I had the fantastic opportunity of taking part in a panel discussion during The Grocer Conference recently, talking about “The secret to marketing that defies Gen Z’s short attention span”. We explored how brands can grab the attention of Gen Z consumers, who’ve been raised on social media experiences that have become ever-shorter and more attention-grabbing.
Why Gen Z is different
Gen Z (people currently aged between 16 and 25) have grown up with social media and streaming services. They can block ads online and skip them on TV. They’re savvy about marketing messages, and they’re not afraid to challenge the status quo. That can be a challenge for brands – traditional marketing tactics, and messages don’t do the job.
This is a generation that is less trusting of brands and less label-focused than generations before them.
They’re more conscious of their impact on the planet, and they’re more cautious financially. Reducing unnecessary consumption or waste is a priority – just look at the deinfluencer trend on TikTok (people who encourage people not to spend or to look for cheaper non-branded alternative products).
And, of course, they care deeply about fairness and values. So brands have to make a genuine connection with them to get their attention.
That means standing behind the values of your brand (and really living those values), and giving people a chance to participate and contribute to discussions where their opinions are heard and respected.
The best social media campaigns for brands focus on authentic, entertaining content that is hyper-relevant. If you’re jumping on a trend, it needs to be super-quick, which means a really agile social media strategy. It helps if social teams are steeped in internet culture and know how to reach a younger audience in a way that’s genuine. No one wants to be that person who’s trying a bit too hard and misses the mark.
It’s also so important to know what is and is not acceptable when it comes to things like language and humour – or the brand could see itself being cancelled.
How to reach the Gen Z audience
Gen Z’ers tend to prefer short-form content – especially when it comes from the content creators they love.
But, they really need to know why they should spend their time engaging with branded content. What value does the content have for them? They’re so used to filtering out noise on social media that without a clear understanding of why something matters to them, it’s very easy for the content to blend into the background.
They also need to see how brands are representing the values they hold close. If a brand calls itself an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, for example, people will want to see what they are doing, not just saying, to support the community – and not just during Pride month. (That means having a diverse team creating your strategy and content.)
They’re likely to engage more with organic content than paid. This is a great opportunity for brands to read the room. Feedback on your brand’s organic posts gives you the chance to see what resonates with your community (and can support your paid social campaign which might open up access to new audiences).
Surprising grocery brands that are doing this well
There are some surprising brands doing this well to open up younger audiences. The panel talked about Marks & Spencer, which has started to take a very local approach by getting its stores to run their own TikTok accounts, creating content around shopping for less, for example, and making videos that align with current TikTok trends – such as the ‘dupe’ trend (which is where TikTok creators promote lesser-known and cheaper alternatives to expensive brands).
M&S Food has had a long-standing reputation for being expensive, but these videos are starting to change that perception. Now we can find people posting videos of their M&S cost-effective food hauls.
Waitrose also has its local stores running their own TikTok accounts – and they’re usually very quick to jump on relevant trends – like this great Easter video from the New Malden store.
Research by GWI shows that Gen Z craves authentic experiences on social media. They want to see real people and hear their genuine opinions.
They also want to follow brands that they can vibe with – that have a vibrant community and a reputation for doing what’s right.
Ultimately, Gen Z wants more of a collaborative, entertaining and genuine dialogue with brands – it’s less about marketing to them and more about working together.