Think you can simply tweak your brand messaging for the next generation of young consumers? Nope. Gen Z is already bringing a whole new set of values, expectations and behaviors that are remaking the brand landscape.

In our first installment about Gen Z disruption, we introduced concepts about this upstart generation being dubbed as Millennials on Steroids. The particular challenges Gen Z will bring to brands will usher in a second wave revolution to the consumer marketplace, just a few short years after the Gen Y disruption entirely remade the branding landscape. In what some are calling a “demographic tsunami,” Gen Z already has impressive power. They make up 25% of the global population and have substantial spending power, controlling $200B in direct spending and influencing more than $600B in spending by their parents. Smart brands are already preparing for the inevitable upheaval and unexpected opportunities.

Gen Z Values

According to a new study from ad agency Barkley and FutureCast, brands preparing for Gen Z need to first understand the underlying beliefs, behaviors and values that Gen Z holds, including: their focus on hard work to earn their success; their belief in diversity and equality as non-negotiable; their need for brands to be authentic and stand for something; and their desire for their rules of etiquette surrounding social media to be respected by brands. How does understanding a value-set translate into actionable intelligence? Just ask. More than any other generation before them, Gen Z appreciates a feedback loop and brands that are interactive and responsive to their needs.

More than any other generation before them, Gen Z appreciates a feedback loop and brands that are interactive and responsive to their needs.

But brands beware: Gen Z members have a fine-tuned BS detector. If brands are pandering or merely younger-tweaking their messaging for Gen Z, they will smell it immediately. Gen Z not only appreciates authenticity from brands, but they’ve really come to expect it. Creating a fake younger persona to speak to Gen Z will backfire. Instead, find real-life influencers or pop culture icons to represent brands in a meaningful way. Don’t use prefabricated music, but actual songs they’ll recognize. Don’t bend over backwards trying to come up with catchy, memorable slogans or other artificial lines delivered by fake actors on a soundstage. Click. Scroll. Next. Real people saying real things about real life. For Gen Z, that’s where it’s at.

Connecting with Gen Z

As this next generation is poised to disrupt the brand communication landscape, many brands are already making mistakes in trying to fit Gen Z into the Gen Y mold. As Gen Y was the first generation to be dubbed “digital natives,” Gen Z is taking that moniker one giant leap further. Sure, they are connected to social media checking it up to 100 times per day, but where they’re connected and why varies greatly from their older brothers and sisters. While this generation does expect innovation from brands, the underlying reason brands develop these cool tools must focus squarely on usability and expedience, leveraging new technology to provide customers with even more functionality – less flash, more substance.

The underlying reason brands develop these cool tools must focus squarely on usability and expedience, leveraging new technology to provide customers with even more functionality – less flash, more substance.

According to Fortune’s What Brands Can Do To Prepare for Gen Z, “If millennials were the pioneers of the Internet, then Gen Zers are the ones who will rule it. For every generation that came before Gen Z, there existed a pre-Internet world. Do you remember those days? Gen Z does not. For Gen Z, the Internet is not merely an addition to life – it is a fundamental part of it. There is no longer a significant separation between digital and reality; these consumers treat both as representations of their own personas. Yes, we live in a world where our Twitter follower count is just as, if not more, important than the amount of close connections we have in real life.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 12.36.01 PM

Unlike their more cynical Gen X parents or more live-in-the-moment Gen Y siblings, Gen Z expects brands to communicate with them, but they want to call the shots and they expect a real human on the other end of the screen. No more forced ads, stock images or brands stalking them in the background. Their expectations for brands will bring a whole new meaning to the idea of relationship marketing. AJ Agrawal, contributor at Forbes, says “This demographic expects brands to hang out in the same places they do: online, and especially on social media. They want to be able to engage with the brands in much the same way as they engage with their friends, by chatting and communicating online. Initiate two-way conversations, and create a social presence with which Gen Zers can engage.” Creating rewards takes that engagement even further, hence the popularity of Instagram and Twitter contests among Gen Zers.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 12.16.14 PM

Warby Parker, LinkedIn Brand Visual: “Where have you been kicked out of?”

This generation, like Millennials before them, also boasts a super short attention span, given the immediacy of our digitally enhanced lives. Messaging from brands should be succinct and to-the-point, while still witty. Messages of 10-seconds or less will become the norm. If brands don’t capture Gen Z’s attention in that time, they’ve already scrolled on. Remember, Gen Z has been bombarded with images their entire lives, so they are used to scanning, sifting and sorting in short order. That means it’s vital to get to the point with a CliffsNotes version of your brand message. This is where visual snackable content can really work. Infographics, relatable video and visual imagery will be even more of a thing than it was for Gen Y. Further, find a way to speak to them in their own voice. The last thing any teen wants is their mom or dad talking to them about brands.

Gen Z has been bombarded with images their entire lives, so they are used to scanning, sifting and sorting in short order. That means it’s vital to get to the point with a CliffsNotes version of your brand message.

Creative Content

In this Gen Z brand overview, we’ve focused on a lot of prescriptive measures for brands to take to be ready for this burgeoning generation and the disruption it will bring. But there are just as many inspired opportunities for communicating with Gen Z. Technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will expand brand reach into the realm of the imagination, where the sky truly is the limit. Digital content that is both imaginative and emotive, rich with visual and musical textures. These elements really speak to this generation of hands-on creatives, set to remake their merged virtual and real worlds into one of their own making. Further, conceiving of spaces and places where brand experiences can be co-created with members of Gen Z will open up new heights of brand engagement and love.

Our next installment in the Gen Z series will focus on the dynamics of physical space and what retailers are doing to attract and engage.