Charles Bahr is Generation Z’s original high flyer. The 18-year-old runs consulting firm Projekt Z which aims to help companies reach Generation Z, from marketing through employer branding all the way to employee leadership. In an interview with SevenVentures he reveals which communication strategies brands can use to reach their youngest generation of customers.
What distinguishes Generation Z from previous generations?
In my opinion, the biggest difference is that Generation Z is the first generation able to shape the media landscape independently. Nowadays young people create content themselves and are very creative, because they fill the TikToks of this world with completely new types of content. They are also very active. Many young people think that if an influencer is just a girl from next door, then they can create content as well. Secondly, the requirements for content are different than before. Cool content is no longer the kind produced with a huge camera team, rather the kind of content that can be reproduced that you can identify with. And thirdly: The generation is lazy. No young person wants to fill out a huge form or worry about how to file a tax return. Our generation prefers to watch YouTube tutorials or find their own solutions.
Which trending topics are currently big in the everyday lives of Generation Z?
I believe that the most relevant topics are those that are relevant on a daily basis. For example, we are currently producing a podcast for the FDP politician Thomas Sattelberger, in which he discusses current topics with the young environmental activist and influencer Fabian Grischkat – with topics ranging from the next CDU chairman to the attacks in Hanau. It doesn't always have to be political, but simply relevant for young people. The biggest priority is topicality and for that you have to disregard the demand for perfection. Nobody wants to see a vlog on a topic that is already a week old. Often trends are used that were good at the time when the idea came up, but once implemented no longer have news value.
What are the best channels for reaching this target group?
TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat are in my opinion the three media most relevant to Generation Z. I think TikTok should be considered top priority - not only in the 9-12 age group, but all the way up to 24-year-olds - it meets many needs of young people that have been neglected on other platforms. With its strong focus on video, TikTok succeeds in addressing young people in a completely unique way. As a user I can easily create content myself. In addition, the algorithm is really good at determining what someone likes and plays out the content in a very personalised way and that appeals to many.
Instagram definitely has the highest density of users, because it is not only used as a social network, but also as a communication medium. I write at least as many messages a day on Instagram via direct messaging as I do on WhatsApp. How messengers are used has changed a lot. Instagram, is used instead of WhatsApp Snapchat is no longer used for stories, just for communication.
Which content strategies make brand content successful?
The best strategy is to stay flexible. It is all about learning by doing. Accepting that you need to try things out first is very important. This also applies, for example, when companies create a TikTok account: First look at what you get out of it and what you want to happen there. It's not about long-term planning, but about being present - looking at the platforms and seeing what's relevant and what adds value to the brand. TikTok may work for the Tagesschau, but not for the BILD newspaper, because the latter is not able to use its strategy of big titles and click baiting, but would have to go to new formats, to "Information First".
Which content forms are most popular with Generation Z?
The biggest trend for 2020 is vertical content, i.e. portrait format - in other words, the content is produced in the way it is played out at the end. For example, we are currently working with a large production company in Hamburg on how to produce the first vertical series for Instagram TV. We are aligning ourselves with the storytelling trend we are currently seeing in China: There you can shorten what we show in a 90-minute film to three minutes in portrait format. This is generally where the biggest challenge for brands lies: they can't just put their 15-second TV spot on the social media channel, but have to really involve themselves with young people themselves on a daily basis and see what really interests them.
Which instruments can brands use to really understand their younger target groups?
Many marketers talk a lot about why the brand is great and what is important to them. And they don't pay attention to what the target group is actually interested in. Often they also address a group in a certain way because they have read a study about it at some point. But they do not actively and daily involve themselves with this target group. The easiest way is to consult interns or their own children. Or even better, put together a focus group and ask: honestly and unfiltered, what do you think of this slogan or campaign?
Which brand does particularly well in reaching Generation Z - and why?
Lufthansa, for example, does well in developing an overarching holistic message, but still delivers the content individually and in a focused way for each platform. In addition, McDonalds turned the first TikTok challenge into a McCurryWurst with the hashtag #issmirwurst and was able to generate 300 million hits with a relatively small media campaign. This shows that the brand is eager to experiment. On the other hand, the worst thing a brand can do for Generation Z is to distribute its own content on all platforms salt-shaker style and see what comes back. You have to think very carefully where your own brand values can be linked with what the brand wants to say and the usage habits of young people.
What comes after Gen Z? What will make the next generation tick?
Generation Alpha will want to consume content even quicker and more agilely. When topics like 5G come up, we'll see that everything has to be even faster, that the attention span is even shorter and that the content has to be available even more immediately. Brands will then have to communicate not only in real time, but also more genuinely, and lower their demands for perfection. One has to accept the fact that in livestream it is not possible to control and get approval for content every second. If a mistake occurs, that's not a bad thing; rather it shows how authentic the brand is.