Three Key Trends in Marketing to a Misunderstood Demographic -- 'Gen Edge,' aka Gen Z

Three Things Marketers Need to Know

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Marketers have invested heaps of time -- and ad dollars -- over the past few years trying to target millennials. Recently, though, our clients have begun asking us to help them wrap their minds around the mores of a new generation: "Gen Edge."

Who are they? And how do we talk to this group?

The first question is far simpler to answer than the second. Those of us who track consumer culture are still in the midst of studying Gen Edge's social behaviors.

Here's what we know for certain. Also called Gen Z, they're the children of Gen Xers, and are approaching their 20s. By some estimates they account for as much as 25% the American population. And, they are more diverse than any other age group to date, representing a blend of races.

What we don't know is how drastically Gen Edge will evolve the consumer-brand relationship, increasingly impacted by technology.

In our always-on, socially-charged world, a marketer's failed attempt to connect with Gen Edge could be broadcast across media channels in seconds. The only way to prevent that is to gain a deeper understanding of Gen Edge.

Here are three trends we have uncovered in our study of this group, and the implications for marketers:

Trend No. 1: They found their heroes and idols, not the other way around.

There was no such thing as a "microcelebrity" in the past -- famous people were either in the movies, on TV, or their music played on the radio. Because they haven't been impacted by mass media nearly as much as Gen X or Gen Y, Gen Edgers have found their own heroes and idols. They have a much broader range of them too, discovered on YouTube, Netflix, Buzzfeed, and Chive-like forums.

Implication for marketers: Dig deeper to find relevant talent for campaigns.

Casting talent as a spokesperson or partnering with a celebrity today is a high-risk, high-rewards scenario. Whom you choose to partner with and how you choose to get your brand talked about when it comes to Gen Edge is critical, and it may require a lot more homework and discovery of microcelebrities.

Trend No. 2: They embrace imperfections and individuality.

Gen Edge isn't trying to project an image of perfection -- and they aren't expecting you to be perfect either. It's kind of a relief, right? This group would rather everyone just be their real selves. Showing your warts could actually go a long way with this group because they dislike squeaky-clean "perfect" brands. Plus, Gen Edge wants brands that feel a bit malleable so there's room for them in the mix. They like to take content, reshape it, or make their own.

Implication for marketers: Don't try too hard, and own who you are.

A new Yo Campaign or a Snapchat effort might not be the right thing for you. And even if it is, you don't need to start saying "BRB" for no reason or "erryday" instead of "everyday." An inauthentic voice will be very obvious to this demo and could quickly backfire rather than help in connecting with them. So if you're an old brand, own it.

Trend No. 3: They don't love or hate logos, but do care about the story behind them.

Gen Edgers won't be happy to parade around lux logos just because they are expensive, like their parents might have. Badging for this group is more individualistic, it's smarter and it reflects an attitude more so than a head-to-toe look.

A brand's actions matter more than the brand itself. So a Gen Edger may be just as happy to display a $2,000 Maiyet bag as she would a $40 Everlane tote, knowing that both brands care about craftsmanship and are transparent about the production process.

Implication for marketers: Be transparent about your brand story, and make content accessible to consumers on different platforms.

Badging still matters, so this group could be willing to pay a premium for your brand or be loyal fans, as long as they feel good about your business. What does your brand stand for: Quality? Innovation? Social good? Think about your brand's story, articulate it wisely and release that content across as many channels as possible.

As Gen Edgers approach college graduation and head out into the world to earn jobs and acquire spending power, we'll learn more about their tastes and the brands they choose to bring into the world. But in the meantime, it's critical to know that this generation is unlike any before it -- so before attempting to target them with marketing messages, you must put time into understanding the unique characteristics of this group.

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