Cross-cultural marketing is the key to targeting Gen Z

Snappy new terms like GenZennial are compelling buzzwords but communicating with Gen Z calls for a more nuanced approach.

Gen Z'ers interviewed at PRWeek's CMO Summit aspire to be a generation that changes things.
Gen Z'ers interviewed at PRWeek's CMO Summit aspire to be a generation that changes things.

Kudos to Ketchum for coming up with the snappy new buzzword GenZennial to launch a new expertise area targeting 16- to 24-year-olds.

The Omnicom firm has dubbed the cohort a new consumer micro-demographic of younger millennials and older Gen Z’ers.

But a presentation by Sensis and Think Now Research at PRWeek and Hispanicize’s inaugural CMO Summit in Miami on Monday led me to think Generation Z isn’t quite as homogeneous with its older siblings as Ketchum’s new client offer would have you believe.

The marketing agency and research firm have produced a fascinating study called We Are GenZ that I heartily recommend anyone interested in the topic check out.

Interestingly, the researchers actually suggested Gen Z has more in common with Baby Boomers than millennials, because both of those groups grew up in times of economic recession.

At 53% non-Hispanic white, Gen Z is going to be the largest and last white-majority generation and currently comprises 26% of the U.S. population. They want to break out of the stereotypical ethnic molds the media has bestowed upon them and stand out for themselves.

As Sensis’ Jose Villa explained: "We’re at a historical tipping point. This is the generation that’s going to make multicultural mainstream – it’s happening now."

The Gen Z study shows 94% of Asians surveyed only speak English in the home, compared to 50% of Hispanics; 88% of Hispanics cite family as the most important part of their lives; 67% of African-Americans said they could be famous if they wanted to be.

But they want to be famous for "being me" rather than "reading someone else’s script" – in other words, they’d rather be a YouTube maven than an actor or film star. And they say: "I would describe my culture as part of who I am, but only part. I am more than my race."

Contrary to what you might expect, members of Gen Z like to read print ads, shop in-store, and pay full price for brands they like – 60% of white Gen Z’ers surveyed said seeing an item in-store is a greater purchase driver than digital.

The researchers suggested retailers should produce digital and physical in-store environments that work together and provide a cohesive experience where brands plan for customer digital interaction such as taking a picture in the space and sharing it on social.

They’re into "Brand Me" and buying discounted sneakers doesn’t fit with that positioning. They want to create their own message. And two-thirds want to be surrounded by people who don’t look like them.

They believe everyone can become a brand, which is why campaigns like #mycalvins work so well with this audience.

YouTube is an essential platform for most Gen Z’ers and they are definitely swayed by new influencers. Cable TV has been replaced by Netflix and streaming services. In fact, and maybe surprisingly, they aspire to limit the amount of time they spend online.

Food-wise, it seems ethnic food is becoming American food: Three out of four young people who were surveyed are open to trying foods outside their cultures, slightly more so among Asians and African-Americans.

A panel of Hispanic Gen Z youth was interviewed on stage after the research session and added some anecdotal insights to the study findings.

We discovered they all have cell phones, most of which are checked regularly by their parents. Some parents even have a mirror of their children’s cloud on their own devices.

They’re not worried if new influencers are being paid to write about a certain brand, but there has to be full transparency around the process.

"We’re smarter than we look" and "We’re a generation that’s going to change things" were two notable comments I took in. Maybe the kids were on best behavior for the audience of marketers, but almost all of them cited family and education as the most significant things in their lives.

Researchers Villa and Roy Kokoyachuk concluded by saying the old models of general market and multicultural communication are irrelevant in targeting Gen Z.

They recommend a total market cross-cultural approach that enables a brand to transfer seamlessly from one culture to another.

They also suggest putting Gen Z in the role of co-creator within brand activations, similar to Instagram Stories or Snapchat. "This not only gives Gen Z the power to share its own stories, but also facilitates deep brand engagement."

The researchers further point out that Gen Z does not think celebrities are good role models and that marketers wanting to influence Gen Z will prosper by breaking the rules and reflecting the real world - balancing aspirational imagery with bravery.

Villa and Kokyachuk’s presentation was certainly a highlight of an excellent inaugural PRWeek marketing summit at Hispanicize and just one reason why communicators and marketers should prioritize joining us in Miami for next year’s event.

The upshot is that Gen Z can’t just be treated as an offshoot of the millennial generation. GenZennial isn’t going to cut it as a catch-all strategy - this is a very distinct group in its own right and has to be targeted as such.

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