Reaching the digital-first generation: How can brands effectively connect with Gen Z

Gen Z is a tough cookie to crack for brands. This socially conscious, diverse, and inclusive generation often finds brand efforts lacking. Digital adlanders share insights on how brands can effectively connect with and resonate with this perceptive audience.

Sneha Medda and Shamita Islur
New Update
connect with Gen Z

Gen Z, born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, is the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital age. This generation has an estimated collective buying power of US$853 billion on a global level. 

Last year, Maybelline India roped in  Suhana Khan, Ananya Birla, and Eksha Subba as new brand ambassadors. The move aimed to build a stronger connection with India's Gen Z consumers. Similarly, Jeeru, a cult classic soda brand in India, rebranded itself as ‘J’ and changed its look to a more vibrant and ‘youthful’ colours. The brand wanted to position itself as a more Gen Z-savvy brand.

These aren’t the only brands that have changed their marketing approach to connect with this audience base. But often, while connecting with this generation, which is highly unpredictable and has strong opinions, brands can appear ‘out of place’ and ‘forced’. 

Dr. Falguni Vasavada, Digital Creator and Professor at MICA advises, “Brands should understand Gen Z culture, their lives, and their lifestyles. Identify friction points, struggles, pain points, and challenges of Gen Z, and accordingly find a spot for your brand to feature there.”

Just like a moment marketing trend, brands often think that Gen Z is just a box to tick off to seem relevant. Neville Shah, CCO of FCB Kinnect, adds, “The mistake brands often make is thinking they need to be present in every moment and tell every story. This isn't necessary. If you're a trusted brand, consumers won't forget you just because you're not always present. Sometimes, it's about waiting for the right moment when the consumer will naturally reach out to you.”

So, what exactly does Gen Z want from advertisers and brands, and how can they nail connecting with this audience? 

Gen Z wants authenticity

Authenticity drives brand affinity for Indian Gen Zers. According to a study by BBC Studios, if a brand is authentic, the Indian Gen Z are more likely to be loyal to the brand (81%), recommend it to others (78%), and buy their products and services again (73%).

For this generation, diversity and representation are crucial factors to check when considering being authentic. Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD of Pulp Strategy, points out that Gen Z wants to see ads featuring people from all walks of life, but they are turned off by ads that are seen as stereotypical or exclusionary. 

She states, “They want to see ads that feature people from all walks of life, and they are turned off by ads that are seen as stereotypical or exclusionary.” 

Recently, released a 15-second ad that showcases the Gen Z work life. The ad is crisp, quick and snappy, exactly what Gen Z’s  Our goal was to speak the language of Gen Z that’s quick, crisp and snappy. 

Experts also state that this generation is extremely agile and will sniff out rubbish, and thus, transparency is a key ingredient. Nisha Singhania, CEO & Managing Partner of Infectious Advertising, mentioned, “Gen Z values authenticity and can quickly detect inauthentic marketing. Brands need to be transparent about their values, practices, and products.” 

Manisha Kapoor, CEO and SG of ASCI added, “If you want to include a particular community or set of people, you need to have worked with them. This depth of understanding or genuineness of the discourse needs to feature in the ad for it to be credible.” 

She highlights the importance of brands doing their homework and engaging genuinely with the communities they want to represent.

Mihir Nair, Group Account Manager - Account Planning, SoCheers said, “While you can be a serious brand or a fun brand you CANNOT start behaving and talking like your Gen Z audience without being true to who you are. So brands would benefit the best when they identify nuances vis-à-vis the Gen Z folks.”

This year for Valentine's Day, a popular chocolate brand released personalised packaging that was targeted specifically to Gen Z that ‘would let youth express themselves in the way they want to and how they define their special relationships’. The packs had words like ‘Bae’, ‘Buddy’ and ‘BFF’ printed on them. 

In a bid to resonate with Gen Z, the brand adopted a vernacular it believed mirrored the generation's lingo. However, the campaign fell flat, revealing a glaring disconnect and a surprising lack of research and nuance.

What platforms work for Gen Z?

By now it is evident that Gen Z is chronically online and digital-first. The generation is notoriously known for its content consumption. According to a survey by Snapchat, the reason for this is Content consumption by Gen Z is driven by a desire to keep up-to-date, and this generation seeks content that aligns with their values and lifts their spirits and engagement, while non-Gen Zers' motivations were less complex, with more emphasis on keeping up with others and with current events.

Digital platforms and social media have reshaped Gen Z's expectations of engagement and interaction with brands. Social media has unlocked democracy for the audience, giving them leverage over what brands should do in culture.

Gen Z consumes content across a variety of platforms, including gaming, sports, social media, and streaming services. Mihir Nair notes that brands need to be present where Gen Z is active. He said, “Your usual suspects are Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat to an extent. But brands should also actively have a Reddit strategy in feasible avenues.” 

Creating relevant and engaging content is essential. Short-form content like YouTube Shorts and Instagram Stories are particularly popular among Gen Z. However, they also engage with high-quality long-form content if it aligns with their interests. 

Dr. Falguni Vasavada, emphasises the need for relevance, stating, “Brands need to understand these real choices and preferences of media consumption of Gen Z and then be relevant, talking in a language they understand.”

Ambika Sharma points out elements to keep in mind to capture and maintain Gen Z's attention:

  • Creating content that is relevant to their interests. Gen Z is a diverse group with a wide range of interests. Brands need to do their research and create content that is tailored to the specific interests of their target audience.
  • Using a variety of media platforms. Gen Z is active on a variety of platforms, so brands need to be present where they are.
  • Being authentic and transparent. Gen Z can spot a fake a mile away, so brands need to be genuine and true to their values.
  • Being socially conscious. Gen Z is concerned about social and environmental issues, so brands need to show that they care about these issues too.
  • Partnering with influencers. Gen Z trusts influencers more than traditional celebrities, so brands can partner with influencers to reach their target audience

Reaching out to Gen Z consumers requires a multifaceted approach that prioritises inclusivity, authenticity, and transparency. Brands must engage with Gen Z across various platforms, create relevant and engaging content, and align with their social and environmental values. By understanding and adapting to Gen Z’s preferences, brands can build meaningful connections and foster loyalty among this influential generation.

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