Around the time the first wave of Generation Z was being born, I worked for a company that published branded magazines. One of our clients was a mobile phone operator. I remember being dismissive at the suggestion that we might create a magazine marketing to teenagers because why would they have a mobile phone anyway?

How naïve and dated that sounds now — in today’s world where, according to Influence Central, children are getting their first smartphones at the age of 10 and 50% of 12-year-olds have social media accounts.

Instead of making assumptions about what certain population segments want, marketers should ask and respond accordingly.
Instead of making assumptions about what certain population segments want, marketers should ask and respond accordingly.

Now, with a few more years and a few more jobs under my belt, Gen Z — those born roughly between 1996 and 2011 — are squarely in marketers’ sights. Not only do teens own mobile phones, but their devices and the platforms they have access to are central to their lives.

According to research by Gen Z-focused agency Awesomeness, 71% of teens’ typical entertainment consumption is via streaming, one-third of which is viewed via mobile. Fifty-eight percent say online videos are best for learning.

Notice the dominance of visual content. YouTube reigns supreme with this generation, with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat hot on its heels. It goes without saying content should be platform-appropriate as far as short or long form goes.

But what should you actually say? According to a recent Time Inc. study (carried about before the Meredith takeover), its got to be “new, unique, or creative” to get their attention. No pressure.

I think the key thing is to actually listen to what the audience has to say, whether through surveys, focus groups, or social listening. Even the best marketers can fall back on lazy stereotypes at times.

Take the commonly held view that Millennials are self-obsessed. When The Economist launched on Snapchat, there were plenty of folks who raised their eyebrows. But our own research showed us there were actually plenty of Millennials out there who are curious about the world; 72% seek out news media online, according to “Introducing the Gen-narrators” by The Economist Group in 2017.

Our Snapchat content is presented in a way that works on the channel, but it still covers world events — just through a younger lens, with stories such as “Will Trump Really Build a Wall?” and “Will Apps Kill Cars?” So far, so good: We have seven million views a month.

Younger audiences are engaged and discerning. Think about it: They’re having the best of times and the worst of times. They’ve reached maturity through a period of brutal economic uncertainty. But despite that, they have seen moments of positive social change, such as the legalisation of gay marriage and the growing acceptance of — or at least increased dialogue around — the rights of transgender people, to name just one example.

In my blog post last month, I cited a new piece of research from The Economist Group delving into the concept of economic purpose, namely that, as a business, not only is it possible to “do good” and make money, it may actually be a deal breaker for the lucrative new audiences we’re all trying to reach:

While 79% of Millennials would prefer to purchase products from a company operating with a social purpose, 87% believe it is “sometimes hard to tell if a company cares about a social cause or is just trying to sell more products/services.”

If I listen to what this insight tells me, it actually gives me great hope. Because to truly connect with these new, young audiences, it means that not only do we get to be creative as marketers, we will have to do it from a place of authenticity. And that can only be a good thing for everyone.