The Gen Z Frequency: Content Strategies and Marketing Tips

February 1, 2019

The following is excerpted from “The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune in and Build Credibility” by Gregg Witt. First published in the U.S. in 2018 by Kogan Page Limited. All rights reserved. Perhaps the most important content goals, when marketing to Gen Z, is to attract and keep their attention, and help them look cool, especially to their peers. They demand instant gratification, “likes,” social post views and personal expression. In a time when they are being overwhelmed by information, and their screens are being filled with images of perfection and curated reality, Gen Z is also seeking interaction that feels real and authentic. In the age of social media, provide them with a way to help build their personal brand and they will embrace your brand. There’s a reason why Gen Z loves Instagram and Snapchat: both brands offer tools (filters, digital/AR stickers, fonts) that provide them with social validation and self-esteem and make them look cool to their friends. In the case of Instagram, the secret sauce is the easy-to-use filters and digital stickers that transform an ordinary smartphone photograph into a masterpiece. A quick double tap of the screen gives them what they crave most: instant feedback and validation. There are lots of ways to convey your voice and brand authenticity to your tween community, but no matter what you do, make sure to create content that serves the community’s social needs – content that will make them look cool if they share it with their friends, or that will make them feel as if they have added a layer to their identity. Mobile first Any brand seeking to connect with young people must have a mobile-first video strategy. No exceptions. Research conducted by Adobe in 2017 found that 76 percent of Gen Z inherently choose a mobile device to watch video, livestream, play games and video chat. A survey conducted by Gen Z media platform AwesomenessTV found that 71 percent of Gen Z’s typical video consumption is streaming, and one-third is viewed from a mobile device (AwesomenessTV, 2017). If you want to connect, present content in a format that is current and has social value. Finally, understand that social platforms also offer an opportunity for “seeded serendipity,” where your audience can feel as though they “discovered” fresh content that they can share with their peers via their favorite hubs – thus earning social capital in their circle of friends. Creating a memorable brand voice A consistent and memorable social voice is key to building relationships with youth audiences. Your followers and community should be able to recognize your content, even when they don’t see any branding, because the voice becomes as familiar as their real-life friends. Voice should always remain the same, but tone can change depending on the context. You’re always the same person, but your expressions and language should adapt to the social platform. For teen and younger audiences, an aspirational voice is often recommended. Gen Z wants to be liked – rather than a persona too far out of reach, such as the celebrities and influencers they idolize. When creating content that appeals to Gen Z, it’s vital that you develop and fine-tune your brand persona, voice and tone across social media. An excellent example of this is The Walt Disney Company. A brand that once had a reputation as a staid stalwart of old media, Disney found a new formula for success by discovering and embracing a unique voice that resonated with Gen Z audiences. The next step in its transformation was creating and sharing content that reflected this shift in tone. Existing content was reimagined into new formats such as GIFs and videos A case study: learning how to embrace the fans Brand voice and tone: Taco Bell presents Gen Z with the opportunity to align themselves with a brand that is “young, adventurous and cool.” They can reflect this persona and retain cultural relevance across all the content they share on their social platforms. Content strategy: Whether it’s Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram, Taco Bell creates memorable, share-worthy experiences and story-driven branded content. Their content is like a mini-TV show – it tells a story. Snapchat: As one of the first brands to embrace Snapchat, Taco Bell uses the platform to test new ideas, connecting with its community through humor and storytelling. By calling for Snapbacks, it provides co-creation avenues for fans and an opportunity to engage directly in a conversation with its community. Instagram: Taco Bell is selling the persona that it is fun, hip and cool. It does this by making sure that new food items are Instagram and FOMO worthy. By focusing on the needs of its Gen Z customer, it also fuels innovation and helps Taco Bell stay abreast of current trends and generational sensibilities (Taylor, 2017). Twitter: Taco Bell leverages platform application programming interfaces (API) to create engaging experiences that make its community look cool. Its #Tacogram hashtag generated a fun Twitter Card to share with friends. Why it works: The Snapchat campaign is all about treating Gen Z like personal friends, not consumers. Make me look good: Taco Bell knows that Gen Z carries smartphones with cameras and its food will end up on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. It worked with its food team to get the perfect formula for stringy cheese so that fans who Instagram their food had FOMO-worthy photos (Taylor, 2017). Every single time. Tell me a story: Taco Bell uses social media and embraces elements of storytelling to weave together a narrative that is often funny, irreverent, collaborative and shareable. “The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune in and Build Credibility” is available now at fine booksellers and can be purchased via   Article originally published in

The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility

February 1, 2019

Generation Z, which consists of people born approximately between 1996 and 2011 and are currently in their tween/young adult years, is shaping a new era of individuality that impacts every business. An estimated 1.9B people, or 27% of the global population, make up this demographic, which is projected to be the largest consumer demographic in history. The HRC Retail Advisory forecasts this generation to drive 40% of all US consumer spending, and yet it is one of the most challenging generational cohorts for brands to reach. Embodying an unrelenting relationship with information and mobile technology from a young age, Gen Z’s ecosystem is infinitely more complex and varied than any generation before. Staying tuned-in to this demographic’s impatience, confidence and constantly evolving trends can be daunting for any marketer trying to keep up. Fortunately, Gregg L. Witt, a world authority on youth culture and leading brand strategy expert, is sharing his knowledge on how brands can engage Gen Z—and it’s nothing like the strategies companies have just mastered to reach Millennials. Witt is co-author to the insightful book, The Gen Z Frequency, which offers a comprehensive guide for any brand or organization trying to reach this demographic, covering fundamental truths, content creation, engagement strategies and tactics, such as social media and experiential and emerging technologies. It is woven with fascinating case studies and real-world stories from the trenches, plus key insights from leading youth brands and Gen Zs themselves. The Gen Z Frequency is the marketing playbook for this unchartered demographic. “Youth culture is constantly evolving and Gen Z, in particular, is disrupting industries,” says Witt. “Gen Z represents an unprecedented group of innovation and entrepreneurship. This group is focused on niche interests and if brands don’t recognize this now and get on board, they are going to be left behind. It’s also important for brands to adopt a global mindset, as some of the most significant growth is taking place in countries that are either developing or underdeveloped.” Marketers may know all the statistics about Gen Z and why they need to reach them, but they don’t know how to engage this demographic, which is what makes The Gen Z Frequency such a vital tool for business leaders. The Gen Z Frequency will help companies understand and build relationships with tweens, teens and young adults as readers are provided with a framework that helps brands align with youth culture and provides a resource unlike any other on the market. The Gen Z Frequencysolves communication dilemmas, including: Identifying how Gen Z differs from other generations by helping readers understand differences and similarities between generations. Helping brands clearly identify the most influential and commercially viable consumer groups. Providing a strategic approach for brands to determine the right mediums to reach audiences. Detailing a step-by-step framework to develop engagement strategies that will work for individual brands. Offering insight into what motivates young consumers and providing fundamental principles to guide brands as they build their name and develop communications. “In order for marketers to ensure they are authentic and relatable to Gen Z, they must be deeply involved with their culture,” adds Witt. “These consumers will only align with the brands that they feel truly understand them. That means staying on top of the entire social media landscape, embracing things like augmented reality and establishing a presence on new platforms before they gain momentum. The brands that do this are the ones that will be relevant now and in the future.” Article originally published in

Sponsored skateboarder Gregg Witt wants you to have “Informed Confidence”

February 1, 2019

We all know what it’s like to not fit in, maybe in our family, at school, at the office, or when trying to start a new business. How do we reconcile being true to ourselves, and being a part of larger group? Trying to fit in with a group that doesn’t share your core values or mesh with your personality is a losing battle that will end in self-compromise. Yet, we all find ourselves there at some point. Fitting in has never been my forte. Growing up as a competitive skateboarder in small-town Minnesota was not a recipe for acceptance. Neither are many of the things that accompany the lifestyle of a sponsored rider. As for school, that was just an obstacle to skating. When it was time to start thinking about what path to take out of high school, I knew that it wouldn’t be college, or working for my father’s company. Fortunately for me, rather than pressuring me to be what I was not, my Dad encouraged me to pursue what I loved, and what I excelled at: skateboarding. At 16, I started a skateboard company, and somehow, leveraging the relationships I built over my years of traveling, and making every rookie mistake I could, I built the business into a global brand within the first year of operations. From there I was recruited to build a footwear company for a manufacturing business in Hong Kong, consulted with national brands and organizations, founded and sold two youth marketing agencies, and am now a published business book author. So how does being an outsider in Minnesota flip to being a sought-after marketer, author, and speaker? Not easy, but simple: I knew who I was, and who I wasn’t, found people who lived similar lifestyles, and kept an open mind. Things were a bit different in Minnesota. What does fitting in mean to this story and to running a business? In the plots of movies and TV, fitting in is always this nail-biting experience of hoping for acceptance by the intimidating and dismissively cool group. And most of the time, the person who finally is accepted realizes they don’t even like the people they once thought were cool. We’ve seen Mean Girls. In the youth marketing sector, I encounter a lot of professionals who look at their customers/audiences markets with a similar unfocused distance. They see them as an abstraction of the complexities that truly describe the stages a kid goes through on the way to young adult. Businesses don’t always have a strong enough sense of who they are, or what their company can offer these groups. They struggle to be accepted by a market that they don’t necessarily connect with, and they don’t know how to maintain the relationship authentically. As a young entrepreneur, it was fun for me to market to skaters. We had everything in common; it was an easy relationship. Now as an adult, relating to young people isn’t always so effortless, but the same formula still applies: know yourself and what you have to offer; identify the common ground between you and your audience; build on that in a way that helps everyone grow and prosper. At Engage Youth Co. (EYC), I help young professionals and brands to get to know and develop themselves, their mission, and their offerings, and use that to identify what audiences they would connect with best, or would like most to work with, and why. We encourage the building of relationships that benefit both parties, so that brands aren’t chasing illusions, but rather, nurturing a long-term partnership. We have distilled this process down into five guiding principles that apply just as easily to a friendship as to a business relationship. Identity. Trust. Relevance. Possibility. Experience. Following these takes the angsty uncertainty out of earning acceptance, and replaces it with informed confidence. Identity. Know your who you are, or be very focused on figuring it out. Confidence and acceptance of yourself and what you do is a big part of bridging the gap between you and your audience. As is knowing yourself well enough that you can evolve and still stay true to what is at your core. If you are authentic, consistent, and transparent, it will be much easier to find like-minded audiences. Part 2 of identity is being able to identify those who will appreciate and connect with you. We must take the time to look beyond demographics, and see what makes groups come alive, what excites, moves and motivates them. Trust. Are you trustworthy? Once you have identified an audience that you think would match well with your brand, how will you get them to stop and invest their time and attention, much less their money with you? What can your brand do to prove that it is trustworthy, and will deliver on the promise of its marketing or product? A breach of authenticity or any shadiness does not go over well with today’s youth market, or any market. Relevance. What do you share with your audience, and can you connect on this common ground? Are you offering products and services, and a brand story that means something? Are these offerings conveniently available when and why these groups need it? Is it consistent with what is most important in their lives at that time? With a million and one possibilities out there, your brand must stand out as one that is tuned in to the needs and desires, as well as the culture and lifestyle of your audience. Possibility. How do you inspire or generate enthusiasm? What do you offer your audience that they can’t do on their own? How do you help them to imagine their world differently, or solve their problems? Experience. What is your relationship like? What does your audience feel like when they interact with you? Do you elevate them or allow them to experience the world in new or better ways? To be successful and confident in anything, we must create an environment where we, as individuals…

(Review) The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune in & Build Credibility

February 1, 2019

Kids aren’t media consumers, they are “knowledge managers,” constantly evaluating content and data, and discarding what doesn’t help them build their personal brand. How can brands adjust to the new reality? That‘s the challenge posed by youth marketing experts Gregg Witt and Derek Baird in The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In & Build Credibility. “Identity, trust, relevance, possibility and experience” are the five foundational truths of youth marketing, note the authors. Brands need to engage via activities, interests, brand and content affinities, opinions and situational context. Social media is the best avenue for all this: it’s where kids go to communicate and express themselves. But don’t focus on Facebook. The new breed of multichannel “fandoms,” for instance, use assorted media (websites, video, podcasts, newsletters, IM) to lets kids follow a passion such as a musician, movie or trend. A lot of a brand’s success is its ability to form partnerships with influencer organizations and individuals. “A brand’s likelihood of building a commercially viable audience with today’s young consumers is in direct relation to a brand’s ability to identify and connect with the right spectrum of groups within youth culture,” say the authors. Which brands do it best? The authors give kudos to Mountain Dew, which is working to promote the work of street artists; Levis, which is working with urban youth; and Nike, which sponsors various efforts by skateboarders. This book contains some interesting insights into Gen Z (7-22 year-olds). You’ll learn some valuable things about working with video and emojis, etc. But the authors don’t make an especially strong case that Gen Z is differentiated from Millennials (22-37 year olds). They’re all phone-based and social-media oriented, OK? The book’s real strength is in several excellent playbook chapters that are organized to help brand marketers assess and segment their target audiences, and build programs geared towards today’s top social media platforms.   Article originally published in localonliner

The Key to Gen Z Marketing

February 1, 2019

Marketers once targeted young people through television, but that doesn’t cut it for Gen Z, whose screen of choice is a smartphone, and who seek to identify with brands they not only trust but feel connected with. Developing that sense of belonging is the real key to success with this market. Gregg L. Witt, co-author of The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibilit,  has been named a “Top 5 Youth Marketer to Follow” by, and has worked with over 100 brands on developing strategies that resonate with youth culture. He  spoke with me about how marketing in the digital age to a young demographics requires a more integrated and connected approach. Witt identifies  five foundational truths of youth marketing: Identity Trust Relevance Possibility Experience “For research in the book  everything that worked with young people involved these, and everything that they hated about brands deviated from these,” he said.  The starting point for these principles is authenticity, something many brands are striving to project. “This is fundamentally important,” Witt said. Brands that fail to communicate and act in accordance with an authentic identity will not succeed in connecting with Gen Z. That’s the premise for achieving trust, which Witt said is “the highest barrier for every brand.” Indeed, new data from Survey Monkey reveals that trust is an issue for the overwhelming majority of all shoppers, and the online presence of a brand is a major factor in that trust, even more so among younger demographics. By capitalizing on that online communication, brands have opportunities to win trust, and even snatch a kind of victory from the jaws of failure. Witt referred to Samsung’s openness in addressing a problem with the Pebble Blue Galaxy S3. “Samsung just hit the nail on the head. It was almost heroic in handling that,” Witt said. That was appreciated by its target market, and so it earned their trust. “Once you earn that trust, you get to the magic sweet spot of relevance & leverage all the fun, cool things that make brands special and have the special spark,” he said.  This is what draws people in with a sense of belonging through possibility and experience.. Brands  that effectively tap into that also add what Witt calls an “aspirational component.” They include Nike with its “Do it”campaign and Lululemon that reaches out to its market with community pages that say, “Meet the people and explore the places that inspire us.” Witt observes, “There’s a reason why these incredibly successful companies are incredibly successful; they’re working on this stuff.” Among other brands that have proven very successful in reaching Gen Z is Carhartt Work In Progress. “They applied these principles so deeply that in some ways they defied traditional marketing principles,” Witt said, “with any copy or any ad in the beginning.”. The fact that they referred to themselves as “work in progress” with no other messaging made people outside their target market fail to understand what they were about. But for those in the know, it made sense.  The brand  tapped into the cultural subgroups of its audience by focusing on emerging artists and athletes. “They didn’t go for the biggest names,” he said. Instead they opted for lesser known people whose talents would resonate with their audience, creating opportunities to draw them in. Another brand that “completely gets youth culture” is Supreme. Witt identities its “secret sauce” as its demand buildup; the result of introducing a new product new each Thursday without letting people know how many will be produced. As a result the items not only maintain their value but can go up to as much as 100 times the original price in a resell. “There’s an entire ecosystem of reselling among Gen Z.” “But the  secret, secret sauce is the global sense of belonging,” Witt said. It is the relevance that really gets people excited. Witt says television is not the way to win over Gen Z precisely because they’re operating in a different kind of ecosystem. Even when they have a TV on, it often is just serving as background noise. What they watch is more likely something on YouTube, or Netflix, or Hulu. So to get them to engage with a brand, you need to reach them through a number of channels. Brand ambassadors are one of the ways many new brands are reaching out to Gen Z, often with no traditional ads at all. My own teen serves as an ambassador for BANGS Shoes. It’s still early days for the brand, which has 127k followers on Instagram. Its ambassadors are major contributors to the featured photos. That provides them with images that are from real people in real places rather than slick ad photos, which is just what their target market desires. With so many brands competing for the attention of Gen Z, it’s important to reach beyond just digital channels to rise above the noise and really connect with them. That entails using a variety of tools to deliver your message effectively. “You need a mix of social, digital, and, to be honest, live experiences,” Witt said. ”If you don’t create a deep cultural connection with young people, you’re  just asking Amazon to take that customer away from you.”   Article originally published in

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