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Today’s Teens Are Radically Different From Millennials - what it means to branding

+ Posted by Peter Bowden

Just when we thought we were getting a handle on Millennials - everyone's favorite marketing subject and audience - here comes GenerationZ, the most digitally savvy, socially immersed, culturally aware segment of our population. But think about it, if they're so connected, why are they so hard to reach? 

GenZers first appeared online when their parents uploaded in-utero sonograms to Facebook. They sift through media on multiple channels (five to 10 is normal) with the efficiency of a search engine. Confronted with nonstop content, this generation--whose oldest wave just graduated from high school--has developed a sort of brand blindness, they virtually ignore anything that feels like marketing.

What's the solution - it's a wake call to Destination Marketing Organizations - DMOs have to get sharper with their strategies, content and target audience. Here are the New Rules of Engagement: 

1. GEN-Z IS THE MOST PRAGMATIC GROUP SINCE THE GI GENERATION -- Solution: Serve up education along with entertainment.

Every generation is defined by those that came before. GenZ is more realistic and cautious than Millennials, less cutthroat than Generation X and more poly-cultural than any previous generation in American history. They care deeply about issues of social justice and equality and have a thirst for self-improvement. So what does this mean? There's an opportunity for destination's branding themselves to deliver experiences that deal with education and connectivity. GenZ is looking to make a difference - embedding their destination experience mean reinventing almost daily. GenZ isn't interested in the T-shirt, but would rather be involved in helping others - volunteerism begins to make sense.

2. CREDIBILITY COMES FROM NEUTRAL SOURCES -- Solution: Get to know the constellation around the supernova.

Gen Z doesn't want to be told what's cool, they want to discover what's cool. The key to this is by following the people close to their interests - if your destination is about running, they want to see what other runners say about it. If it's about food, what are critics who've been to those restaurants say from their best and worse experiences; GenZ id looking for that intimate look behind the scenes. Destinations that pull together a cadre of the "almost-famous players" increase their credibility with GenZ. Creative should be about real people immersed in teh culture and DNA of the desitnation.

3. FOBO IS REPLACING FOMO -- Solution: Enhance the experience.

Forget Millennials' anxiety about missing out on fun stuff their friends are doing. Generation Z is fearful of being offline, period. But they aren't in it for the technology and they're not hung up on being digital natives. (That's just what older people call them.) Kids spend tons of time on social platforms to connect with friends, influencers, news and yes, brands. Marketers who want to form long-lasting relationships with teens need to understand the nuances of each channel and deliver the emotional payoff Gen Z craves. This is where one-to-one messaging apps like Snapchat kill it. Gen Z regards Snapchat as the "realest" social channel--a place to be casual (not as curated as Instagram), creative (so many hacks), and direct (personalized messaging). And because it's ephemeral, it carries a sense of urgency and feels closest to a real-life conversation. Brands can win by creating geofilters and lenses tied to cultural moments, enabling users to build clever Snapchat stories that also happen to get a brand's name out there. Hollister, another clothing label catering to teens, keyed into prevailing attitudes last fall with a "Friday Vibes" Snapchat filter. The lens targeted nearly 20,000 North American high school campuses and allowed users to apply a subtly branded overlay to images. It worked because the audience was already in the habit of sharing photos that evoke a chill TGIF mood: now they could put a fresh twist on it. The brand struck a chord by giving followers something useful without dictating how it should be used, a smart approach for a (surprisingly!) sensible generation.

Keep these strategies in mind when crafting your message, and remember to treat Gen Z like people, not the next great unknown

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The Author

Peter F. Bowden, TMP

President & CEO, Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau

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