How to Optimise Brand Performance Strategies to Reach Gen-Z Consumers

Gen-Z — the cohort born between 1995 and 2009 — make up about 30 percent of the global population and have a spending power of $450 billion, according to the BBC. As Gen-Z’s prevalence as a consumer cohort continues to grow, fashion and beauty brands are prioritising investment into connecting with them, while innovating to meet their needs and expectations.

This approach includes plugging into the strong, if sometimes contradictory, values Gen-Z consumers hold, as well as the expectation for authentic, trustworthy and community-focused content online. Gen-Z also looks to be engaged, educated and entertained on social platforms — they have grown up with a plethora of digital touchpoints and omnipresent branding through these channels, so cutting through the noise to grab their attention is a challenge. Gen-Z reportedly loses active attention for ads after just 1.3 seconds, according to a study by Yahoo and OMD Worldwide.

To discuss how best to connect to this complex consumer cohort that is now critical to success, BoF’s commercial features editor Sophie Soar moderated a discussion between Alison Bringé, chief marketing officer of software, data and insights company Launchmetrics, which works with fashion, beauty and retail brands like Versace, Tiffany, Uniqlo, Shiseido and Drunk Elephant, and Shaina Zafar, an executive at the Next Gen Practice at United Talent Agency’s UTA Marketing. Zafar previously co-founded and acted as chief marketing officer at gen-z marketing agency JUV Consulting, which was acquired by UTA in March of this year.

Below, we share the most relevant insights from the conversation, condensed and edited.

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Beyond buying power, Gen-Z’s importance is a matter of influence

SZ: In terms of where we see cultural trends or the zeitgeist actually moving, Gen-Z is really influencing that. Beyond their buying power, Gen-Z’s importance is a matter of influence. Gen-Z are cultural tastemakers in the sense that they are the first touch point in creating a trend or adopting a new narrative on something that is coming up in culture. Other generations tend to then also adopt them broadly. But it always starts with Gen-Z — 14-year-old girls knew someone like Justin Bieber or One Direction were hot before the rest of us.

We typically say that Gen-Z is the generation of memes and movements. Unlike our millennial counterparts that had to learn about social media, Gen-Z are social media natives that have not only used platforms and the spaces they are in to express their identities, but also to connect with communities that aren’t necessarily people that are neighbours on their block, but global communities. That means that the footprint of what we’re consuming, the places that we’re reaching, the way that we think about our lives, is different to the nature of other generations. Especially as [Gen-Z] are already the most diverse generation in human history.

Engagement requires aligning the right voice, on the right channel to reach the right audience

AB: We believe that a brand should be thinking about brand performance by considering the right voice, the right channel and the right audience for a particular goal. At Launchmetrics, we look at the five voices that impact the customer’s path-to-purchase, which represent the different stages of the funnel: awareness, legitimacy, conversion, and so on. Combining this approach with measuring media impact value (MIV, a proprietary algorithm created and trademarked by Launchmetrics) allows brands to identify where their value is coming from to optimise brand performance overall.

Alison Bringé, chief marketing officer at Launchmetrics

SZ: Every generation has pushed the status quo. But our adjacency to these platforms allows us to galvanise unlike ever before. We’re a generation that’s had our lives bookmarked by [the terrorist attacks] 9/11 and COVID-19, the 2008 financial crisis, $1.3 trillion of debt in the United States. So there’s these moments where we’ve had powerful key touch points that made us distrust the institutions that were so often meant to empower us. That means that the role of brand and the role of the marketplace has also evolved to match Gen-Z’s needs.

Successful collaboration with micro-communities defines key opinion leaders today

SZ: Engagement of micro-communities and fandom is really what’s driving the people that we see as key opinion leaders today. I think it’s interesting for brands to figure out what are the subversive discourses and what are the things that are happening behind the scenes that are interesting for them to play into, whether that’s from a political, social economic lens or even in terms of the evolution that we are seeing in the media landscape.

We previously saw social following as the metric to define what a creator’s influence was. But today, there are niche micro-communities that have evolved and these cores that we even see, whether it’s a faction like cottagecore or in terms of the way that every element of consumption from a consumeristic lens is now something that has a community behind it. You can find that community on TikTok, you can find it on Twitch and Discord, you can find it on Reddit or you can find it on these antisocial social media platforms.

When we think about the future of community and the future of brands, it’s about considering how we treat Gen-Z as partners and not as guinea pigs.

It’s fascinating to think about where we’re actually seeing these new communities of industry and interest come up, as well as who the arbiters of those micro-communities are, who can be really influential. Tiktok has really democratised the platform in terms of being able to let your comment section be king — if you’re a consumer or you’re a follower or your fan is commenting something in your comments section, that’s great for a brand to keep track of the things that the consumer enjoys and they love.

Effective measurement is critical to guide investment decisions

Headshot of SZ
Shaina Zafar, an executive at the Next Gen Practice at United Talent Agency’s UTA Marketing

AB: It’s important for brands when they’re thinking about that concept of right channel, right voice, right audience to think: ‘I need to analyse what performed best — I need to know the impact of my campaign, the impact of my collaborations’ to arbitrate. MIV delivers because it allows you to find a monetary value to every post interaction or article. It’s great to know what that engagement was on social media, but knowing what’s working holistically across print, online and social requires an apples-to-apples measurement that allows for comparison across the board.

It’s important for brands when thinking about that concept of right channel, right voice, right audience to think strategically: ‘should I invest in my influencer campaign because I know that the MIV of a post with X influencer delivers Y? Or should I invest more in my owned media channel because I know I need to engage with my existing audience?’

Gen-Z value effort over perfection, but transparency is required

SZ: The critical element [is] understanding Gen-Z’s ability to do their research and to vet a brand or think that a brand has to stand for something else beyond. That has become a lot more popularised in the past few years. A lot of brands can’t even tell you what their ‘why’ is in one sentence. What do they stand for? What do they really believe in? And if you can’t define what it is that your values are as a company, how do you expect your employees to be able to react to that? How do the people that are consuming your product react to that?

We’re so worried about doing some sort of mass market campaign, KPIs and the metrics of growth, that we forget that everything needs to have a storyline and a through line that all of your consumers, regardless of age, can really follow. If there’s a way of talking about your intention, your purpose, your mission, I do think Gen-Z respond well to that — even if it falls flat, if you have the receipts and you share why you did something, Gen-Z will at least acquiesce to you and say, ‘OK, I see why you did it, it blocked, but I see the vision here.’ So rather than striving for that perfect brand message to put forward, play around with it, try it out and try to be as transparent with it.

Don’t optimise for unexpected benefits, accomplish pre-set goals through iteration

AB: The question to keep in mind is, ‘are you servicing that actual goal that you planned to achieve or [just] any goal?’ It’s so important to first say, ‘what am I trying to accomplish? Do I want to talk to my existing customers? Do I want to talk to new customers? And if so, what voice should I be activating? And then how do I measure the performance of that voice or of that strategy?’ Maybe that answer is different in each market as well because in a market where you are growing your brand, you need to have more of that awareness.

It’s no longer about just posting content and people seeing it, but about how they can then reciprocate and engage with the content.

The metrics that you have for owned media need to be really strong, whereas maybe awareness doesn’t need to be as strong. I think that’s the best way to think about that qualitative versus quantitative because at the end — yes, you still need to prove your ROI, but if your goal is to increase your share of wallet with your own customer, it doesn’t matter if you were number one for New York Fashion Week because you had the most MIV — it just matters that you were number one for owned media.

To work with Gen Z, co-creation takes commitment

SZ: In our work with [US fashion house] Coach, they started the first ever sub-brand that they’ve had in 80 years called Coachtopia — a Gen-Z-focused brand. They spent two years with us actually building a community of over 100 climate conscious Gen-Z fashionistas. They built up this community that could come into the office after hours and see the product or give them real insights on what they think about greenwashing and sustainability.

When we think about the future of community and the future of brands, it’s about considering how we treat Gen-Z as partners and not as guinea pigs. [The brand] really listened, they effectively were able to call Gen-Z in and say, ‘we want to co-create with you and we want to build with you.’

The collection sold out three times in three weeks when it was first launched. It is a testament to what it looks like to build creatively, to build a business, a brand and reimagine their supply chains — one of the things that companies are the hardest things for them to evolve and change into. I think they have done a great job, in terms of how they have built out a brand that really resonates to values as well as to the sense of community building that Gen-Z is craving.

Celebrity impact requires community reciprocity

AB: When it comes to how brands can activate influencers and celebrities, it’s really about thinking outside the box today and thinking about how those voices are going to activate your community. Doja Cat’s attendance to a Schiaparelli show generated nearly $17 million in MIV. Comparing that to a fashion show alone — with everyone coming, all of the PR, all of the kind of pomp and circumstance — generates something between $10 and $25 million.

Just that one look — [Doja Cat’s] outfit covered in red [Swarovski] crystals generated $16.7 million — and that was between her post and everyone else’s posts, with all of the recreations of that outfit. This ‘echo’ is really where the answer lies — it’s no longer about just posting content and people seeing it, but about how they can then reciprocate and engage with the content. It wasn’t just an incredible look, but a fantastic way to get an audience excited about what the brand was doing.

Download Launchmetrics’ latest report, Reinventing Influence: The Gen Z Impact on Fashion Marketing.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Launchmetrics as part of a BoF partnership.

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