Uncertainty and financial turmoil created by the pandemic have stifled marketing efforts. But as Henry Ford once reportedly said, “The man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”
Smart businesses will heed these words because the COVID-19 outbreak has generated an unparalleled opportunity for brands to build consumer relationships as habits are disrupted and personal needs shift.
This is particularly true for Generation Z.
We are not talking about being opportunistic. We are talking about meeting the expectations of young consumers when doing so matters most. Born between 1996 and early 2010s, Gen Z—which represents 25 per cent of the Canadian population, not to mention $50 billion in buying power—has experienced drastic changes in their routines as a result of social distancing needs. Forced out of schools, this cohort is missing more than just in-person interactions. The athletically inclined are missing sports that were a big part of daily life. Meanwhile, many momentous milestones including proms and graduation ceremonies have been sacrificed, at least temporarily, for the greater good.
In order to understand how these consumers are responding to the pandemic, our youth marketing firm, Amplify Solutions, conducted a national survey that found that most Gen Z consumers are watching what is going on in the business world, with 67 per cent of them interested in knowing how brands are supporting their employees. Simply put, Gen Z expects compassionate responses. Indeed, 78 per cent of our survey respondents say they are more likely to support brands that make a positive impact internally and externally during this crisis. As a result, branding inaction today is as dangerous to an enterprise’s future as worrying more about balance sheets than people.
There is no better way to engage and market to these consumers than creating and executing a plan to support your employees and the community at large. Align your plan with your company’s values and support the team that has helped build your brand. Gen Z is watching and waiting for action. But companies should also consider this cohort’s unique challenges and concerns about the post-pandemic world outlook.
Struggling to keep spirits up, Gen Z is almost universally seeking ways to feel more connected and find deeper engagement amongst peers, with increased time spent on live streaming platforms. The crisis has also amplified this generation’s future-focused nature. Facing a hyper-competitive job market, many in this cohort are working to build a second stream of income and/or become more employable. According to our research, 76 per cent are using pandemic time to learn new skills that will help them personally and professionally.
Simply put, smart brands will creatively provide practical and tangible support as Gen Z adapts, seeks comfort, and plans for the future.
“When people are drowning, we do not sell them a course on how to swim. Instead, we throw them a rope, help them out of the water, and make them feel safe on land. These people will then be much more open to buying swimming lessons once back on their feet.”
But keep in mind that the virus outbreak has stressed these consumers immensely. As they long for social engagement and deal with increased financial concerns and decreased physical activity at the same time, many face significant mental health struggles. According to our survey, anxiety and depression have increased by 17 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively.
When people are drowning, we do not sell them a course on how to swim. Instead, we throw them a rope, help them out of the water, and make them feel safe on land. These people will then be much more open to buying swimming lessons once back on their feet. So, while reaching out to Gen Z today, aim to add value, not make a quick sale. The primary intention should be offering support today. The secondary intention is building a relationship that Gen Z can appreciate when back on their feet.
The eventual recovery will also bring relationship-building opportunities, as Gen Z will quickly (but cautiously) strive to make up for lost time. These consumers will look for new ways to stay healthy, happy, and hygienic while seeking stimulating peer-to-peer interactions without large crowds. And smart brands will help these consumers build new routines that can help fill the void created by missed milestones and the new normal while continuing to support employees and the community.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 will impact how consumers interact with brands. In the future, whether you’re a coffee company or an educational-technology venture, Gen Z will be more inclined than ever to try new products or services. But when shopping around, they will gravitate toward companies that played a positive role during the quarantine and helped consumers rebuild routines.
In other words, when consumers have been forced to stop the clock on their lives, brands should be investing for when time moves on.