We’ve come a long way in celebrities marketing products. Remember when athletes or movie stars would slap their name on a product, giving disingenuous, half-hearted attempts at how the product they’re sponsoring has made their lives better?
Wait, you mean that’s still happening? Well, yes. In fact, just today I saw a television commercial with comedian and actor Kevin Hart promoting the Chase Freedom Card. Now, I have no problem with Kevin Hart, and this kind of marketing is at least moving in the right direction in that it’s playing to Hart’s strengths. We get to see him work his brand of boisterous, physical comedy, and you could reasonably believe that perhaps he uses this card throughout the day.
The problem is it’s not as effective a tool for the newest generation of buyers: Gen Z.
They’ll see Kevin Hart on TV, and may even think to themselves, “Hey, I like that guy!” But will they actually sign up for a Chase Freedom Card based on that alone?
It’s likely the answer is no. More than any other generation before them, Gen Z – defined by McKinsey as people born between 1995 and 2010 – rely on social media to help aid their purchasing power.
Think about it: the digital age is all Gen Z has ever known. I remember playing Slingo on an AOL dial-up connection in 1995; that felt like the epitome of digital at the time. I could play a combo of slots and bingo with people from around the world? How cool!
But for people born in 1995 (or later), that seems almost prehistoric. Since Gen Z makes up the largest percentage of people in the U.S. (26.54 percent), marketers that aren’t focusing on them are missing out.
Introducing an Era of “Communaholics”
The McKinsey report refers to Gen Zers as “communaholics,” which is a fun way to say they connect to different truths. There’s no differentiation between online and in-person friends. They’re more fluid with the communities they join, made easier by the rise of technology. And while earlier generations tended to drift towards people of similar economic backgrounds or educational levels, Gen Z looks for common interests or beliefs.
As a result, Gen Zers pride themselves on authenticity and having a unique style. That means there’s a tremendous opportunity for marketers, but it can’t be something forced. Gen Z can sniff that out from a mile away.
So, where should marketers be turning, if not to the Kevin Harts of the world?
The Rise of Nano and Micro Influencers
Social media is still a veritable goldmine for marketers but it will require more work. Nano influencers (users with roughly 2,000 to 10,000 followers) and micro influencers (about 10,000 to 100,000 followers) are on the rise, and they’re not stopping anytime soon.
As Gen Z Insights puts it, these are everyday people, “complete with class schedules, student loans and day jobs.” They’re not sharing their lives on social media because a company is paying them a million dollars to do it. They’re showing the products they genuinely use, love, and would recommend. It’s like they’re telling their closest family and friends, who just happen to be other people across the world who have similar interests.
Thanks to the digital nature of Gen Z, those followers may, in fact, actually be the influencer’s closest friends. And that’s a huge opportunity. Imagine someone you look up to singing praises about a product, and then personally responding to you when you ask a question about it. That’s a huge sense of trust, and you’re much more likely to check out the product.
An influencer campaign can have 11 times the ROI of a display ad, and that engagement generally increases with fewer followers, which allows for a more intimate, authentic message. In fact, some brands, like watchmaker Daniel Wellington, only do influencer advertising. Rather than spending millions on a celebrity or traditional ads, they partner with micro influencers in niches like photography, pets, and fashion. It helps reach a wide variety of people who may be interested in them.
Brands are even starting to experiment with “robot influencers” like Lil Miquela. With more than a million followers, she’s outgrown the micro influencer definition, but she’s still an interesting case study. Companies can essentially frame their influencers however they want, using AI, greenscreens, and all other kinds of technology.
Want your influencer to enjoy some wings while watching the big game, then need them across the country on the beach the next day? That could cause some logistical issues with a micro or nano influencer, but it’s no problem for a virtual influencer. While Instagram and other social platforms are just scratching the surface of AI and machine learning among its users, expect to see more of these “sentient robots” in the coming decade.
A Shift to Experiential Marketing
Working with micro and nano influencers can provide great results for marketers, but it’s not the only thing to keep an eye on. Gen Zers also like the feeling of inclusion. Pop-up events – especially if they’re featuring a popular nano or micro influencer – can be a fun way to engage with your Gen Z audience. The space allows them to connect with people with similar interests while also offering plenty of opportunities to take photos and videos, and to share their experiences across social platforms.
Experiential marketing is also a great way to capture content for your brand. Ninety-eight percent of consumers create social or digital content at an event. If hosting an event is out of the cards, you can bring an event to your consumers.
For the season five premiere of HBO’s Silicon Valley, the show partnered with Fooji to deliver more than 700 pizzas by hand and by drone for fans in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York that tweeted using the hashtag #Sliceline. The fictional pizza company is featured heavily in the show’s season, and knowing how invested Silicon Valley fans are, HBO saw it as a great opportunity to reward them. After all, who doesn’t love free pizza?
That’s the type of targeted, hyperlocal content we’ll see more of with micro and nano influencers. Their communities are small but mighty, and making their followers happy is a huge driver of their content.
Be Careful Where You Tread
This era of everyone being connected can be a boon for marketers – but it can also prove challenging if viewed the wrong way. Per the McKinsey report, Gen Zers are more likely to stop buying or spreading the word about a brand if it differs with their values. They’d say goodbye to brands that were macho (81 percent of respondents), racist (79 percent), or homophobic (76 percent).
One of the biggest follies a brand can make is shoehorning itself into a conversation it doesn’t belong. Every marketer should know about Pepsi’s blunder with Kendall Jenner, who appeared to stop a potential riot by handing a police officer a Pepsi. The backlash was immediate, with people calling out Pepsi for being insensitive and trying to capitalize on very real social issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Of course, if you properly research your micro or nano influencer strategy, you’ll learn who has a tone and voice that already align with your brand values. They’ll be much more receptive to working together, too.
Influencer marketing’s demise may be greatly exaggerated, but it’s certainly not the same as it was 10 or even five years ago. Gen Z demands more from the brands they support. It’s up to the companies to get their message across without sacrificing authenticity.