To reach Gen Z, it’s time to think beyond digital

This article, by our Managing Partner Sarah Cantillon, first appeared in The Drum.

The generation raised on the internet and social media. The true digital natives. Nearly 100% own a smartphone and they spend over four hours a day online. 

These are all statements that have been applied to members of Gen Z—loosely, those born between 1995 and 2010. 

Based on evidence like this, marketers would be forgiven for thinking that to reach Gen Z, they need to take a purely digital approach. Facebook trumps TV. Snapchat over out-of-home. 

But this kind of thinking stems from considering the digital and physical worlds as very separate places. It’s typical of those who have grown up without smartphones and social media – i.e., many senior marketers. We tend to separate our digital from our analog life, whereas for Gen Z, that’s just the status quo. It always has been, it’s literally how they grew up – there’s little distinction between physical and digital.

Because of this, the best marketing approach for Gen Z is not usually a digital-only one – it’s a combination of on and offline. A YouGov report from earlier this year found that 88% of Gen Z respondents stated that they would prefer brand experiences delivered by blending digital and physical channels. Delivering a consistent approach to marketing across all touchpoints is more important than any one channel alone. 

Adidas is one brand that’s always excelled when it comes to reaching a Gen Z audience. This summer, the sports brand used a digital and experiential strategy to transform a NYC newsstand into the entrance to a speakeasy, to celebrate the launch of its newest sneaker range. The activation was teased on social media and adidas hid ‘golden tickets’ in collectible magazines, finally luring people through a hidden door in a real-life newsstand into an event space. A great example of multiple channels coming together to give a well-rounded experience. 

Combining physical and digital elements has allowed Fanta to reach a broad audience and establish a solid hold on Halloween marketing over the last three years. While the campaigns have been Snapchat-led, we’ve found that adding an element of real-world intrigue can make a big difference. For example, we’ve always used Snapcodes (Snapchat’s version of QR codes) on exclusive packs which when scanned, provided access to a host of new spooky Snapchat AR lenses. The broader Halloween strategy – while grounded in social, went much further – we looked to a host of different platforms, including outdoor billboards and experiential, to spread the brand message further. 

Beauty brands are also looking to integrate their digital and physical presences more seamlessly – we’ve written about this in detail before. Whether it’s AR mirrors in-store like Charlotte Tilbury or online digital skin diagnostics as pioneered by L’Oreal, these companies are bringing their digital and physical brands together. 

If marketers aren’t treating the digital and the real world as one and the same, they’re not going to be able to reach anyone as effectively as if they came at a brief with an open mind to all channels. It’s not always about pushing your particular specialism on a client, it’s about creating the right strategy for the brand. Even if that means reaching out to other agency specialists who can complement your own skillset. 

And for brands seeking a digital strategy, it’s first worth considering if this will take you far enough, if there’s a missing piece in the picture. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a TV spot, it’s still important to understand how your brand exists in the physical world, as well as the online one; from packaging to shopper to experiences. 

It’s more important than ever for brands to be able to play effectively where the real and digital worlds collide. This approach will win over younger audiences, future-proofing businesses for the next generation of consumers.

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