While the oldest Gen Zers only recently graduated from college, they already wield an impressive $44 billion in purchasing power. When you consider the influence they have on their parents’ spending, research puts that figure at closer to $200 billion. Clearly, both new and established consumer brands need to gain the attention and respect of Generation Z. To achieve this, corporate marketers sometimes pay big bucks for influencers to review their products in a social media blitz. Digiday reports that one influencer post on Instagram will cost about $1,000 for every 100,000 followers, while a video endorsement on YouTube is double that. On Snapchat, where Gen Zers are twice as likely as Millennials to be influenced to make a purchase, a 24-hour campaign can cost up to $30,000 for 100,000 views.
This technique may work for corporate brands with big budgets, but it directly contradicts the principles of effective personal branding; when you’re building your individual digital presence, the goal is not to have as many followers as possible. The goal is to have the right followers, and they should be drawn to your circle because they’re genuinely on board with what you do and how you do it, not because you offered them a financial incentive.
What’s interesting about Gen Z is that influencer marketing is just one sliver of their social media ecosystem. In fact, Gen Z emphasizes creating authentic connections. That provides great opportunities for digital personal branding as well. Here are three corporate marketing strategies that simultaneously help all participants enhance the messages that are tied to their individual brands.
1. Invite Generation Z to create with you.
When your brand encourages user-generated content, participants feel like they’re part of something larger. For example, Axe Canada sponsored a study about the growing fluidity of gender roles and encouraged male Gen Zers to hashtag videos of their friends with #PraiseUp, lauding them for their unique “magic” as opposed to stereotypical impressions of masculinity.
Rather than paying thousands of dollars for an inauthentic influencer endorsement, creating a topical hashtag and inviting audience participation can start a movement behind your brand. If members of Gen Z believe in what you’re creating, they’ll create social media content for you, which means their friends will notice and join in as well.
2. Get in on the ground floor of change.
Brands have historically shied away from making social and political statements for fear of alienating a large portion of their customer base. Now, driven in part by Gen Z, consumers are demanding that companies take a stand, and leading brands are organizing grassroots campaigns addressing the causes they believe in. Corporate social responsibility is driving an unprecedented level of messaging. Outdoor outfitter Patagonia’s campaign to protect national monuments, for example, combined in-store action centers with appeals on social media under the hashtag #MonumentalMistakes. The campaign was widely shared and yielded more than 2,400 stories in the media.
Speaking out on a public issue is actually one of the smartest ways to engage the newest generation of young adults, most of whom want to make a difference in the world. Marta Oddone, marketing manager at MDR, a division of Dun & Bradstreet, explains where to start: “You cannot underestimate the power of going onto school campuses and engaging with structures that already exist. There are many clubs and organizations out there that you can partner with to help you expand your reach. Find the right people and show that you care about what they’re doing, and they will care about what you’re doing in return.”
3. Partner with Gen Z’s entrepreneurial edge.
Gen Zers grew up during the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent recession, during which many of their parents lost their jobs. Unsurprisingly, these teens aren’t exactly sold on the idea of depending on someone else for work; as many as 72 percent of high schoolers in the U.S. report wanting to start their own business.
Brands such as City Girl Coffee Co. tap into Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit through Instagram posts with hashtags like #FemaleEntrepreneur and #GirlBoss. An offshoot of Richard Branson’s culture of innovation, the UK-based nonprofit goes a step further, providing entrepreneurs with startup loans and one-on-one business advisors.
With increasing spending power, Generation Z is being heavily targeted by marketers. While pricey influencer marketing has gained favor as a strategy, grassroots strategies can deliver a strong return, easily aligning with Gen Z’s quest for independence and transparency. Engage Gen Z in the channels they frequent with the content they love, and enjoy the double benefits for corporate and personal branding alike.
William Arruda is the cofounder of CareerBlast and co-creator of The Insider’s Guide to Getting Noticed and Promoted.