Cool is Overrated
Marketers don’t have to go far to find insights about Gen Z, as many of them are part of the generation themselves. At Vero, 75% of team members are aged under 30. Some common themes that came up when they researched their peers to build strategies for brands were that members of Gen Z are fluent in digital technology, open to new and unique experiences, and willing to spend large sums of money on entertainment like idol concerts.
Lan Trang Nguyen, a Junior Strategic Planner at Vero and member of Gen Z, highlights how challenging engaging with this audience can be: “Gen Z wants to express their personal identities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will spend more trying to express themselves.”
“A lot of my friends do not spend more because products help to show that they are ‘cool ngầu’ or trendy,” Nguyen says. “They choose to buy from Muji, Lock’n’Lock, or Uniqlo not because of the brand names alone, but because of their products’ high quality and durability.”
Gen Z is Diverse, Multi-Faceted, and Multi-dimensional
We asked our team whether they felt that reports they’ve read on the different generations were accurate. Our team noted that reports tend to focus on behaviors on social media platforms or give a very broad overview of a particular generation.
“Generations are grouped, but there’s no information about different cultural subgroups or alternative lifestyle choices,” says Lan Trang. “In most of the reports that I have read, generations are grouped and describe Gen Z, or Gen Y as uniform monoliths with similar backgrounds, values, and beliefs, which isn’t true. Where are the reports on Gen Z’s indie music fans or Millennials on TikTok?”
What Can Brands Do to Stay Relevant?
Brands today may need more help figuring out how to stay relevant to a Gen Z audience.
“The most relevant brands to me are those connected to my lifestyle,” says Lan Trang. “We see a lot of brands trying to communicate beliefs and values on topics like the younger generation reaching their potential or building a brighter future. Other brands want to join you on a journey to break social stereotypes or embrace traditional culture. While these may be good branding campaigns, they’re no substitute for good quality products that improve our lives. Above all else, brands should prioritize the value their products bring to people’s lives. From there, you can build relevancy and story.”
At Vero, this is how we approach our campaigns and brand-building. “We always seek to define a particular persona of our target audience (consumers most likely to resonate with our client’s brand) that includes psychographic traits and their interests, concerns, and challenges. From there, we define the values that the brand can offer and build our messaging around those values,” says Nguyen.
When brands consider the messaging that makes them relevant to Gen Z, we see a few ‘brand distinction criteria’ come up again and again:
- (Pop-)Culturally aware
- Challenging the status quo
- Supporting meaningful living
- Open to everyone
While these criteria are noble in purpose and mission, are they especially relevant to Gen Z?
“These are effective at creating a loveable brand, but the core of a brand’s distinctiveness should come from its products,” says Nguyen. “Not every brand needs to follow a trend just because it’s trending. For instance, when Vietnamese rap was on the rise, we saw a lot of brands integrating rap music into their communications. As a result, this technique stopped being distinctive. Trendy messaging only works if the brand’s products or services relate to the trend. For example, one laundry detergent brand sought to disrupt the norms of parenting by encouraging moms to allow their kids to get dirty. To me, this was successful because of how well it highlighted the role of the product.”
Brands looking to expand internationally will also need to overcome the additional challenge of local differences. “The ASEAN region is iconic for its cultural diversity. Understanding different ethnicities, cultures, and traditions in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, or the Philippines is crucial when entering the market,” says Lan-Trang Nguyen.
“Brands should look carefully at how local people live and consider how their product or service can be helpful, and they should do this for each of the distinctive cultures among ASEAN countries. To stay relevant, brands should consider their role and values and how this can contribute to local culture or show appreciation for the country’s diversity.”
“As a comms professional, it can be convenient to think about groups of people using general categories. But those are just a starting point,” Lan Trang adds. “While we may share some similarities and differences, those don’t justify stereotypes. Brands should ask detailed, human-centric questions to complement their reports and data if they want to build a clearer picture of their audience.”