New Kids on the Block: A GenZ Talks Marketing

Madison Bregman, CEO of GirlZMADISON BREGMAN

Madison Bregman, CEO of GirlZ MADISON BREGMAN


One of the central challenges of knowing one's market is having an idea about what matters to people at specific ages. Millennials have been beneath the proverbial microscope for some time now as they have graduated from college, entered the workforce and in many cases have started families. The next generation (Generation Z if you follow the Strauss and Howe designations) extends roughly from the early 1990s to the Great Recession starting in late 2008.

I had the opportunity recently to interview Madison Bregman, the owner of GirlZ, a youth marketing firm and herself a member of the Generation Z. Her company has been surprisingly effective, with clients including the NFL, Taco Bell, Chipotle and others.

We caught up and talked about the challenges of being in the shadow of the Millennials, why marketing for GenZ so often misses the mark, the value of effective storytelling and the role of social media to that generation in particular.

What inspired you to start consulting with brands on your generation? First, I was watching a car commercial that got me thinking about how brands were marketing to young people and realized that, for the most part, they're not doing it in a way that appeals to most of us. Second, I realized that I'm not a millennial but instead part of this entirely different generation that, at the time, no one was talking about. Until then, I thought I was a millennial since everyone under the age of 50 was considered one.

What do you see as the major differences between millennials and Gen Z? The defining event for millennials was 9/11, so as they grew up they were told that if they try their hardest, one day they'll succeed. They were raised in the "helicopter parent" and participation trophy age. For Generation Z, the defining event was the 2008 recession so we were told that there are winners and losers and that there's no guarantees. This has made Generation Z more conservative and skeptical than other generations.

Second, Generation Z is the first digitally native generation. Millennials grew up as technology did — getting their first phone, the first iPhone, laptop and iPad. Generation Z hasn't known a world where we can't order a pizza, text a friend and FaceTime our mom at the same time.

What are some assumptions/beliefs about Gen Z that aren't true? A lot of people think that Generation Z has a 6-8 second attention span. In reality, that's a BS meter where we're able to determine within those first few seconds whether or not something is worth our time. Because of this, brands think that all of their content has to be short form and less than 30 seconds, but we're still watching long-form content. For example, Shane Dawson did a series with Jake Paul where each episode was around 40-60 minutes and received about 25 million views.

If the content is good — and tells a captivating story — we'll watch.

Another assumption is that we don't like to communicate in person. Most of us actually prefer face-to-face communication. While older generations use technology and social media to escape from the "real world," we're so immersed into the digital world that face-to-face communication is our "escape."

So who's doing a good job marketing to GenZ? Netflix is a company that's doing a great job. Their shows are ingrained in culture and start conversations. Shows like "13 Reasons Why" and "Orange is the New Black" are discussed widely on social media and there's a sense of nostalgia with "The Office" and "Friends," which is part of why they're so popular with young people.

The NBA is another example. They've ingrained themselves into hip-hop culture, which creates culture. The games are fast paced and easily Instagrammable. For example, Kawhi Leonard's game 7 buzzer-beater was all over social media.

Lastly, Patagonia has done a good job of aligning who they are as a company with their social mission and what their consumers care about. It's worked well for them.


Madison Bregman, CEO GirlZ  MADISON BREGMAN

Madison Bregman, CEO GirlZ  MADISON BREGMAN


What type of content captures Generation Z's attention? The two biggest platforms are YouTube and Instagram. Everyone is watching YouTube, but there isn't a brand or company that has used it in a relevant way. I think there's room for a company to dominate YouTube. Most of my generation isn't following companies on Instagram, because the content is all the same.

Views on social impact The defining event for Generation Z was the 2008 recession. This has made us more conservative than millennials who were raised post 9/11, during the "helicopter parent" and "participation trophy" age. While millennials care a lot about social impact and want to feel like they're changing the world, Generation Z doesn't care nearly as much. So many companies have heard that these younger generation care about social impact and are trying to do it that it feels more like marketing or PR than actually trying to leave a positive impact and comes across as inauthentic. While we may say we care a lot about it or won't go to companies who don't, we don't really care as long as they're making a good product.

For example, Chick-Fil-A. While a lot of Generation Z may disagree with some of their stances, it's still one of the most popular companies among young people. Ultimately, convenience and value matter more to my generation than social good.

What is authenticity? Authenticity is about aligning who your company is with everything you do — the way you communicate and the way you market — but I think that if you have to ask yourself "How can we be authentic?" you're already missing the mark.

How important is influencer marketing? Influencer marketing is one of, if not the best way to reach and connect with young consumers if it's done right. Whether you have 10 followers or 1 million, you have a certain level of influence and people who trust your opinion. If one of our friends suggests something, we're more likely to try it than if a company tells us through an ad.

The relationship that influencers have with their audience is unparalleled. They know everything about them and feel like they're friends with these people, so influencers — if used correctly — can facilitate the relationship between brands and consumers.

What's your take on the term ‘influencers?' We view influencers in four categories. First, are celebrities. These are people like Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The second category are influencers, so people like Jake Paul and Amanda Cerny. The third category are cultural shapers — Kanye West, Ariana Grande and Kylie Jenner. For example, Kanye and Yeezy's, Ariana Grande and Reebok and Kylie Jenner with Kylie Cosmetics. Last is micro-influencers, so someone with a very targeted audience, usually in the fitness, food, beauty or travel space. They're people who you would go to for a specific question or topic.

The way that guys and girls engage with influencers is different. Girls want to know everything about their favorite male influencers. It's the "Justin Bieber effect," where they want to know what time the person was born, where they were born, what their favorite food is and who their friends are. With female influencers, there's a sense of both comparison and jealousy, where the girls are jealous that they're dating the "popular" guys and are constantly comparing themselves to them. Guys, for the most part, just watch influencers and think they're "cool" or "hot," but they often don't have the relationship — the connection — that girls have.

Biggest mistakes brands are making? There's a lack of understanding around relevancy. Brands are talking about things that they think are relevant in order to look cool, but it often comes across as trying too hard and ultimately, inauthentic. Companies are relying so much on data that when they take the data and try to implement it, it is completely misunderstood and misses the mark on who the generation actually is.

Data is helpful but doesn't tell the entire story. This generation moves incredibly fast, so by the time a company has collected data and figured out a way to implement it into the way they communicate and market, we've already moved on. Also, if you have an older and younger person looking at the same piece of data, we're both looking at the same thing but it will be interpreted differently based on our previous experiences, feelings and intuition.


Kurt Cagle is Managing Editor for Cognitive World, and is a contributing writer for Forbes, focusing on future technologies, science, enterprise data management, and technology ethics. He also runs his own consulting company, Semantical LLC, specializing on Smart Data, and is the author off more than twenty books on web technologies, search and data. He lives in Issaquah, WA with his wife, Cognitive World Editor Anne Cagle, daughters and cat (Bright Eyes).