Marketing to Generation Z: a how-to guide from APS2016 -

Marketing to Generation Z: a how-to guide from APS2016

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Marketing to Generation Z: a how-to guide from APS2016

If you try too hard to be cool in your marketing, Generation Z will quickly become Generation zzzzz for you. 

Make it relevant, humorous and tangibly sustainable with lifestyle appeal. And do it in a few seconds.


If you thought marketing to Millennials was difficult, the next cohort Generation Z - the alphabetical final frontier of digital generations - will prove a whole new challenge.

During the Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference held last week, Avans University commercial economics student Mathieu Hirdes presented his findings from studies of hundreds of 14-21 year olds in a bid to find out what made them tick.

The results have actually been adopted to great effect by Dutch produce trader Cool Fresh, but thanks to Hirdes' seminar at the new event many more companies may be jumping on board with the knowledge gained.

"The fact of the matter is that you can’t just learn to speak their language - you have to involve them in your plans, you have to involve them in your strategies," said Hirdes, shortly after mocking the 'Eat 5 a Day' program with the following message:

"You failed us."

The young analyst's seminar was as frank as it was nuanced: the generation wants to make the world a better place but "ego is always stronger than eco"; they have some brand loyalty but they're very open to exploring new brands; and most importantly, they are not fools and they understand very well when you're trying to sell them something.

"A lot of people but also a lot of companies also claim to be committed to sustainability, and therefore people don’t really know what it is, so you have to practice what you preach but you also have to prove what you preach. That’s very important," Hirdes said. 

"When you add sustainability to your product it should add something else to their lifestyle, to their emotions, to their convictions." 

Mathieu Hirdes

Mathieu Hirdes

According to Hirdes' survey, respondents gave sustainability an importance of 7.3/10 for now and 8.7/10 for the future, with the dominant belief that companies play a more important role in their view than consumers.

In terms of brand loyalty, 42% said they were quite loyal but liked to try new brands as well. 

"I really like to try new brands, I am loyal to brands, but the brand has to offer me something relevant," the student said of his own experience. 

And storytelling is a huge part of garnering that relevance with this generation, which according to Hirdes' survey respondents has an influence of about 7.7/10 in fruit buying for their household while 36% claim to buy fruit themselves.

"Some researchers in the U.S., Holland and U.K. and around the world has shown the younger generation wants to contribute to the world more than any other generation before," he said.

"We know a lot of things about them now, but we didn’t know how to communicate with them, that sustainability is important – they don’t want just a product, they want a story, but how should we bring it to them."

Telling a story is one thing, but here's the tricky part; something that any parent will likely find familiar. 

"You have to grab their attention in the first seconds – otherwise they will be going and will just swipe on to the next thing," Hirdes said.

"An important issue in that could be humor because in the first few seconds you have to get their attraction, get their attention…they like to laugh.

"The other thing is don't try too hard to be cool, because when you try too hard and fail that’s even worse than not communicating."

He said the general message was something like "tell me your story, don't sell me your story. Just be honest".

"One of the most important places you have to tell it is online," he added, but with an important clarification.

"If you’re not ready to go on social media, please don’t go there, because if you fail that’s even worse.

"Offline promotions can be very useful – especially those on the street which have been proven to be very effective for creating awareness, because you can’t buy without seeing and even if you don’t pay attention it’ll be saved in there somewhere."

Another key offline marketing tool is in-store promotion, according to Hirdes, while he also emphasized the importance of communicating messages through supply chain partners as well.

"And of course being at trade shows like this, then we can create awareness amongst every single one of you because the awareness has to be in the whole supply chain, not just amongst the consumers.

"First of all don’t be scared, because they want to consume your advertising and your product – you just have to be relevant for them. Don’t give them something boring, something that’s been done a thousand times before.

"The last thing is ‘get out of the box’. You don’t even have to think outside of the box, which is something being said by so many people. Just get out of your box – tell something of your story, what you're doing."

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