Buy Me vs. By Me: Insights on the Rise of Gen Z Influencers

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

Marketing tricks and gimmicks don’t fool today’s youth: Generation Z. They are builders and believers of authentic relationships with not only their peers but also with the brands that help them support their identity. As a result, they expect brands to know them and to deliver them highly personalized messaging. Yet, this messaging can’t be inherently promotional or sales-y. It must generate genuine interest and prove its authentic alignment with this consumer group.

CASSANDRA, an agency that offers insights, research and strategy regarding youth generations’ emerging trends and behaviors, explores this topic frequently. At our 2017 Share.Like.Buy youth trends conference, Davianne Harris, CASSANDRA’s Senior Director of Brand Strategy, and Melanie Shreffler, CASSANDRA’s Senior Director of Insights, discussed the dos and don’ts of marketing to Gen Z in their presentation, “Buy Me or By Me: The Rise of Gen Z Influencers.” We followed up with them to learn more.

Q: Being adept at tuning out promotional messaging, how – or from whom – are Gen Zers getting their information about products and services in the marketplace?

A: Gen Zs don’t know a time when they haven’t been marketed to, so they are adept at tuning out anything that resembles advertising – and they make the decision to pay attention or not in a matter of seconds. They don’t want to be “sold” to and prefer to learn about and adopt brands through their peers as opposed to ads or marketers themselves. When they do choose to interact with brands, they look to them to either provide entertainment or, when they need it, to offer functional information about their products or services (e.g., origin, sustainability practices, etc.). Furthermore, while young people still know and like celebrities, their ability to infuse a brand with their cool is waning in the eyes of Zs.

Q: What can brands do to reach this generation, knowing that they are not interested in traditional means of advertising?

A: Brands must shift from traditional advertising that focuses on convincing consumers to buy or engage with the brand to finding ways to authentically connect with consumers via their passion points. Consumers are no longer a captive audience but a moving target, literally. And while brands have learned to adopt a mobile-first approach, few have figured out how to do this well. Most mobile ads are perceived by Zs as being too disruptive, while others do too good of a job blending into platforms and fail to stand out. Meanwhile, the ancient power of word-of-mouth is enjoying a resurgence thanks to the accessibility of influencers.

Q: What brands are reaching Gen Z in the right way?

A: Adidas is doing an amazing job reaching Zs with their influencer-focused marketing that embraces the creator. In addition, Zs appreciate the ability to customize and achieve a one-of-a-kind look, and Adidas delivers this as well. Sephora is also resonating with Zs. They have a broad range of products which fits their need for choice and personalization. However, they have solved for the challenge of their daunting selection with clever digital tools to help young shoppers find what is most relevant and fitting for them. Sephora also enables consumers to put forth their best self with the various tutorials and online communities that feature influencers or peers who deliver the content.

Want more on Gen Z? Stay tuned for Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, coming Spring 2018. Pre-order here!

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.