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Articles

A True Story of Cultivating Gen Z Relevance: Nike SB

February 6, 2019

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.

How Micro-Influencers Can Bring Macro-Sales

February 1, 2019

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

The 7 markers of Gen Z that businesses need to know

February 1, 2019

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

Bullies Are No Match For The Principles Of Empowerment

February 1, 2019

Most people, at some point, have experienced a form of bullying. In fact, a lot of bullies were bullied, and they are just doing what they were taught. There is no excuse for this behavior, however, and awareness and education around the issue has made a big difference. What more can we do to address the effects of bullying? Starting in about 3rd or 4th grade, when I started riding the bus, I also became a target of bullying. I was taunted, given wedgies, pushed around, and had my bag taken. I was scrawny, they were cool and older – I didn’t know how to fight back. I tried to laugh it off or ignore it, and accepted it as my fate, but I didn’t feel good about it. Circumstances changed, and the bullying died down, only to start back up again when I started high school. This time I was heckled for being a skateboarder, and for being different. And I was, but this time that difference gave me confidence. I was proud of who I was as a skateboarder. I was talented, it made me happy, and I had friends and a whole life outside of school. The intolerance and aggressive behavior, instead of intimidating me, now fostered an internal rebellion. I resolved to be successful and outdo everyone who thought they could beat me down. I started a skateboard company at 16, after traveling extensively as a sponsored amateur skateboarder for Vans. Within a year it became a global company, and this time I was traveling the world entering skateboarding competitions, doing exhibitions and now promoting my own brand. What had been a liability was now a strength, and the bullies were rendered obsolete. I felt powerful, and I could shut down aggressive behavior almost before it began. I had learned to trust and be proud of myself, and developed the valuable skill of never backing down in the face of adversity or intimidation. Trust me, I’m not about to thank my bullies; they also left some pretty deep scars. What I am grateful for was that I developed a strong sense of self around what I loved, and that this gave me the authority to stand up for myself under any circumstance. To answer the question, “What more can we do to address the effects of bullying?” I think we need to continue to look toward reinforcing the confidence and esteem of kids as they grow up, especially during the critical years of self-discovery and development. In my current role as a youth marketer, I observe, interact with and analyze the youth mindset in its various stages. I see daily the interactions and constant evolution of mindset and character, and am constantly reminded of the intensely complex lives, that adults often write of as simple and unchallenged. As brands and businesses, we can make an impact on the mental well-being of our young people, while positively impacting our bottom line. In my role as Chief Strategy Officer at Engage Youth Co., I follow five guiding principles of empowerment in marketing, that are designed to build relationships through mutual respect and benefit, and empower the parties on both sides of the equation. 1. Identity. An individual, and a brand, must know themselves honestly and respect and grow that persona. They must similarly strive to know the identity of the individual or audience they wish to engage. When we seek to understand and respect young audiences, we empower them, and create a sense of belonging, or tribe. This is critical to any relationship, and reinforces the confidence of those involved. 2. Trust. Trust is earned when the relationship is established and respectful. Trust also provides a layer of safety and comfort that allows those involved to let down their guard and explore themselves, their environment and to thrive. 3. Relevance. When a brand provides offerings that are relevant to their audience, it reinforces trust and contributes to a sense of belonging and inclusion…that their wants and needs are recognized and addressed. 4. Possibility. Creating a sense of possibility offers a pathway to the hopes and dreams of the audience. It inspires thoughts and actions, and instills a sense of aspiration that can change the course of a life. 5. Experience. A positive experience is the final piece of the puzzle. When we can create a positive experience, shared or not, we create a reinforcement of the relationship, and a reinforcement of the individual’s wellbeing. These five principles have guided me through my entrepreneurial life since I was 16, and continue to keep my work focused on the empowering relationships that keep clients, audiences, and myself, passionately invested.  If bullying taught me anything, it’s that we must find our path and our tribe, and help others to do the same. Working with people – young and old, big brand or fledgling entrepreneur – to feel good about who they are and where they are going, and to have the resolve and confidence to overcome obstacles and find their best self… that is the best revenge.   Article originally published in youngupstarts.com

Cultural Alignment Key for Brands Aiming at Gen Z

February 1, 2019

Today’s young people tend to be highly individualized and making culturally relevant connections is non-negotiable. If you want to be noticed, followed and garner their attention, find and align with the most relevant groups within youth culture. Successful brand alignment with young people depends, in part, on your organization’s capability to make psychographic and situational context a priority. What does this mean? Many brands default to demographic, geographic and behavioral targeting as their primary filters because they are more convenient, but the reality is that relationships are built in the personal realm. Demographic targeting, such as age, gender and ethnicity, remain a starting point to help organize consumers who are more likely to be a good match with a brand. However, the ultimate goal is audience segmentation that helps us not just organize youth culture, but to understand it. Hyper-individualization is the norm Gen Z is pushing the idea of individualism, sometimes to the point of hyper-individualism. Gen Z defines itself as being more highly individualized than previous generations. This perception is important. Whether or not they truly are the most individual generation of our time is a moot point if they believe they are. It’s interesting when you consider how much exposure they have to the world via the Internet and social media, at a time when they’re developing a sense of self: they may have more options and raw materials to choose from than previous generations. Regardless of studies and statistics, to understand Gen Z’s perspective we have to recognize their self-perception as the most unique generation. A 2017 report by AwesomenessTV found that, “Growing up in a time when intersectionality is the buzzword du jour, [Gen Z] perceive identity on a spectrum — a complex, ever-evolving construction of self rather than a static set of demographic descriptors. Now we are faced with an arsenal of niche, interchangeable and hyper-specific labels …” In fact, there seems to be an infinite number of hybrid subcultures that young people can zero in on and claim as “home.” No identity is too specific or personalized; it can all be made-to-order. Being highly individualized isn’t a barrier to entry or to societal acceptance. One might easily be accepted because of their individuality, instead of being excluded for it. Today’s youth celebrate differences with less judgment or hesitation than previous generations, but it goes beyond just self-expression. Gen Z needs a more flexible identity because they have to adapt to more variety and situations in their lives. Identity is less and less conveyed by a static, stereotypical ‘persona,’ and more by a fluid, evolving, ever-changing condition. We’ve all been in situations where we bring forward a different side of our personality to blend in with others, whether that’s our parents, boss, peers or partners. This is adaptation. Gen Z will try to match themselves to their current situation just like everyone else. Yet, because they’re also at a life stage marked by transition, coming up with the right personality may be more intense, because they’re discovering and defining themselves, as opposed to toggling between more solidified personalities like adults might do. Gen Z is blending characteristics like the pieces in a kaleidoscope. A teenage male entrepreneur who enjoys knitting while he and some friends drive to Coachella is no longer seen as having an identity crisis. He’s making an identity statement. If brands want to connect, they need to understand and adapt to the way that Gen Z defines and identifies themselves. But tuning into the trends and influences that inform Gen Z’s lifestyle and consumer choices means getting out of boardroom comfort zones and into the complexity of youth experience. So, where do we start? Putting alignment into action A brand’s likelihood of building a commercially viable audience is in direct relation to that brand’s ability to identify and connect with the right spectrum of groups within youth culture. The key word here is spectrum. Relying on demographic targeting alone is like casting a net into the water and crossing your fingers. A segmentation method rooted in the lifestyles of youth culture may require more patience and work up front, but it’s far more likely to result in real cultural identification and alignment with the groups that will desire and value what that brand represents. Key stages of youth culture alignment Stage 1: Needs Analysis: Determine the extent of your targeting needs. How big, small, specific, etc. does your audience have to be for a particular offering? Stage 2: Brand and youth personality match: Identify the consumer traits and characteristics you should look for that would be compatible with your brand’s offerings. What qualities do you and your ideal audience share? Stage 3: Identify and prioritize potential subgroups: Develop a list of subgroups that share key personality traits and characteristics with your brand, and determine their alignment with commercial viability for your brand. What groups share these qualities? How deep is the connection, and how commercially viable is that group for your brand? Stage 4: Optimal youth audience definition: How do alignment and commercial viability intersect? Who’s most aligned, who is most viable, and how can you strike the most successful balance? Do you need to sacrifice a little alignment to reach a more profitable group, or will sticking to a smaller group of more aligned youth result in more long-term success? Youth culture alignment tips, takeaways Hyper-individualization is the norm: Gen Z expects unique. When developing creative strategies to reach Gen Z, remember that being highly individualized or even “weird” presents an opportunity to connect with them on their frequency. Traditional demographic targeting models are outmoded. If you really want to get tuned in with this group of individualistic young consumers, focus segmentation strategies on psychographic, lifestyle and situational context as priorities. Embrace the diversity of Gen Z. If you approach Gen Z as a homogeneous entity and fail to appeal to the multitude of segments that comprise it, you’ll be relegated to a limited view of both their world and the motivations behind their decision making….

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