Were you ever certain you’d found love at first sight, only to find out that the more you learned, the object of your desire wasn’t what you expected? Similarly, brands are spending increasing resources to catch Generation Z’s eyes, but if the wooing doesn’t have substance and brand truth behind it to form an authentic relationship, then all efforts are wasted. In the era of “fake news” and a loss of trust in corporate and political institutions, brands need to be honest and transparent about who they are and what they offer to constantly prove themselves trustworthy to this critical audience of 70 million.
The Self-Check: Be Honest with Yourself. Every interaction your brand has outside your walls is a consumer interaction. Every experience is the basis for an opinion that is shared, with the potential to build a community. Your best qualities — and your questionable ones, if any — will be public, so be prepared. Know yourself. How are you relevant, what value do you provide in your offerings, and how you back them up? Those are the messages with which you need to lead, and stay true.
The Cross-Check: Be Google-Proof. You may have read that young adults can’t distinguish news stories from branded content. Gen Z may believe stories … at first … but they don’t absorb all content without questioning it. Hyper-aware of “fake news” and with only 22% trusting (to any degree) posts by companies on social media as reported by Forrester Research, Gen Z has picked up the classic journalist’s rule of confirming with multiple sources. With the Internet, that ability to cross check is at their fingertips at all times, so if you say you have the best, fastest, cleanest, most effective or best value offering, prepare to be vetted in seconds.
The Reference Check: Be Trusted by Those They Trust. For any potential relationship, having a good reputation is invaluable. Gen Z trusts friends most for references on brands. They also trust social media favorites on fashion and style, for two reasons. First, Gen Z can see the product being touted and whether it matches the message. More important, social media stars work every day to keep audiences’ trust. And college students still do keep tabs on mainstream media, with CNN and The New York Times the two top-trusted apps for news. If you can meet standards set by those outlets, you have a chance if Gen Z puts you to the test.
The Reality Check: Show, Don’t Tell. In the end, there is only one way to prove that your brand and its messages align to the views your audience holds. Your brand needs to validate those messages through Gen Z’s real-life experiences with your product and you as part of their community. The charities you support, and the way you engage your customers to support those organizations, speak volumes about your brand, especially when it connects with your core value proposition.
The recent ascent of Teen Vogue exemplifies how one brand set a new course against all expectations. Without letting go of traditional teen content, the magazine launched compelling feature and editorial coverage of social and political issues, and to encourage activism and engagement. Not only did the editors revitalize their brand, but they revitalized print as a revenue player in an omnichannel strategy — supporting and complementing digital — in the face of an industry downturn.
Just as social media stars learned a thing or two from brands to capture Gen Z’s love, take a lesson from their successes in turn. Avoid inauthentic steps that undermine your credibility — and in turn, your brand itself. If you want to be part of Gen Z’s world and the communities they populate, go beyond just catching their attention. Be the brand they want in their lives by knowing yourself, seeing yourself through other people’s eyes, and seeking to constantly evolve and improve. Be yourself, and do so fully with honesty and attitude. It’s really that simple, and that’s how true love works.