content that Generation Z will actually enjoy, building relationships that will pay dividends down the decades.
The Biggest Thing Gen Z Wants: Entertainment
Exposed to online technology from the very beginning of their lives, the Internet is not a novelty to Gen Z—it is a way of life. It’s how they shop, communicate, and navigate the world.
The biggest use to which Gen Z puts the Internet, however, is entertainment. 66% of Gen Z relies on the internet for entertainment. They are more likely to stream content than to turn to cable TV or go to a movie theater.
The first rule of appealing to Generation Z through content is to be entertaining! Brands that provide relevant, consistent, and above all entertaining content stand to capture big Gen Z market share. Gen Z is more likely to make purchases from the brands that entertain them.
What does this look like if it’s done right? Companies like Netflix and Disney are obvious examples—as long as there’s more Baby Yoda, no one is canceling their Disney Plus account. But other brands leverage entertaining content in more indirect ways, building goodwill among Gen Z by sheer virtue of brightening their days.
Few questions hit a young person harder than this timeless chestnut—”Where should we stop for late-night munchies after a night on the town?”
Venerable diner chain Dennys has made an aggressive play to be the answer to that question in Gen Z’s mind with a hilarious viral content campaign.
Nothing entertains like bringing the funny. Dennys stocks its Instagram and Tumblr feeds with hysterical, sharable puns and memes, all of them on-brand for a diner.
Mountain bikers, have you ever considered BroccShocks—shock absorbers made of broccoli? Has everyone prepared themselves sufficiently for “Night of the Living Bread” or a vampire with soda fountain straws for fangs? (“I want to suck your milkshake!”) And who doesn’t have a minute for a flash animation of a waffle sumo-wrestling a pancake for breakfast dominance?
While Apple remains a dominant force in computing and software, Microsoft has punched back with one of the oldest forms of persuasion—telling stories.
A good story actually causes our brains to release oxytocin, the “love” hormone associated with cuddling and closeness and bonding. A story that hits us in the feels is like a hug in a literal sense.
You know what Microsoft does, right? Makes software? Much of the content on Microsoft’s Stories blog doesn’t mention software at all—or if it does, it makes it personal, makes it clear why software matters in the world.
Want to read about how AI technology is helping blind people recognize familiar faces or save Beluga whales in Antarctica? How one 23-year-old refugee is using technology to bring education to 25,000 peers in an African refugee camp?
Forget the latest iPhone release—Microsoft has its hands on the heartstrings. There may not be a direct sales pitch or call to action in these Stories blogs … but there’s a lot of oxytocin that will build positive vibes for Gen Z about microsoft.
Who needs YouTube when you have the GoPro library of video content? Befitting the brand message, GoPro stocks its library with breathtaking video content, shot by both brand ambassadors and users. And yes, the GoPro YouTube channel has 2.7 million subscribers.
You can see footage of people jumping out of airplanes, biking or skating through mind-boggling obstacles, diving deep under the ocean, interacting with wild animals, one jaw-dropping eye feast after another.
One thing that you won’t see is a GoPro camera itself. Naturally—the camera is the thing doing the shooting! But think of the power—the entertainment value is doing the selling, not the product features or a hard sales pitch.
Appealing to Gen Z’s Sense of Individuality
If Gen Zs run with any crowd, it’s the crowd that prides itself on not running with crowds. Raised with a sense that they are unique and can be anything, surrounded by heroes and celebrities who made it big by being themselves, and beneficiaries of unlimited opportunities for self-expression, no generation has had this much sense of themselves as an individual.
Does this make them worse citizens or less adept at teamwork? The jury is out. It does, however, make them entrepreneurial, creative, and empathetic to the plights of fellow individuals who might be suffering.
Brands have responded to this phenomenon of individuality by producing hyper-targeted and personalized content. Gen Zs don’t have time for attempts to guide groupthink or mass-communicate … but they will listen if you speak directly to them.
DeepSky appeals directly to the entrepreneurial spirit of Generation Z, offering accounting services for businesses of all sizes, right down to the solopreneur.
Informative, interactive content is worth its megabytes in gold, especially if it can be tied to a commonly-searched keyword. An aspiring entrepreneur who googles “How much should I pay for accounting services?” might happen upon DeepSky’s free web tool, conveniently titled “How much should I pay for accounting services?”
This web tool sweeps aside blanket assertions or rules of thumb, allowing instead for the future titan of industry to input personalized data and get a recommendation tailored to them specifically.
This interactive, “me”-centric form of content also saves brands from the faux pas of upselling a prospect on a product or service package the Gen Z prospect doesn’t need or can’t afford. Brand loyalty is built on “yes” answers. It helps to know when to take “yes” for an answer.
Millennials and Gen Z are more health-conscious than earlier generations, which might explain the decline in sales volume suffered by venerable sugar-water purveyor Coca Cola.
In 2014, however, Coca Cola turned that trend around with their groundbreaking “Share A Coke” campaign. The premise was simple—Coca Cola bottles adorned with popular first names instead of the usual Coke label would be distributed to retailers.
Consumers would spot their friend’s or loved one’s name on a Coke bottle and buy it for them as a thoughtful, inexpensive gift (assuming the recipient isn’t diabetic).
“Share A Coke” gave the company its first increase in sales volume since 2000. Coca Cola expanded the campaign to include over 800 first names, enough to cover 77% of the US population between the ages of 13 and 34. Do those ages sound familiar? Yep, it’s all of Generation Z, with a decent swath of Millennials to boot.
Streaming giant Spotify did not have anything else to prove in the personalized-marketing space. After all, the Spotify algorithm already makes personalized recommendations of new music, based on the music you already listen to.
That didn’t stop Spotify from kicking it up a notch with a hilarious billboard campaign titled “Thanks, 2016, It’s Been Weird.”
The Billboards drilled down strange, funny, or odd sub-demographics of Spotify listeners and turned them into delicious, billboard-sized puns and flights of irony:
“Dear 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’ the day of the Brexit vote, hang in there”
“Dear person who played ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine's day … what did you do?”
Wouldn’t it be fun if you were that guy? Maybe not … but at least you know your brand engagement made an impact! It’s right there on the billboard.
Demonstrate You’re a Brand That Can Be Trusted
Raised in an era where dirty secrets usually don’t stay secret, Generation Z is one of the most socially conscious and activist generations we have ever seen.
More multi-racial and worldly than any generation that came before, they are sensitive to issues like generational poverty, systemic racism, gender inequality, gay rights, climate sustainability, and war or privation in parts of the world for which their predecessor generations barely spared a second thought.
Many of them have an acute sense of their innate value and personal boundaries. They have no patience for bullies or people who cut corners, and they hate phonies even worse than Holden Caulfield did.
Generation Z has put brands on notice—a good song-and-dance won’t cut it, and “but everyone’s doing it” is not a good reason to do anything. They have a million buying options for a million vendors … if you want their business, you can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.
Gen Z wants to know what a brand stands for. They vote with their wallets for brands that share their values. Another term for what they are looking for is brand purpose.
Smart brands won’t play fast and loose with this tendency. If a company doesn’t know what they stand for (other than “make profit”) they had better sort it out. Adopting no values in an attempt to avoid being disliked by anyone won’t work. You have to stand out in a crowded marketplace, and find the market that will support you passionately because of what you stand for.
Examples of brands that bring their purpose in alignment with their brand purpose include:
NerdWallet has products to sell and affiliate relationships that drive revenue, but their brand purpose, more than anything, is to create a user base of financially educated citizens—a message that resonates hard with thrifty Gen Zs. They also resonate with the identity of being a “nerd”—that is, a passionate and voracious consumer of niche content.
Almost any Google search on personal financial topics will yield specialized blog content produced by NerdWallet, all of it in alignment with their brand purpose—educate, educate, educate. A trusted source of information is a trusted brand—period. Gen Z commits dollars to trusted brands.
The Under Armour brand of athletic wear has a concise statement of brand purpose—”Empower Athletes Everywhere.” One obvious way in which they do this is by empowering athletes with comfortable, moisture-wicking garments. But it doesn’t stop there.
Under Armour also produces “Connected Fitness” tech like the UA Healthbox, a personal fitness app that records and tracks your fitness metrics and provides tips and recommendations.
By dedicating their fitness-space brand to user engagement outside of the purchase of their core product line, they reaffirm their commitment to their customers and their brand purpose, not just to their bottom line.
What brand purpose could a paint brand possibly find to live out? It turns out, quite a lot. Dulux has a mission to “add color to peoples’ lives.” They put this mission into practice with the “Let’s Color” project, distributing free paint to underprivileged communities around the world.
Dulux sponsored over 1,200 painting projects, from Asia to Europe to South America. The idea is that color brightens up communities, inspiring hope and good cheer.
The Continued Importance of Video
Video content continues to reign supreme. As early as 2017 it accounted for 75% of all internet web traffic. By 2022, Cisco estimates that figure will crack 82%, with a healthy 17% devoted to live video.
Any brand not leveraging the power of video to connect with Gen Z will be left in the dust. A Google study revealed that 7 in 10 members of Gen Z connect with others through the shared watching of video content. An even larger segment, 82%, use video content as a way to decompress and disconnect from stressful environments like school hierarchies or low-paying entry-level jobs.
Even audio content must adapt to video formats, with YouTube among the most popular venues to consume music, podcasts, and free audiobooks.
How will the successful brands of the future connect to a Gen Z user base though video? Here are some best
If you think Gen Z is looking for whizz-bang production value in their video content, you’re missing the point. In fact, a Gen Z is more likely to mistrust high production value because they’re constantly on the lookout for phonies.
A successful video content marketing campaign shows who you are—your values, your processes, the why of your brand.
Many brandmakers shy away from video content because they’re “not an actor.” This is actually a good thing. If you hire an actor, that immediately makes you disingenuous. Your video content should be you, in all your imperfection, with your passion for your products and your brand purpose front and center, doing the heavy lifting.
Take The Viewer Behind the Scenes
They’re a reason it should be you and not an actor pitching the brand. Hungry for knowledge of the world they inhabit, Gen Z wants a peek behind the curtain. They want to see how the sausage is made.
Treat viewers to a behind-the-scenes look at how your brand operates. Discovering how you do what you do allows a young viewer to form a connection with your brand because you aren’t holding them at arms length, telling them to “leave it to the grown-ups.” By ushering them backstage, you’re inviting them to be a partner and a virtual VIP, laying the groundwork for brand loyalty.
Generation Z won’t watch your videos just because you have videos. 300 hours of video gets uploaded to YouTube every minute. How will you cut through the noise?
You do it by offering value. This can take a variety of forms—informative and educational content; entertainment and humor; niche appeal; maybe a few simple bits of production value like sound effects or basic animations, which video editing software often offers as a drag-and-drop add-on.
Some content creators swear by short content (3-4 minutes, no more than 10) but Generation Z has proven to have the attention span for longer-form content like podcasts and video lessons, so don’t shy away from long videos if you think they will work. Better yet, experiment with both.
Tell Your Story
Remember that oxytocin hit? Gen Z wants to connect with a brand narrative, not just product features. They want to know who you are and why you do what you do. This is part of being real, part of brand purpose. But focus some of your video content on telling your story.
Join the Conversation
Don’t release videos and then ignore them. Generation Z is the most digitally connected generation ever. They fully expect to be able to engage thought leaders and celebrities in conversation.
If your video content garners comments, even criticism, make sure to respond. Social comments are a tremendous opportunity. Get a conversation going—it helps users connect with your brand and gets your message on the tips of their tongues.
Leverage your Video Transcripts
If you script out your videos, those transcripts aren’t dead documents; they can be repurposed into more content. If you do your videos off the cuff, hire a transcription service to get your words in writing.
Once you have your transcripts in order, you can harvest that content for:
- Social Media Posts
- Email Content
You should also upload your transcripts as subtitles, both for the sizable and underserved hearing-impaired market, and because subtitles are searchable content that gives your video content and SEO boost.
Don’t Ignore Email
With the rising dominance of social media, text messaging, and video content, some marketing gurus have taken it upon themselves to compose obituaries for an old standby in digital content marketing—email.
Indeed, considering how we get added to email lists every time we create an online account, view a piece of clickbait, or download a free offer, many of our personal email inboxes have become unmanageable dumping grounds, choked with so much marketing content that we miss the emails we actually want.
Privacy legislation like the CANSPAM Act in the US makes it harder to build an email list. Some companies consider jumping the email ship and focusing on social media, SMS text messaging, and other channels of communication that they can turn into dumping grounds.
It isn’t time to give up on email. Not only is it inexpensive compared to social media and SMS, it is still a valuable communication tool. Consider, we need to check our email accounts, if for no other reason than to confirm those online accounts we can’t stop signing up for. Our email addresses are our most common username.
This distinction isn’t aging out. Among Generation Z:
- 58% check email multiple times a day.
- 23% check their email at least once a day.
- Less than 1% never check their email.
That’s over 80% of Gen Zs that check their email daily. Email will remain an important marketing tool, even as Gen Z takes over.
What email marketing techniques will be effective in building brand relationships with Generation Z? Here’s what they have to say:
- 82.3% of Gen Z survey respondents like receiving notifications of sales and discounts through email.
- 68% open emails advertising sales or promotions.
- 60% open emails for the content they find relevant.
- 36.1% opened emails because of a personalized subject line (“Hey, Jane, check this out …” etc.)
- 44.3% like receiving product recommendations through email.
- 28.5% have made at least one purchase in the past month because of an email they received.
Conclusion: Gen Z Isn’t Going Anywhere
No brand succeeds by remaining stuck in the past. Even if you sell antiques, chances are you will need to engage in cutting-edge content marketing to sell those antiques. Any brand that fails to do so risks becoming an antique itself.
Instead, brands will succeed by keeping an eye on what’s next. Generation Z is what’s next. They’re not going anywhere; in fact, they already wield $44 billion in purchasing power, and as the youngest Gen Zs age into young adulthood, that number will only grow explosively.
It’s time to welcome Gen Z. They’re our children, our future caretakers and leaders, our colleagues, our neighbors, our successors. They’re telling us what we are about, every day, in YouTube videos, Facebook shares, Instagram posts, SnapChat stories, Retweets, think pieces, and Amazon buying histories.
Older generations, let’s be the generation that listens to them—who they are, what they care about, what kind of world they envision for themselves—and create content that speaks their language. In doing so, we can do more than just sell products to the largest generation ever. We can build fruitful business relationships that harness an idealism, vision, and curiosity worthy of the last letter of the alphabet.
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