It’s been a busy start to 2020 for climate activist Greta Thunberg. Fresh from turning 17, she staged a school strike where it all began at home in Sweden then slammed Australian politicians for inaction as bushfires raged across the country - all within the new decade’s first three working days.

‘The Power of Youth’ was the front page coverline used by Time magazine when it confirmed Thunberg as its Person of the Year for 2019 just last month - a phrase that belies the yawning gap that exists between establishment thinking and the post Millennial generation born since 1997: Generation Z.

Thunberg’s ability to mobilise so many young people, and upset the establishment, highlights the extent to which Gen Z poses a major new challenge for the marketing world. The reason is that post-Millennials are a generation that no longer reacts to a traditional communication approach. Brands seeking to decode this generation, however, can do so understanding Thunberg’s own values - of authenticity and purpose.

Tap into key Gen Z behaviours
The key insight for brands is that Gen Z-ers are all about authenticity. They want to present themselves as they truly are – without filters or labels, with no limiting binary visions or hiding of their true emotions. This is reflected in the finding that 67% of them say a person (and a brand) is cool when they are  true to their values and beliefs.

To benefit from this, advertisers should remember three key aspects of Gen Z behaviour:

  • They are capable of projecting different ‘yous’. Gen Z-ers conceive different versions of themselves and exhibit varied behaviours according to each situation. The same person may project themself in a certain way on Facebook, in another on Snapchat, and totally differently again on Instagram. Brands need to understand this and hone platform-relevant presentation for themselves.
  • Their identities are fluid. There are no taboos. Gen Z-ers are breaking down barriers and social conventions, showing themselves for what they are in terms of emotions, gender and sexual orientation. For instance, while Australian columnist Andrew Bolt mocked Thunberg’s autism diagnosis, Gen Z-ers accept it without judgement. They see differences in cognitive and mental health as something to embrace. Negative feelings like melancholy and sadness are also accepted - as part of being human. In contrast, many brands still think and act intimidated by talk about and reflection of non-positive moods and behaviours.
  • They adopt an ugly aesthetic. This generation loves imperfections that must not be hidden or masked but shown as a factor of uniqueness. Teenagers intentionally publish photos on Instagram without glossy filters to show the truest aspects of their lives. The end of Instagram's filtered aesthetics, and the subsequent normalisation of ugliness, are a natural reaction to the ideal of perfection that has characterised previous years.

Discover your purpose
It’s never been more important for brands to have, and project through communications, a clear sense of purpose. That’s because 92% of young people believe that helping others in need is important, and 89% prefer to buy the products of a brand that supports social and environmental causes compared to those of a company that does not. What does this mean? That Gen Z-ers expect a brand to take a position. To be respected for its values ​​and demands, a brand must demonstrate them in a concrete manner, and shift from words to actions.

To achieve this, advertisers should consider four clear actions: 

  • Talk to communities. Gen Z-ers have a strong desire to establish connections and find a space where they can feel close to similar people to talk and think freely. They have started to turn towards a more internal and intimate dimension, focusing on small groups of friends, easily reachable thanks to the digital tools available. And it is precisely these restricted circles that exercise the greatest influence over them.
  • Move from ‘telling a story’ to ‘bringing a story to life’. Young people aren’t interested in traditional storytelling by brands. As a generation of creators and inventors, they expect to make their voices heard and have a direct impact on products and services. Brands have a meaningful impact when they’re able to make people an integral part of the narrative and actively involve them in their initiatives, bringing their values ​​closer to the historical and social context in which people live.
  • Release the potential of audio. Gen Z prefers using content via screens. But its appreciation is also growing for audio solutions as an alternative to excessive visual stimulation.
  • Understand the power of gaming. The most popular gaming platforms for Gen Z-ers- such as Fortnite, which reached 250 million players in total in March 2019 - offer brands an opportunity to communicate their values ​​naturally, thanks to the hacking of dynamics of the game itself. We’ve seen the scale of this in recent days with the excitement that accompanied the switch of Twitch gamer and Fornite star Ninja to Microsoft’s Mixer rival.

Put simply, Generation Z’s distinct behaviours require changes from brands. And like the newspaper columnists and politicians that don’t, those that fail to interpret these changes, listen to them and involve them will become irrelevant.

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This article was written by our Co-Founder and CEO for Italy and Spain, Ottavio Nava.