Connecting with culture through partnerships: 4 secrets to successfully engaging Gen Z

Young people with arms raised

There is more conjecture in the media now as to how Gen Z differ to their predecessors, than we ever saw between their generational forbears. It’s hardly surprising given that Gen Z’s habits, preferences and interests are so intricately linked to a rapidly changing world where brands are no longer seen as interfering but culture defining.

From my experience working on partnerships between brands and cultural institutions looking to engage Gen Z, those that succeed have recognized that this generation is far more sophisticated in their world view than most brands have typically given them credit for.

For brands looking to engage Gen Z by operating in culture through partnerships, the road to credibility is fraught with obstacles as Pepsi and Kendall Jenner painfully discovered. Great examples of partnerships that have managed to traverse this successfully include:

  • Absolute Vodka and Stonewall, building on Absolut’s 35+ years of supporting the LBGTQIA+ community.
  • RedBull’s sorely missed Music Academy, which established an authentic role in supportof music culture.
  • Boiler Room’s ongoing ‘True Music’ campaign with Pernod Ricard, aimed at promoting lesser-known music scenes around the world to its huge global audience and reinvesting into them to support their growth.

As a 37-year-old, I regularly question if I am finally out of touch with youth culture and I doubt I’m the only one. What’s clear to me is that most of us seem to reach an age where we find it harder to relate to the younger audiences of today. They are the product of a different era and are fundamentally different to us. Just because we were 16-24 once, doesn’t mean we were Gen-Z’s once. We’ll never remember what it’s like to be them, because we never were them. Considering this, we must take a moment to really listen to and understand them but at the same time, respect them, age aside. Gen-Zs are becoming billionaires through tools older generations don’t fully understand and to that end we need to be collaborating with them on their terms, as well as ours.

With that in mind, here are four guiding principles we apply at tms for brands looking to successfully engage Gen Z through cultural partnerships:

1. Know your community and your audience. Genuinely listen to who they are and be interested.

This audience have a very fluid sense of identity that takes time to understand. They are often seen as being old before their time, family orientated, future focused, environmentally conscious, inclusive, mindful and having a healthy disregard of excess. For me, what sets them apart though, is their almost universal focus on creativity and personal growth in addition to a healthy desire to “get ahead” on their own terms. Brands looking to engage this generation should be considering how they can use their resources to help them grow both creatively and professionally.

2. Know yourself and what you stand for

Gen Z can sense contrivance a mile off. If, through a cultural partnership, your aim is to elevate and support them, make sure your actions and intentions resonate with your own brand’s stance first. From here, you then need to figure out how you can associate this position credibly with Gen Z culture or a particular aspect of it you’re looking to align with.

3. Support culture don’t exploit it.

Gen Z have a real affinity for brands that support contemporary culture. Their standards are higher than previous generations and they genuinely expect more. They want to see brands trying to make the world a better place by providing resources in areas and industries that need them. They don’t want to see brands simply making more noise and taking from culture without showing a true appreciation of its history or evolution to that point.

A recent project tms delivered with O2 Priority that has endeavored to listen, understand and create a cultural platform for Gen Z, is its partnership with No Signal a black radio station born out of the cultural void of the first lockdown that has seen wild success amongst Gen Z across 2020. Delivering a selection of masterclasses with prominent black artists, producers, song writers and broadcasters, the partnership’s aim is to create a platform for Gen Z to learn and upskill in these key disciplines.

4. Experience is everything

Gen Z have had the opportunity to engage with much richer and more immersive experiences than previous generations. The only way brands are going to get their attention is if they deliver something they’ve never experienced before, ideally with something they’ve never even heard of.

This is a cultured, tech savvy, highly opinionated generation, who know their worth and have voice. It’s important that brands wanting to reach them understand this and act accordingly.

This article originally appeared on Little Black Book.