Still Obsessing Over Millennials? Here Are 6 Rules for Reaching Generation Z

Your next best customer

What CMO doesn't have millennial burnout? Tailoring the perfect marketing messages to today's young adults seems like it's been the marketing holy grail for years.

The good news is that brands can now start to get their minds around the intricacies of a new generation of hyper-connected consumers: Generation Z.

Yes, we're talking about children and teenagers, but they have $44 billion to spend and make up 26 percent of the U.S. population. Plus, their purchasing power is growing. They're both an extreme version of millennials (as in, technology is their life-blood) and the opposite of them. For instance, they're far more pragmatic—they get that from their Gen X parents.

At nearly 2 billion strong around the world, they're every brand's next best customer. But breaking through the extreme digital clutter of their lives—SnapChat, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter—won't be easy.

Here are six rules for brands looking to connect with Gen Z.

1. Show 'em your true (weird, quirky, funny) brand personality.

Brands targeting Gen Z will be best served by exposing their relatable sides, their human touch and their willingness to put the brand in the background for the sake of just being playful.

Case in point: A new ad campaign from candy brand Trolli was deliberately designed to provoke a "WTF" reaction. Its TV spots feature everything from a class dissecting gummy worms to a talking tooth. The campaign was created for teens and will be featured on TV as well as social media, which is of course where Gen Z lives.

2. Have #NoFilter.

Following on the first rule, for brands looking to engage Gen Z, authenticity rules. Don't be afraid to create content that is real. One example: At the NewFronts in New York in April, YouTube invited teens to sit in the front rows during its Brandcast event. As YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki gave her speech, the teens cheered. YouTube stars aren't mainstream famous, but teens can't get enough of them because they relate to their authenticity.

It's no surprise that American Idol is being canceled—the format of plucking musicians from obscurity no longer jibes with how teens connect with artists and personalities. They don't need institutions to tell them who the next big stars are. They're pinpointing stars on their own from sites like YouTube.

3. Find a cause, 'cause it's important to make a difference.

Gen Z kids, those born after 1995, will be far more serious, careful consumers than millennials. They want to know that what they're doing, however small, is enough to make a difference. For brands that understand this, there's opportunity to connect on a deeper level by showing teens they care about the same issues. A recent example is Coca-Cola joining the anti-bullying crusade in its Super Bowl spot, and in other global marketing efforts.

4. Get social in the channels where Gen Z lives.

Social media engagement on the highest level is something that brands marketing to Gen Z need to perfect, because Gen Z is the curation generation—collecting, sharing, and remixing their own spheres of influence, control and notoriety. There's an outlet for every facet of their identity: I'm reserved on Facebook (if and when I actually use it). I'm informed on Twitter. I'm a showoff on Snapchat. I'm a troll on Reddit. I'm creative on Instagram.

Beauty and fashion brands know this already and have begun tapping well-known, young spokesmodels (Gen Zers in some cases) with huge social media followings like Gigi Hadid. Teens don't want to tweet with faceless brands. They want to engage with real people, and they can smell a disingenuous tweet a mile away.

5. Find their tribes.

Gen Z is inquisitive about the world, seeking self-validation in syncing with others who tick the same way. Their interests are limitless: They might paddle board and make short films; be into archery and the NBA. Connecting with like-minded people means more to them than hearing brands tell them about their world, or who they should or shouldn't be in it.

So, be the conduit. Help them find others like them. But do it on Gen Z's terms—not your brand's—and always in one-to-one moments they can share with friends, followers and onlookers. Don't know their rules? It's fine to ask but never OK to assume.

6. Break through the clutter.

Never has a generation had more opportunities to be distracted, overstimulated and overscheduled than Gen Z. They have more access to and interest in so many things around them. For a brand to break through the hype, it needs to understand and embrace that.

The big difference for this generation is their access to everything, everywhere and the expectations that holds for any experience. There is nothing holding them back. They have access to and absorb massive amounts of information—binge-watching, searching and finding nearly anything. Brands need to keep this in mind. Content needs to be creative, relevant and fun—or Gen Z will simply tune out.

And, remember: Gen Z doesn't need you. Gen Z is a more realistic, serious group than the idealistic millennials. They are constantly finding new solutions as old ones become, well, old. The good news? They want to collaborate with you—as long as you speak their language. Start now.

Bill Alberti is senior vice president at Communispace. Follow him on Twitter at @billalberti.