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How do we win over Gen Z?

Isabelle Schnellbügel

Chief Strategy Officer



Chai Sinthuaree




How do we win over Gen Z?

The target audience of tomorrow, today, and now

Many traditional companies have lost track of their customers. Products and communications are developed in the ivory towers of brand management and agencies. The only time companies really listen to their target audience is in the labs of market research companies, when they watch consumers test products and ads from behind glass walls.


Another factor complicating true customer centricity: Marketing is often targeted at a defined audience, and one that is, to put it plainly, wrong. Nearly two-thirds of Generation Z already influence the purchase decisions of their families. Gen Z is not only the target group of tomorrow – it’s the target group of today.


The youngest generation currently comprises a quarter of the world’s population; in just a few years it will make up 40 percent of all consumers worldwide. Gen Z are equipped with high monthly budgets and have stronger purchasing power than any young generation before them. Being social media pros, they act as multipliers amongst their peer groups. Thanks to their aptitude for technology and social media, Gen Z use these tools without hesitation, thus unleashing a high degree of inventive energy and productivity. They don’t just consume content, they want to develop and create it too.


Brands, however, have a hard time finding a place in the world of today’s teens. These people are nearly impossible to reach through classic advertising channels and spend more than 3.5 hours a day online, usually on their smartphones. More than half of them dislike brands that try too hard to be “cool” and are tired of brands using stereotypes to address them. The result: Gen Z rejects advertising, especially if it doesn’t communicate with them at eye level.


So, how can brands interact with this most skeptical of all target groups to trigger positive reactions and create business results?


1. Experience, not branding

Gen Z demands a lot from companies. Brands in the traditional sense have lost significance for them. It’s not about the logo, it’s about the personal benefits. Companies that can’t deliver value or amazing experiences will quickly be forgotten. Being true digital natives, Gen Z are used to direct dialogue and expect to be heard and respected.


Digital players such as Airbnb, Netflix and Spotify have shown how an ambitious vision coupled with relevant benefits, ease of use and customer-centric services builds strong brands. Traditional businesses can learn an important lesson from those digital rock stars: the clearer your vision, the better it can be conveyed through a range of touchpoints. Combine this vision with a relevant value exchange and consistent storytelling, and you’ll create experiences that generate real impact.


2. Sound is the new logo

The rise of services like Amazon Echo and Google Home opens up a new playing field for brands. In the near future we won’t see brands anymore, we’ll interact with them through spoken commands. The sound of a brand will become an integral part of the experience they offer, and only those brands with an unmistakable sound – a sound character – will be able to cut through the noisy offers on Amazon or Google.


This is especially relevant when communicating with Gen Z. For them, the keyboard is “so 2017”. More than 200 million voice messages are sent on WhatsApp every day, a large proportion of them sent by the younger generation. Music and sound are much-loved tools for self-expression, represented by apps like TikTok or YouTube. Businesses need to respond to this trend – and quickly. Only by doing this can they prevent the future of their brands being shaped by algorithms.

3. Always stay in beta

The majority of companies understands that customer centricity must be at the core of their business. Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of German companies are still not actively listening to their consumers. Brands like Facebook and Snapchat already have it: the “beta mindset”. These companies experiment instead of finalizing; they keep developing new approaches and have them continuously tested and validated by their customers.


The beta mindset goes beyond product development. Digital advertising offers endless opportunities to test and further develop communication in direct interaction with the target group. Classic campaigns will soon be a thing of the past. Instead, brands will foster a continuous and ever-evolving exchange with their audience.


All’s not lost

Is Generation Z the lost generation for advertising? Not at all. While traditional advertising may be dead, communication lives on. Brands, however, need a much stronger understanding of the youngest target group. They need to meet them where they are, and hand over some of their power when defining their brand and creating communications. That’s how today’s teens will become real influencers. And how the customers of tomorrow will become customers of today.