The Amazing Guest Test: Mind Your Manners and Make Gen-Z Love Your Brand

Opinion: Bring something to the table and you might find yourself invited back

Don’t show up empty-handed
Paz Ulloa

If you think about it, brands connect with Generation Z (and some of the rest of us) in the most unusual places—in bed, after a shower, at the gym and, yes, in the bathroom. Gen-Z discovers content just about anywhere—as well as the ads and other communications that come with it.

This presents brands with a paradox. Gen-Zers like hearing from brands. In fact, they are 23 percent more likely to interact with brands on social media than millennials. However, they are also much more likely to disengage with brands if they find them inauthentic or slow to reply.

In other words, they want marketers to be there, but only in the most appropriate and meaningful of ways. To translate that need into human terms, I like to apply something I call the “amazing guest test” whenever I’m concepting a campaign. I ask if what I’m thinking of will make the brand a good guest in an intimate space. If a young person is looking at an ad after waking up from a nap or if we’ve pinged her at a basketball game, will she be OK with it, or will she be annoyed?

It turns out that being an amazing guest on a device is not all that different from being one in real life. Great guests are at the least polite and at best interesting and entertaining. Poor guests drink too much, brag about their résumés and make off-color comments. Amazing guests are invited back, bad guests are not. So, how does this translate to advertising?

  • Don’t show up empty-handed: If you’re invited for dinner, it’s customary to bring a bottle of wine, some flowers or even dessert. Likewise, you can’t show up in someone’s feed or on their notification screen without some token of appreciation. Gen-Z loves deals, discounts and offers—and everyone loves a good laugh. And you can get creative, too. At Swift, for example, we did a campaign for Adidas on Instagram that served up clues hidden inside content—city coordinates nestled into National Basketball Association superstar James Harden’s famous beard, for example.
  • Don’t just talk about yourself: The hallmark of terrible guests is that they commandeer the conversation and make it all about themselves. Brands are often guilty of this, shoving themselves into our feeds with one-way “I’m so great” ads. A full 43 percent of consumers, and likely more of Gen-Z, would give companies their data if they personalized services in return. Gen-Z doesn’t mind if brands have their say, but that can’t be all they say. And if you do say something, try to take your audience’s preferences into consideration.
  • Abide by house rules: If we walk into a home where a family leaves its shoes by the door, we do, too. Likewise, to the degree possible, you need to provide content that matches or exceeds the beautiful, helpful things already in a Gen-Z feed. Glossier has built a global brand by being realistic and fun and exposing its entire company to its fans in an Instagram-friendly, back-and-forth way. This has resulted in a nearly million strong following around the world.
  • Make yourself useful: A great guest always pitches in on clearing the table or washing dishes. Gen-Z likes brands that provide value beyond the product. A good example (although not much used by Gen-Z yet) is AirBnB, which now offers “Experiences” in addition to lodging to help you explore a new place with a local person. Lowe’s has also stepped up its game with virtual-reality experiences that teach customers the basics of home renovation.
  • Send a thank-you note: Sadly, writing thank-you notes has become a lost art, but it’s one that brands should relearn. Staying in touch and showing gratitude after an interaction shows consumers that you understand them and are not merely there for a transaction. Brands like health company Ritual have made their unboxing experience a surprise-and-delight moment worthy of social sharing. Not only does it deliver your vitamins, but it also includes clever stickers and a “21-Day Challenge” calendar to make your healthy habit stick.

The current landscape for reaching Gen Z is complicated, for sure. With new technologies and a wealth of sometimes-contradictory data, it helps to have simple rules of thumb to guide content creation. Right now, Gen-Z is bringing us into their most personal moments and intimate settings. While we’re there, the task is simple: Be an amazing guest, bring something to the table and you might find yourself invited back again and again.

Rick Albano is executive creative director at strategic creative agency Swift.