November 12, 2015

Gearing up for Gen Z: The #Selfie Generation?

by Renegade

HeadshotPattiGirardiEmailJust when you’d thought you’d wrapped your marketing minds around millennials, along comes Gen Z to really mess with your head.  Born between 1996 and 2013, the oldest part of this group is just now entering college, wreaking havoc with their multi-tasking mobile mindset and no doubt, creating huge challenges for the marketers trying to engage with them.

One such marketer is Patti Girardi, VP of Marketing with Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services, a division of Compass Group that feeds the students at 270 colleges and universities across the U.S.  Patti and I got connected through Incite’s upcoming Content Marketing Summit, where we’re on a panel together. And it turns out, she’s has had serious success engaging Gen Z with content — user generated content. Based on our conversation, we might just have to call them the #selfie generation. Read on to find out why.

Drew: I read about your “Where Hungry Minds Gather” program, which was designed to address the “unique attributes of Generation Z.” Can you talk about the strategy behind this repositioning?

Chartwells’ new brand identity positions its brand for the new generation of college students, Generation Z, which is replacing the Millennials on college and university campuses. With its extreme affinity for technology, Generation Z is described by thought-leaders like the Harvard School of Public Health as “over-connected, yet under-related,” and its work suggests that brands promoting high-intensity relationships will be the key to helping prepare this generation for the future. We looked at what we do naturally to promote high-intensity relationships — our dining programs bring students together and serve as centers of academic life on campus, for example — to arrive at our new slogan, “Where Hungry Minds Gather.”

Drew: How did content marketing fit into this program?  What kinds of content did you develop to appeal to Gen Z? 

Content marketing helps us stay true to communicating with Gen Z “in their language.” This group wants a story, not a sell. So our emphasis is on developing visual content that is quirky and playful, versus a more traditional sales-oriented communication approach.

Drew:  What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the content space?

Gen Z multi-tasks across five digital screens (versus two for Millennials). So we are always striving to tell our story consistently across multiple digital platforms.

Drew:  How do you measure the effectiveness of your content marketing activities and how have things been working?

We look at the volume of interactions (likes, shares, retweets, etc.). In some cases, we’ve been able to boost same store sales.

Drew: Is there a particular type of content that is really working well for you right now? 

Gen Z communicates in images: emoticons, emojis, video. Regardless of the platform, we emphasize visuals over text as much as possible.

Drew: How does social media fit into your content strategy?  

This group is really all about social. As the first generation that has always had social media and the Internet, this demographic does not differentiate between the two. User generated content programs are highly popular with this generation – this is the age of the selfie!

Drew:  What are the 2-3 key lessons you’ve learned when it comes to developing effective content programs?

  • Keep it short: this generation communicates in snack-size portions (when it does take the time to read).
  • Produce content that is sharable. If Gen Z isn’t sharing your brand, you don’t exist.