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Why brands are failing to connect with Gen Z

Brands are spending enormous sums of money trying to tap into Gen Z’s spending power - £300 billion according to a recent estimate. But they’re getting it all wrong. We work with over 5,000 students from over 60 universities across the UK and we recently conducted mini focus groups sessions which involved cross sections of these students. From these focus groups we discovered that Gen Z-ers think marketing teams are wildly out of touch.

Companies that succeed in cracking the problem will gain a significant competitive advantage. But first, they need to consider how they’re wandering astray.

Try-hards fail hard

Students participating in the focus groups said Gen Z-focused marketing almost always tries too hard. In an attempt to appear cool and relatable, it comes off as cringe.

The focus groups said that colloquialisms and the use of Gen Z ‘lingo’ presents a prime example of this. Instead of connecting with them, it fails to hit the right notes.

Stereotypes lack depth

Marketing often involves categorisation of customers, but students in the focus groups found that this categorisation often led to misjudgement of the demographic. When brands act as if Gen Z belongs to one uniform culture, they fail to recognise the various sub-cultural nuances between groups.

Brands need to make a better effort to understand variations in style, interests, hobbies, political beliefs, and principles to engage with Gen Z effectively.

Pressure creates distance

The focus groups students said, as a result of the stereotypes, brands often put pressure on them to conform to certain ethical standards. Advertisements promoting sustainable fashion, as one example, made them feel bad for their buying habits.

That might seem like a successful approach, but Gen Z-ers said it’s only creating greater distance between them and the brands. Their generation is more similar to their parents’ than many marketers realise.

The study clarified several aspects of Gen Z marketing. First, it’s clear that brands’ current efforts are missing the mark. Second, those brands can improve their aim with a little Gen Z participation.

One way to do this would be for brands to conduct insight sessions with the demographic they are wanting to target to sense-check their ideas. This will ensure they are creating personalised campaigns with longevity.

Written by David Burgman, CEO and founder of student marketing agency Raptor

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