For many brands, Gen Z are the new focus of attention as this youngest of generations rise through school and university, and increasingly enter the workforce.


Forget digital natives, these guys – born between 1995 and 2010 – are the first really truly mobile generation.

It’s exciting and scary for advertisers in equal measure: exciting because they really ‘do’ get (and help shape) all these new channels of communication; scary because of the many myths that surround this population.

This audience is concerned with experience above all else – however that is delivered. They want to work for their success, not be discovered, according to a report by Barkley and FutureCast; they believe that equality is non-negotiable; they want brands to be ‘real’ so they can be ‘unique’ and they have their own social media system of rules and etiquette.

In short, this generation is all about presenting their curated identity in a way that is authentic to them – and they expect brands to help them in this purpose.

How can we as marketers capitalise on this, and build brands that are based not on simply selling but that become a bigger and more relevant part of our customers’ lives?

As Gen Z increasingly enters the workplace, they matter more than what they offer in spending power. They matter because what comes instinctively to them today will become increasingly natural to many of us tomorrow.

Let’s take a look at how we can learn from and capitalise on the very particular habits of today’s under-23s.

Gen Z spends significant amounts of time on social media and video platforms. According to research by Adobe, in the UK, the average Gen Z spends a huge 10.6 hours engaging with online content every single day (compared to 8.9 hours for millennials and an overall average of 6.9 hours). They’re mobile-first and use their phone more than any other device. They’ll also use multiple devices at any one time.

This shift in behaviour means that marketers can reach this group whenever, and wherever they are; they can devise strategies that effectively link their retail presence with online ecommerce and deliver experiences – be they digital or physical -through the bridge of the smartphone. Clicks and bricks have never been closer. And nor has the customer.

Take our partnership with JD Sports, for example. This summer we launched JD X, a music service that includes a live channel that’s broadcast both in stores and through its transactional mobile app.

We know our audience is into exclusives, they want to find the best new music, want to search out new experiences and to be part of a community. The live station plays mostly urban music – grime, hip-hop and R&B alongside interviews with athletes such as boxing’s Anthony Joshua (a brand ambassador) and musicians. Customers are encouraged to interact via the app by submitting shout-outs or to catch up on shows they’ve missed. There are also a number of other, complementary content streams that are tweaked and changed on an ongoing basis.

And unlike on other platforms all the data is immediately available to the brand, allowing it to iterate on the go, and to help inform its plans around events, retail environments and so on. Crucially, could JD X be the added extra that makes a customer buy a pair of Adidas from JD Sports rather than any one of the thousands of other outlets?

The audience buys in to the JD universe. Sales are up and the service is being rolled out across Europe and beyond. This is a brand that understands who its audience is – something that is sometimes forgotten in the rush for short term sales at the expense of long-term brand patronage.

Advertising guru John Hegarty said recently: “My obsession has always been, when I’m creating a piece of work, the audience I’m talking to.”

He continues: “If you’re in marketing your job is to ensure your potential audience; everything else is a side issue. If you can inspire them to come to your brand you will have a brilliant brand that will have fantastic value and create great results.”

I couldn’t agree more. By tapping directly into your target audience you’re creating more than communications: you’re creating a community; a club; a hub. Done well and with honesty and integrity you’re also bringing a deeper layer of brand trust, creating interest and excitement, compelling curiosity and inviting surprise through carefully curated content.

For Generation Z, this is expected. They have a collaborative relationship with the brands they endorse and know the value exchange – often preferring it to traditional ‘advertising’, which they see as staid, forgettable and overwhelming in number – too easy to tune out. They want to be partners in much that they do and have a much more mindful attitude to everything from careers and experiences through to health and wellness.

Brands that understand and respect this have a head start. They understand the particular nuances of these younger generations but also consider how these changing behaviours will siphon through to the Gen Xers, the Baby Boomers et al. And, in time, how will Generation Alpha – those born after 2010, reset our expectations?

By Bruno Brooks, founder and CEO of Immedia