All Articles Marketing Marketing Strategy Answer back: How to connect with Gen Z

Answer back: How to connect with Gen Z

Connecting with Gen Z means brand engagement on new levels

5 min read

Marketing Strategy



While Millennials are often dubbed digital natives, today’s teens are truly the first generation of consumers to grow up in an entirely post-digital era. They have never known a world without smartphones and instant access to information at their fingertips.

For Generation Z, which we call the Pivotal Generation, the digital realm is as important to daily life as oxygen. From their earliest moments, they knew to ask Siri to answer questions they couldn’t; once they could read, they Googled new concepts. This immediate and easy availability of content influences how Pivotals engage with anyone and everything, brands included, as they connect with peer networks in ways that influence the purchases they make.

As a result, the modern market is now dependent on constant communication: a two-way conversation between brands and consumers. Though this aspect of marketing did not even exist during Baby Boomer years, if a brand doesn’t have a responsive online presence in today’s world, does it even exist?

Not to Gen Z.

While all generations are active on at least one social platform, our research at Futurecast found Pivotals to be the top users of YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Kik, Periscope and even Tinder. And according to CNN’s #Being13 Study, some teens check their social accounts as often as 100 times per day, evidence this generation has no concept of what daily activity is like without social media and the technology that fuels it.

“Constantly connected is their norm,” said Mia Dand, CEO of digital strategy and research advisory firm Lighthouse3. “They are growing up in an always-on, mobile-only world with messaging apps that allow them to instantly and effortlessly connect with anyone across the globe in real-time.”

And Pivotals aren’t just hyper-connected to their peers. They have the same expectation for brands.

“It’s a social norm for them to not only be connected with their family and friends, but also with brands and businesses–essentially the world–at all times,” said Ramsey Mohsen, CEO of social news and edutainment company Everhance.

Unlike the Millennial tendency to broadcast everything, however, we see a shift with Pivotals, who only share specific stories to specific people, on specific channels. Rather than frequenting the “over-sharing” platform of Facebook, they are top users of platforms that allow them to select who sees their content, and whose content they see in return. Snapchat and Instagram lead this list.

“These platforms are so popular because it’s only the people they choose to connect with that see what they share,” said Mohsen.

“After all, the only way social networks work is to have the people who are relevant to you included and sharing content.”

Which means social media is not a free-for-all for Pivotals, or for brands. In fact, our research found Gen Z uses a detailed ecosystem of rules and guidelines when it comes to the Big Four: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

●       Instagram is for conveying carefully manicured style.

●       Snapchat is for in-the-moment, raw and scrappy messaging.

●       Twitter is for real-time talk around trending events.

●       Facebook, well, that’s for Mom and Grandma.

As social media becomes a vital part of all modern consumers’ lives, it’s critical for communicators to understand how young users interact across different media and to handcraft messages that abide by the rules of each platform.

This mixture of hyper-connectivity and selectivity when it comes to Pivotals’ social media usage makes it necessary for brands to keep their finger on the pulse of constantly shifting expectations to market most effectively. If mass media died with Millennials, then members of the Pivotal Generation are digging the grave.

“Brands need to tread lightly–the same types of social tricks that Boomers and even Millennials found surprising will be completely see-through to Gen Z,” said Joe Cox, engagement director at Barkley, an integrated marketing and ad agency.

“Unless a brand knows their editorial authority – what they have permission to talk about based on the true beliefs of their brand – and the rules Gen Z has put in place for social networking, they won’t resonate with this consumer group.”

Word of caution? Don’t make the mistake of pandering to this generation by trying to speak “teen” and using too many popular acronyms. They will instantly peg you as trying too hard.

Amanda Gutterman, VP of growth at digital media company Dose Studios, shared a great analogy in a recent Contently article, “You don’t want to come onto a platform like Snapchat and be perceived as someone’s weird uncle trying to be cool.”

Brands should avoid marketing in social media and instead focus on conversations. IF YOU TRY TO SELL, YOU WILL FAIL. The best approach is to listen to Pivotals and then engage in an authentic, meaningful way.

That might include taking a stand on an issue that’s important to Gen Z, such as human equality. In fact, to resonate with young consumers, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to participate in culturally relevant conversations. You may have a great product or service, but Gen Z wants to know how you are also making a positive impact on the world.

And when they ask you about that impact? Answer back.


Jeff Fromm and Angie Read of FutureCast, a consumer trends consultancy that is a division of the Barkley advertising and co-authors of Marketing to Gen Z: The Rules for Reaching This Vast—and Very Different—Generation of Influencers.


If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mail from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.