How to make friends and NOT alienate Gen Z


I attended two really interesting events last week – a seminar about finding friends in a digital brand and a breakfast conference examining the complexities of marketing to Generation Z.

It got me thinking about the many questions we hear asked about how best to approach this challenge. Questions centred on the different behaviours and expectations of their generation. Employers are striving to develop a stronger understanding of this current crop of talent. What should we be talking to them about? How should we be talking about it? And where should this conversation be happening? These are all valid questions. But I can’t help think that sometimes we have a tendency to overcomplicate things.

In order to answer some of these questions we need to look at and understand the basic principles of a friendship.

Friendship is about people, and unless you really trust someone, they can’t truly be your friend. Trust is something that enables the walls and defence mechanisms everyone puts up to come down. If those barriers are up, it makes it very hard to relate to one another, regardless of age.

This effect does however does seem to be amplified when it comes to Generation Z. Partly due to the fact that they’re marketed at relentlessly. They’re in a position of power, and they know it so they can afford to be picky.

This is the first generation with a truly global view. A generation raised in recession, who are constantly told by the media how there’s very little opportunity out there for them and how tough it is out there.

It’s a generation that sees millionaires made overnight with the invention of a game or an app. A generation that sees how an average Joe becomes a YouTube or Geordie Shore sensation and achieves near celebrity status. These are the aspirations of this generation – they want to stand out from the crowd and be heard. They want to make and impact on the world. And this is where brands can play a really strong role.

Last week I heard two students stand in a room of 240 graduate recruiters and tell them that they want to feel proud of the brand they work for. And they want the employer to feel proud to have them too. They want employers to help them enrich their lives – to give them access to ways they can make an impact on the world. And in return, they’ll become your advocates and make an impact on your bottom line.

So if you want Gen Z to feel the love for your brand what do you need to do?

Well, unfortunately there’s no quick fix. You can’t create an image, or change perceptions overnight. If you try to be something you’re not you’ll only succeed in achieving the opposite.

But there are certain things you should consider when planning your communications. The key thing to remember here is to think of your relationship as a friendship, not as a hiring process. Yes you need to be part of the conversation, but as a person, not a brand.

So, let’s look at what (most!) friends do for each other.

  1. They understand each other. Use the data you have available to develop a deep understanding of what makes Gen Z tick, how they consume media and what content resonates. It’s all out there, but currently there’s too bigger gap between the amount of data available and how it’s used. However, be mindful of what’s socially acceptable and don’t come across as creepy.
  1. They make each other happy. This could be through the stories they tell each other, the jokes they share, the support and guidance they provide and the care they show for each other’s wellbeing. Make sure that the content you share and the stories you tell achieve these things.
  1. They add value to each other’s lives. However that value is perceived it definitely exists otherwise why would the friendship continue? Ask yourself before every piece of communication whether it will add value and help others.
  1. They’re there for each other. It’s not enough to start a conversation and then think the job is done. Millenials expect brands to be always on. They want you to be there for them when they need a question answered. They expect to be rewarded for connecting with you.
  1. They place trust in each other. Trust is gained by being honest, human and personable. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Understand what characteristics your brand has and ensure these come through in your messaging.

Written by Tam Salih, Communications Consultant at Tonic Agency