Effective communication in the age of Gen Z
The impact of Gen Z on the ways we communicate
By: Rachel Card
Society tends to adapt to the needs of whatever generation is most up-and-coming, and Generation Z is no exception. But there are a number of factors that set Gen Z apart from its predecessors. These include but are not limited to being the first generation to grow up with the internet as an omnipotent presence, an emphasis on authenticity in their activism and the political, environmental and socioeconomic landscape that they are inheriting. The impact of Gen Z is such that it is affecting the ways in which society as a whole communicates, and markets are eternally scrambling to keep pace and stay relevant.
For better or worse, Generation Z is the first generation to have been brought up alongside smart technology. This has had a profound impact on not just Gen Z, but every facet of society. As the youngest generation with adults of legal age, at least in the United States, Gen Z makes up a good portion of the market, and thus, has redefined the ways in which information is distributed, language is utilized and marketing strategies are devised. The internet has been both beneficial and hindering to those wishing to tap into the Gen Z segment of the consumer base. This is beneficial because information is far more easily accessible than it used to be with a much greater reach. However, it is hindering because trends are prone to changing before corporations can capitalize on them. Attempts to capitalize on trends that have died a quick death can leave an organization subject to mockery for being out of touch. The language of Gen Z is ever-evolving, and can be difficult for those trying to reach the generation to keep up with.
Authenticity in Activism Being woefully out-of-touch in terms of language used is hardly the worst mistake an organization can make when marketing towards Generation Z. Gen Z is not the first generation with activist tendencies, but progress is not stagnant by nature. Therefore, Gen Z’s particular brand of activism is the first of its kind. Gen Z do not take kindly to and are quick to sniff out corporations that engage in performative activism as a marketing technique, such as when Calvin Klein featured the heterosexual Bella Hadid kissing a computer-generated influencer (yes, really) to try and promote their clothing line. Calvin Klein and other designer brands have had particular difficulty in wrangling a Gen Z consumer-base, and the brand was promptly accused of taking an opportunity away from real-life queer woman and exploiting the queer experience for perceived financial gain. A far more infamous example of a brand engaging in performative activism is the 2017 Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial that still lives in the public consciousness as an advertising cautionary tale. But silence can also alienate demographics whose very identities are perceived as being inherently political. It can be a tightrope to walk, but those who are really dedicated to communicating with Gen Z should try to be as authentic in their activism as they can be. This can be done by actually contributing to the causes they are referencing and not attempting to play both sides of an issue. BOGO sock brand Bombas rallied support from activists by donating to homeless communities and vocally supporting Black Lives Matter, and letting their Black employees take the lead.
The Impact on Gen Z
Generation Z, like the generations preceding it, has been molded by the legacy of those generations past. 9/11, COVID-19 and political, socioeconomic and environmental strife have left a politically active yet markedly cynical generation in their wake, and even though the oldest Gen Zers are in their mid to early 20s, many are already feeling disillusioned with their prospects. Gen Z are actively working to reform political, environmental, and socioeconomic landscapes because they feel that past generations did not take their future into consideration when they were the most influential demographics. Gen-Z doesn't want to make the same mistake. This ties into Gen Z’s need for transparency in communication and marketing, as while they are far from being nihilists, they prefer not to skirt around issues that have already gone unaddressed for far too long.
The process of effectively communicating with Generation Z is much the same as it would be for any other demographic, in which listening to the target audience naturally increases chances of communicating effectively. Gen Z’s emphasis on transparency and progressivism should make this relatively easy to accomplish, but there is still a dissonance in the ways in which Gen-Zers communicate and other generations’ interpretations of those methods.
About the author: Rachel Card (She/Her) joined AGENZ to gain hands-on PR experience before graduating in December. She hopes to put her degree toward either PR for nonprofits or a more generalized writing career.
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