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Attracting Gen Z

Is this how you attract Gen Z? Images © Curator, LeLabo, Sosh, Twitch, and Old Spice

How can retailers reach young consumers, from millennials to Gen Z? From user-generated content to avatars, viral videos, gaming, embedded code and “unboxing,” rapid development in technology and changes in consumer needs are leading brands to seek unconventional methods of reaching their target audience.

This was the topic of discussion at the recent Stylus Innovation Forum I attended in New York on April 24. Attendees included designers, advertisers, retail experts, technologists and marketers such as myself who were eager to learn about the latest consumer trends that are shaping the retail environment.

Creating unique experiences

Research suggests that millennial consumers are more interested in experiences than products. Their desire for pleasure over possessions affects the retail market in many ways. The rise in service companies, such as Uber, Citi Bike and Spotify, which offer consumers instant access to services without having to purchase a car, bike or album, creates a landscape where target audiences expect instant access to goods and services.

Brands such as Curater offer consumers access to products or services that provide unique, temporary experiences. Curater’s digital exhibition system is a subscription-based service that allows consumers to adorn their walls with artwork displayed on a LED canvas that changes four to six times per year. This creates an experience that’s exciting, unexpected and constantly changing.

The market for personal dining and fitness concierges has grown steadily as consumers become more health conscious, yet have less time on their hands. Companies such as Sosh provide diners with a tailored and meticulously curated restaurant experience that takes the thought and effort out of the equation.

Some brands take advantage of millennials’ appreciation for craftsmanship and desire for exclusive sensory experiences by experimenting with staggered release dates to create anticipation for products. For example, Le Labo Perfumes offers customers an extended experience with fragrances that need to be steeped for a week before they are ready to use.

‘Participatory marketing’

The Stylus Innovation Forum also highlighted new ways retailers attract customers and create brand ambassadors by utilizing participatory marketing, such as user generated content on social media and other platforms. This approach is key to reaching Generation Z, a group comprised of two to 19-year-olds. These consumers are often incorrectly considered hard to reach, anti-marketing and digitally obsessed. Gen Z can be reached, but brands need to use unconventional channels and marketing methods to connect with them. “The Hunger Games” franchise banked on their young consumers’ digital savvy by adding marketing messages into the website’s source code.

Gen Z trend leaders such as EvanTubeHD and Bethany Mota have made “unboxing” a popular online trend and an effective marketing strategy. Unboxing involves young consumers recording and uploading videos of themselves opening new purchases while describing the product. Stylus reports that Gen Z viewers get as much joy from watching their peers have fun as from directly interacting with the products themselves. These consumers actually view peers themselves as entertainment. To them, celebrities are not necessarily movie stars, but kids just like them who have a strong presence in social media platforms such as YouTube, Vine, Instagram and Twitter.

The rise in video is reflected in apps such as Meerkat, Periscope and Twitch. Old Spice recently used Twitch to launch a unique advertising campaign promoting its deodorant by releasing a man into the woods for three days and having Twitch users dictate his every move.

The main message I took away from the Stylus Innovation Forum is that brands need to not only keep up with new technologies affecting the retail landscape, but also explore non-traditional methods of marketing to consumers. Creating unique experiences will keep customers coming back for more. Allowing consumers to personalize products is not enough—consumers want to play a fundamental part in defining the brand and feel empowered to create their own stories.

Mariam Safi is a marketing specialist in Gensler’s New York office. Contact her at mariam_safi@gensler.com.

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