Six lessons for marketers targeting the class of 2020

James_Clifton_SMALLImagine, for a moment, you’re not you. Imagine a world where 9/11 is a historical event that happened before you were born. Where the Great Recession happened when you were just six, the same year an African American was elected US President (no big deal, right?).

Imagine you’ve never known a world without the Internet. Or a smartphone. Or texting. Because you were just two years old when Facebook launched, three when YouTube launched, four when Twitter launched and five when the iPhone debuted. Consequently, you have no idea how the world worked before this stuff.

Your life has been shaped by recessions, upheaval, intractable foreign wars and now a pandemic, lockdowns and civil rights protests right when you’re about to take the first meaningful steps into adult life. Bummer, as you might say, because you are a member of the Class of 2020, a Gen Zer.

The employment outlook for you is not rosy. Research from Prospects, part of JISC, found that 29% of final year students have lost jobs, 26% have lost internships while 28% have had a job offer deferred or rescinded. Understandably, almost two-thirds feel negative about their future careers, 83% lack motivation and 82% feel disconnected from employers.

So how do we as brand leaders engage with these individuals as current and future customers?

First, show respect. The Class of 2020 are the smartest, best educated, most savvy generation we’ve ever seen. Intuitive digital jedi, they can sniff out a fraud from 1,000 miles away and their disdain is merciless: they will eviscerate an inauthentic brand using social media your digital team hasn’t even heard of.

Be truthful, authentic and genuine, ALWAYS. Trust is earned over years but destroyed in a second. Truth travels fast in our digitised world and brands that have claimed to be one thing, then revealed to be another, pay a heavy price. Nike, Starbucks, Amazon, Google, Uber, Subway…many famous brands have stumbled when the discord between their marketing claims and reality is revealed, whether in the form of sweatshops, privacy violations, inequality or just old-fashioned cheating.

Listen. Gen-Z are always on, out there, everywhere and love to give their views. Just ask. Solicit and encourage collaboration, input, feedback, ideas and suggestions, using the plethora of media available. Hire some Gen-Zers, give them a voice (and a job). And listen to the negative stuff, even though it hurts. Then act on it. Don’t just pretend to listen, that’s worse than not listening at all.

Be consistent. If you’re a brand with a purpose, make sure you live that purpose every day at every touchpoint, even ones you think are invisible (because they’re not). Gen Z respect expertise and authenticity, so be the very best at what you do and explain why you do it the way you do it. In doing so, you’ll find your “tribe”, as Mary Portas calls it: those who share your worldview and who value your brand as part of their personal identity.

Evolve. Consistency, authenticity and expertise needn’t be static. Being the best in mobile technology, say, may mean one thing today and a totally different thing in a year’s time. Same with sports tech, transportation or entertainment. As long as your values and purpose stay true, how you manifest that can change. Apple, Lululemon, Tesla, Netflix and others constantly evolve to maintain their leadership credentials. The Class of 2020 get this, they don’t expect you to stand still because they know the world doesn’t.

Have fun. Times are tough but your brand needn’t be boring. The Class of 2020 are, at heart, optimistic. They believe that the problems facing us can be solved, not least by them given the chance. So, celebrate the good things, accentuate the positive, shake loose a little and have fun. Life can be relied on to give us lemons, so sell them on eBay and buy tequila!

The world is daunting right now for everyone, but especially for those just starting out on their adult life journey. However, in the toughest times the strongest bonds can be forged. If we brand leaders get our relationship right with the Class of 2020 from the outset, hopefully we can enjoy long and mutually rewarding relationships in better times ahead.

James Clifton is group chief executive of  The Mission Group

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