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Engage Youth Co. CSO, Gregg L. Witt talks about influencer “relationship building” at the Gen Z Social Summit with YouTuber and TikToker Zachery Ryan Brands that develop authentic partnerships with these talented individuals are able to leverage the valuable, and often longstanding relationships that the creators have built over time. One of the most overlooked influencer relationship-building tips probably won’t surprise you, but if implemented right will help you build your network and gain a competitive advantage.
Nike is known for connecting with niche, athletic lifestyle groups within the youth market, and it’s why they resonate so well with Gen Z today. Yet, about 20 years ago, they found a group that posed some unique resistance.The story may not be what you would expect from such a titan of the sports and lifestyle market, but it’s part of why Nike is, well…Nike. The youth market is not particularly easy to get immersed in, especially if you are an adult with a job that has the ulterior motive of making money. Gen Z is a skeptical generation: they’ve been hyper-exposed to all the good, the bad, and the ugly that today’s society has to offer, delivered directly to their devices and platforms. If you want to win their hearts and wallet share, you will need to prove that your brand is aligned with their wants and needs, or risk being perceived as inauthentic. They are collectively a fast-moving target and reaching them is a challenging task. But cultural relevance with the youth market is not isolated to Gen Z, and this is what Nike struggled with 20 years ago, before they cracked the code and eventually became a dominant industry player in the global skateboarding subculture. Nike made a few attempts to enter the insular skateboarding world. Their first effort was in 1995-96, during and after the first X Games. They even sponsored the games, but skateboarders felt like Nike hadn’t earned their way into the culture, they felt like they were trying to buy it. The Nike advertising campaigns at the time were very creative and arguably good for the public image of skateboarding, but the core audience still felt like Nike was an outsider, and trying too hard. Lesson One: Don’t assume to know the target audience based on traditional demographic targeting models or past successes alone. The core of any audience segment expects your brand to be an authentic contributor who walks the walk. On Nike’s second go at market entry, in 1998, they took a deeper dive and launched their first dedicated skateboarding line. The shoes, while state of the art (which Nike is known for), lacked the features and style desired by most skaters. Even Nike-sponsored skaters had a hard time finding models that they could embrace. To the scene, Nike’s efforts to embrace skate culture felt more like infiltration than engagement; the product line was canceled about one year later. Undeterred, Nike went back to the drawing board, determined to reach and resonate with this tenacious audience segment. Lesson Two: Above all, make sure you are producing a product or service that your audience actually needs and wants. When Nike finally broke through the ice and started to earn the respect of skateboarders, it was because of some very focused collaboration between Nike executives and a group of influential athletes revered by their culture. Nike humbly approached these skaters and asked, hey what do YOU want in a skate shoe and brand? After some serious consultation and co-creation, the Nike SB Dunk Lows were born in 2005. It was accompanied by a grassroots campaign that listened to and championed skate culture. and planted seeds that grew into a genuine acceptance of Nike by the community. The seeds planted during this time continued to grow, with each new generation of skaters growing up with Nike’s authentic presence. Today, the majority of Generation Z view Nike as a longtime champion of skateboarding, helping to support and grow the art and sport. Lesson Three: To truly engage with youth culture, you have to become involved in that culture, respect and listen to the members, and add value to what the audience is already doing. Nike’s journey to skateboarding and streetwear dominance illustrates how they masterfully engaged youth culture as a company, across many specializations. It teaches the observer three important rules of consumer engagement with Gen Z and youth culture at large. Forget your assumptions about consumer groups and start immersing yourself in the cultural lifestyles of your target audience. Identify your audience needs, and what authenticity means to them, before imposing your brand’s products and services on them. Consumer relationships are not seasonal: develop meaningful partnerships with youth segments, and commit to them.
Influencers have become important brand advocates, whose videos, posts, and images initiate consumer word of mouth about a product, service, or brand. They are particularly important for attracting millennials and Generation Z consumers. An implicit assumption among marketing managers is that picking the influencer with the largest audience is best for the brand. But that assumption about audience size no longer is an absolute. As more individuals build an influencer presence, marketing managers gain opportunities for nuanced personality-to-brand matches that can better increase awareness and sales. This has given rise to micro-influencers – people who have developed a small yet highly engaged social media community around a particular subject. One criterion of a quality among influencers has been the ability to attract a sizeable audience. But savvier analytics over time have revealed that brands should seek influencers whose audiences are consistent, and whose content speaks to followers with a sense of voice, empowerment, and shared values. Those qualities engender an authentic engaged audience, rather than one mixed with a large volume of bots and fake profiles. An engaged audience engenders meaningful sales activity. Experts are weighing on how to best select influencers. Youth brand experts Gregg Witt and Derek Baird note in their book, The Gen Z Frequency How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility, that two kinds of influencers exist. There are influencers who establish a cohesive sphere of influence by attracting an audience. Others create exceptional content. Influencers that master both audience development and content creation are rare and highly prized. Experts also debate about how to measure the ROI brands get from influencer campaigns, but social platform have found promising results by examining correlations between influencer activity and sales. Twitter has touted since 2016 that “Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer.” Micro-influencers sometimes speak on overlapping subjects. Some smart influencers address that overlap by banding together and co-ordinating. A great example is SoulPhoodie, a Facebook and Twitter account that shares content on African American cuisine, dining, and cultural history. SoulPhoodie was started by Toni Tipton Martin, Adrian Miller, Dr. Fred Opie, Nicole Taylor, and Michael Twitty, professional chefs or foodies that wanted to share their culinary experiences, as well as a love for researched food history as it relates to African American culture. Micro-influencers can also be a way to connect to consumers with a strong cultural identity. In my article How To Use Data to Reach Hispanic Consumers, I mentioned how social media usage among the African American and Hispanic population has risen substantially. This trend means brands can partner with micro-influencers like LeJuan James, Asiyami Gold, and Olalla “Caeli” Lopez who speak to digital community sub-segments (albeit in Lopez’s case a very large one). But as influencers proliferate on social media platforms, the FTC has repeatedly sought to ensure transparency about paid posts. Back in 2015, eMarketer reported that awareness of FTC sponsored content guidelines among marketing managers was low. But in the wake of fake content concerns and mishaps like the Fyre Festival, marketers are working to ensure that influencers associated with their brands are reputable and compliant. Moreover, brands can struggle with how consumers respond to hints of inauthenticity. Posed or staged images can prompt negative reactions. A UK Instagram influencer, Scarlett Dixon, receiving viral criticism over a sponsored Listerine Instagram post because of the staged nature of the post image. Many of the tweets asked what the image had anything to do with mouthwash. Despite the potential for pitfalls, marketing managers can take several steps to select the right micro-influencers. Marketers must first clarify the brand message and the types of images consistently conjured when that message is delivered. This clarification helps to frame decisions on which influencers can best complement the brand image and its message Marketers should also consider their social media policy – how should a brand respond to influencer-prompted social comments that may reflect negatively on the brand? Volatile responses on social media are more common than ever – for more on this subject, check out my articles on protecting brand integrity and on how brands should express themselves on social media When it comes to how the products and services are mentioned, marketers must find ways to trust micro-influencers’ modes of online expression. Influencers at all levels have access to devices with better capabilities than that a few years ago. Combined with having established a consistent specific audience, micro-influencers can be savvy engagement in ways that brands have not imagined. David Pring-Mill notes a few examples in his article on IGTV (Instagram TV) To understand how well an influencer alliance is working, marketers should use metrics like the share of brand voice on a social platform, and changes which are seen when social ad campaigns are used concurrently with influencer initiatives. In general, influencers can enhance the frequency of a brand or product mention on a given platform. As for social ad spending, marketing experts expect budgets to grow to complement influencer campaigns. Micro-influencers wield a great deal of power when it comes to boosting brand awareness and driving consumer action. It’s up to brands to approach micro-influencers who demonstrate domain knowledge and cultural awareness in order to provoke the most genuine engagement with their products and services. Article originally published in dmnews.com
Gregg L. Witt, youth brand strategist and Chief Strategy Officer of Engage Youth Co. has conducted hundreds of interviews with Gen Z kids, tweens, teens and young adults and has distilled his findings into a list of youth culture attributes. These generational markers are the identifying traits of what will be the most significant global demographic shift in history. Gen Z Generational Markers: Independent: Gen Z is willing to work hard for success vs the ‘be discovered’ mentality prevalent among their older Millennial siblings. Diverse: As a global cohort, Gen Z is open to all ethnicities, races, genders and orientations. They expect to see those values reflected in their brands, classrooms and media. Engaged: Gen Z is very politically aware and actively involved in supporting environmental, social impact and civil rights causes. They are focused on making the world a better place and want to align with organizations dedicated to making a difference. Activists like Malala Yousafzai are their role models. Knowledge managers: Often misrepresented as having a ‘short attention span,’ Gen Z has developed an ability to quickly filter the mass quantities of information that appear on their screens and decide what is worthwhile and what should be filtered and discarded. Pragmatic: Raised by Gen X parents who experienced a similar childhood shaped by the recession, Gen Z are choosing more pragmatic careers (for example, selecting a legal profession instead of trying to be a YouTuber influencer), are financially conservative and are avoiding the social media privacy pitfalls of Millennials. Personal brands: Unlike Millennials who tended to overshare on social media, young people are managing their presence like a brand; privacy matters and contributes to the popularity of ephemeral social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. Collaborative: Whether it is in the classroom using Skype with students in another country, playing Club Penguin or team sports in their backyard, Gen Z has learned early in life the importance of collaboration in both local and distributed (or virtual) environments. Article originally published in azbigmedia.com