Basics of marketing to the Gen-Z digital consumer

Lessons for brands from a young student and digital native

Updated: Sep 15, 2021 03:18:21 PM UTC

Sonya Kakodkar is a student at École Mondiale World School, Mumbai.

digital-consumer
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Digital systems have revolutionised much more than businesses and technology. By enabling global interactions and instant dissemination of ideas, this innovation has shaped the ever-changing trajectory of human experience. In the digital age, the foundations of culture and behaviour, notably consumer behaviour, have been disrupted from the traditional form and are constantly evolving.

With the rapid development of digital culture, a new order of highly social and mobile consumers with growing demands for value and convenience has emerged. The rising tendency to replace traditional media with social media and the World Wide Web is leading to mobile users—particularly Generation-Z and millennials—expecting businesses to deliver relevant online resources to entertain, impart and resolve. It has also created an environment of transparency that consumers expect from companies to establish preference and trust for the brand. Dynamism, adaptability and social responsibility are essential for sustainable business growth in the face of continuous digital change.

What are some key components that consumer goods companies should consider to keep up with the new class of digital consumers in the rapidly evolving marketing landscape?

Customer engagement strategy
To maximise value from technological investments and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage, business leaders require a good digital strategy that provides direction and enables redirection to lead digital initiatives. 'Customer Engagement Strategy' is one type that can be pursued. This strategy aims at strengthening customer-company interactions with trust and passion for the brand at its core. Seamless, omnichannel customer experiences and quick responses to changes in customer demands contribute to an effective engagement strategy. It also relies greatly on the fit of digital tools with the business’s product or service. Simply using tools will not do the job. Strategic, efficient and precise integration of digital channels is vital to deliver value. In developing personalised relationships, data and consumer insights come of great aid.

Data and insights
Consumer data aggregation and behavioural analytics enable the real-time measurement of cause and effect that companies use in the efforts to develop digital marketing initiatives. It can be reasonably inferred that data drives consumer insights. Marketing data is the information obtained from touchpoints with customers while consumer insights are the interpretations relating to demographics, behaviours and preferences based on social media activity, online purchase behaviour, browsing patterns, and more.

This audience persona analysis—detailing the five W’s: who, what, where, when and why—will provide relevant information in determining the channels to reach and engage existing and potential customers. Solely focusing on behaviour patterns will limit the effectiveness of consumer engagement strategy, whereas personalisation of content based on an analysis of characteristics creates an individualised brand-customer connection. Data is vast-spanning but the primary challenge for companies lies in their interpretation of data and the ability to meaningfully weave this feature into creative digital strategy. When integrated well, insights can benefit sales, promotions, advertising, pricing and branding.

Creative strategy
Once an audience is defined, a creative strategy that aligns the product’s characteristics with the audience’s values and desires should be developed. This serves the purpose of stimulating an emotional response and increasing brand memorability. Forbes reports that the majority of Americans are exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 digital ads each day. For a creative strategy to stand out, considering the short attention span of today’s digital consumers, it needs to draw attention quickly through compelling content. The creative strategy also involves the development of content that works on various channels and can be viewed on different devices. Repurposing and placing existing traditional advertisements on digital platforms minimises effectiveness.

For example, users can skip a repurposed advertisement before a YouTube video, often missing the brand message that follows further on. Thus, smart marketers create customised advertisements wherein viewers attention can be drawn within the first few seconds. It may add to costs, but the results are highly advantageous, considering YouTube alone has 2.3 billion users worldwide and its reach of 18-49-year-old audiences was 36 percent higher than that of television, as per a 2018 Nielsen study.

Another tool that dominates the digital marketing field is social media. Within social media marketing, content marketing is the sharing of media, articles, promotional posts, graphics and video. Content should be placed in popular contexts, leveraging current trends through research and consumer insights. User-generated content encourages followers to share their brand experiences through online posts. It creates a customer-brand relationship that also draws the attention of potential customers. Nonetheless, content marketing can prove to be ineffective if a distribution strategy is not in place. Thus, affiliate or influencer marketing—the practice of partnering with word-of-mouth influencers—further builds trust and connection with customers. Often, this does not solely involve celebrities, rather, smaller social media personalities and bloggers with niche audiences who command authority in their respective fields. Studies demonstrate that consumers are less likely to trust a celebrity endorsement than they are to be influenced by a personally relatable influencer. According to 72 percent of marketers, relevancy holds greater significance than reach, and smaller audiences enjoy the higher engagement. Nielsen found that 47 percent of a brand’s sales lift from advertising was a result of creative strategy.

Digital mindset and social responsibility
Though cliché, it is true that with great power comes great responsibility. Corporate social responsibility has always held its rightful place in successful marketing strategy but the socially conscious Gen-Z consumers have further augmented its importance in the digital age. Transparency and fair use of data is the foundation to social accountability within a company, to its stakeholders and to the public. In 2018, after Starbucks faced a severe racism concern, chairman Howard Schultz immediately released an open letter which was sent to customers on their email marketing list as well. Most times, holding accountability through marketing techniques is an opportunity to garner respect from existing and potential customers as opposed to harming brand reputation.

Corporations are also increasingly adopting a digital mindset in the workplace as an element of social responsibility. The focus is not just on marketing to Gen-Z but employing more Gen-Z and millennial individuals in their marketing departments. This adds diversity, personality, transparency and new-age perspectives. Taco Bell, for example, has seen success in its creative social media strategy due to its “millennial-minded” marketing department, enabled by the forward-thinking leadership at the company, as expressed by Sambit Dash, marketing head of Taco Bell India. Social media and other online tools are one element of the new marketing normal. However, a paradigm change in a company’s mindset is what will fundamentally lay the foundation for successful digital marketing efforts.

For consumer goods companies, the need is no longer to climb on the digital marketing bandwagon; it is to identify creative opportunities that align with the brand identity and target audience. In the digital age, acting strategically, marketing responsibly and recruiting employees open-mindedly will ultimately drive brand sustainability.

The writer is a student at École Mondiale World School, Mumbai.

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