By Nina Rahmatallah, Director, Added Value

Generation Z, the generation born after the Millennials, is characterised as even smarter, more prudent and harder to engage with than their predecessors. In order to engage Gen Z, businesses have to go native and learn to become fluent in digital. Here are our top tips to win over this highly connected yet tricky to reach group, and looks at what small businesses can learn from the big brands.

1. Think Multiple
This is a generation of digital natives: where Millennials are using two screens on average, it is not uncommon for Gen Z-ers to make use of five separate screens at once – most commonly TV, cellphones, desktops, laptops, and portable music players. Successful brands will need to evolve from producing few, linear stories to publishing content with multiple, live storylines told across a multitude of touchpoints. Chipotle, the Mexican restaurant, recently made great use of multi-channel engagement with their “Scarecrow” campaign. After their first short film that began the conversation about where food comes from and how it’s produced, ‘Scarecrow’ will air the issue through multi-channel content.

2. Think Experiences
Brands of the future don’t just sell products, because that’s not what Gen Z wants. Liberated by technology, they create experiences that engage people in their brand world – a world where the marketing adds as much value as the product itself. Gen Z will be at the frontier of demanding more from brands. And so if you want your brand to get more from Gen Z-ers, you’ll need to provide things of real value and relevance. To do this, brands need to stop thinking about communications, and start thinking about content – content that has genuine value in people’s lives. Think Red Bull, Nike + and Fiat ecoDrive.

3. Think Purpose
Because this generation is partly defined by their awareness of social & environmental issues, they seek out purpose in all that they do. So, the old model of Marketing as a one-way street, about management and transmission, is defunct. To be successful, brands will need to have an active purpose sitting right at their core, and demonstrate it through a focus on actions, not just words. With Gen Z-ers, ‘saying’ is cheap; it’s what you ‘do’ that counts. Active, purpose-driven brands place as much emphasis on brand behaviours as on communications. Think Starbucks and Dove.

4. Think Visual
With an average attention span of eight seconds, high impact visuals are the order of the day in marketing to Gen Z-ers. The recent explosion of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat at the expense of the previously invincible Facebook are indicative of a surge of visual culture. 54% of Gen Z-ers visit YouTube multiple times a day, which demonstrates their affinity for 4D media. Taco Bell is currently successfully engaging youth audiences by using Instagram to tell a visual narrative of what it really means to ‘Live Más’, a great example of leveraging visual content. And the $1.65 billion Google spent on YouTube is now looking like a snip, as video content becomes the next big thing, and Vice starts to challenge CNN and BBC as digital natives’ news source of choice.

5. Think Disruption
In the past, successful brand performance was about continuity, delivering the same reliable experience time after time. But that’s at best a hygiene factor for Gen Z. To connect with this generation, brands will need to show themselves capable of re-invention, even disrupting their own models in order to stay relevant and fresh. New technologies have spawned new possibilities and as many new business models. In many cases, this makes the old ways irrelevant, and causes category disruption impossible a few years ago – think Kodak and Instagram, Avis and zipcar, Marriott and airbnb.

What’s interesting is that the brands that are appealing to Gen Z don’t always come from within a traditional category. Often, they involve complete reframing of the territory by an unknown yet provocative outsider – increasingly a Gen Z start-up. So Gen Z-ers not only present profound challenges to brands, they are also in direct competition with the brands. It will only become more important to understand where they are coming from and how to capture the attention of this growing young workforce.