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Marketing to Generation Z

Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Atlantic University

Marketing, it is all over the place. We cannot turn on any piece of social media without finding it. The Internet was once a safe haven from ads. There used to be very few of them. There were also dial-up modems too, but things change.

Now we are bombarded. You have to watch sixty-seconds ads to watch a thirteen-second video and have a thirty-second video interrupt it after six-seconds of watching. Ads block content, or just plain pop up in front of it. How many times have you tried to click on a link to something, only to have your smartphone or tablet screen jump at the same instant, and you ended up clicking on a pop-up ad? Sure, there are options where we can pay to get an ad free experience. In other words, more marketing.

Every business needs to be able to market itself, there is no question about it. We may groan about having to see the advertisements invading every facet of our lives, but let’s be realistic; if companies don’t advertise, they don’t make money. If they don’t make money, neither do we.

Marketing means we must get our advertising to resonate with someone. Farmers and producers must find a way too. Not all of us are marketing directly to consumers, but some of us are. However, all consumers are watching what we are doing and judging us for it. As the world has gotten closer and closer, thanks to technology, we are having to face another hurdle. That hurdle is Generation-Z (Gen-Z).

For all the grief millennials get, they aren’t nearly as hard to market to as Gen-Z. Gen-Z is the first generation truly brought up by technology. They have never lived in a world where they didn’t have access to the Internet. They are also the first generation to not be able to remember, first-hand, the events of September 11th. They are now starting to graduate high school and are becoming part of the consumer marketplace on their own.

During Iowa Swine Day, we heard from Dr. Wes Jamison, of Palm Beach Atlantic University. He teaches Public Relations, Persuasion, Political Communication and Advertising. Dr. Jamison has gained his experience with Gen-Z by teaching them. He says marketing hasn’t changed; it is a matter of just understanding how to relate to new consumers. He and his students have collaborated on many social advertising experiments. He talked with the producers in attendance about the mind-set they will need to understand when marketing to Gen-Z.

According to Dr. Jamison, there are a few things you need to understand about Gen-Z:

  1. They are not willing to listen to any information they do not agree with. It doesn’t matter if you have science or data to back up your side. It doesn’t even matter what data they can use to back up their argument. They aren’t interested in data and facts. They are only interested in their opinion. They won’t change their minds based on information. They would rather spend three and four times the effort on finding something that supports their views. Dr. Jamison provided an anecdote to illustrate this.
  2. They believe they are always right; therefore, they are experts in everything they believe in.
  3. They don’t identify with a sense of community. They instead have instead become part of “Internet Tribes” consisting of people they believe share their values or at least think like they do.
  4. They have no problem using social media to mobilize their “tribe” to disrupt the supply chain for what they believe. Dr. Jamison said they can achieve this mobilization in a matter of minutes, where protests used to take days or weeks to organize. 
  5. They don’t believe they need a factual basis for their protest. It is just about what they believe. It is like how they take position in an argument. Sometimes members of a protest don’t even understand what they are protesting. They just feel they have a right to make everyone listen to their opinions.
  6. They are a post-literate culture. They can read, they just don’t want to. Their brains learned early on how to associate learning through visual cues. They have grown up with technology giving them information in short, flashy bursts.
  7. They love what is called the “snapchat effect.” This means they can say something and have it disappear. They get their message amongst their tribe, but they don’t have to be accountable to it.
  8. They are not brand loyal. They would rather watch your company crash and burn rather than support its success.

We now understand their values. So what is it Gen-Z is looking for? What are their wants and needs? As Dr. Jamison points out, their wants and needs are no different than our own. They need homes, food, clothing, healthcare and social interaction. The thing is, they go after these things based on their way of consuming information; quickly, visually and in line with their way of thinking.

So, how do we break into this format and market it? How do you sell a product to someone who has an unfounded negative opinion of it? Dr. Jamison says it is possible. First of all, you can no longer rely on long stories to build your brand. You must find a favorable social context.

Jamison says you have to look at the “three A’s” when you tell your story or market your brand:

  • Attention: You must find a way to get their short attention span. It needs to be quick and flashy. If you cannot achieve a visual stimulus, for instance if you are at a live event you can use smell. Like cooking bacon, for example, is a great attention getter. Free samples are a good way of achieving this as well. Like every generation before them, Gen-Z likes getting free stuff. (See, some things haven’t necessarily changed.) If you are online, you may have to sit among their tribe and bite your tongue. Even say things that support their ideas, even if it goes against what you are advocating for.
  • Acceptance: When you have their attention, then it is time to give them the visual stimuli to tell your story. If they are in line to get the free bacon or ice cream, tell them about the process in which the food was made. Tell them about the positives of that industry. Show them pictures of your cows and pigs in happy and comfortable surroundings. If you are online, wait for them to start liking your comments, even if it is comments you are trying to change their mind about. Gain their acceptance in the group, and they will listen to your opinion.
  • Action: Now is when you start to slowly and gradually change their minds. Once they have accepted you, they will be more receptive to you. If you are using food samples, they will associate the tasty bacon or ice cream with the information you just presented them. It is that association of something they like with short bursts of a backstory. If you were online, start to say things they agree with but use the “but” addendums. This means you are agreeing with them but seeing another point of view. If they have accepted you, they will start to change their view.

Advertising and advocating to a new generation is not easy, but it is possible. You need to remember the wants and desires of the generation isn’t necessarily different, it is how they are presented with the information. It is how they build their levels of trust and acceptance. Once you crack this code, you can be successful with them. Every so many generations we see a paradigm shift in how the next generation absorbs their information. It is not new. It is just a matter of being ready to adapt to survive.

This information leaned heavily on marketing. However, farmers need to realize they are always marketing for their brand. They are the first link in the supply chain. On the other end are the consumers. More and more they are making decisions based on what they perceive to be happening at the beginning of the chain. If you do not believe this, look at the fall out from the FairLife situation. Dr. Jamison says this was a textbook example of how Gen-Z reacts. Their mind is made up no matter what following information comes out. Remember, they aren’t interested in follow-up facts. By the time you bring them supporting evidence about a subject, they are already 10 topics ahead of you.

Producers and advocates need to adapt and move quickly or they are going to be left behind.