Born roughly between the late ’90s and today, “Generation Z” has spent their entire lives surrounded by technology; they’re the first generation to grow up with cell phones and without communication boundaries. Gen Z, or the “iGeneration,” is said to be independent, curious, and engaged. I hate generational stereotypes as much as the next Millennial, but now that a new batch of wide-eyed consumers are entering the scene, it’s important that businesses understand how buyer preferences will change—and how to change with them. Immersed in technology, the world is more of an open book than it’s ever been before, and the high school-aged group will soon be diving right in.
For huge companies targeting each new fresh face with a wallet, it’s clear why getting to know this generation is key. But as a small business, why should you care? For one, this group accounts for 26% of the U.S. population. Even if your target audience isn’t attending prom this year, it’s smart to consider who your customers will be in 2, 5, and 10 years. And even more so, it’s critical to gauge what cross-generational trends they’ll bring with them. Remember when you had to have a college email address to get a Facebook account? If you’re not a Millennial, probably not. We’re the generation that sparked the explosion of social media when we were in high school and college, and now, 10 years later, our parents are updating their statuses twice a day (and raking in more likes than we could ever hope for). How’s that for cross-generational impact?
Gen Z lowers the gangway for businesses that missed the Millennial boat, but to do it right, you have to consider your branding. If you’re thinking, “Why? I’m not Nike,” then you’re thinking too small. Branding at its most basic level is just the personality of your business. It distinguishes you from competitors and adds a relatable, human element that customers crave. If you’ve ever walked by a clever bar sign and decided to stop in for a drink, you know exactly what that means. We appreciate the ingenuity of advertising and often form steadfast opinions about a business based on the personality they’ve shown us. Of course, for corporations, that personality is usually carefully manufactured and loses some authenticity when put in context of the larger motive. But SMBs are in a unique position to gain customers and retain their authenticity just by projecting more of themselves than they’re used to.
The first step to building a brand voice is deciding what that voice actually sounds like. If you’re a one-man show, your personality will be much more clear-cut than a multi-person operation. If you’re a restaurant, you have more freedom than, say, a law firm. While considering these factors, you also need to take into account the personality of your clientele, and the personality of the clientele you want to attract. If they’re one in the same, then great—you’ve found your niche, and your list just got a lot shorter. But if, like most businesses, your goal is a cross-generational customer base, you’ll need to look to the younger generations that will set the tone for tomorrow. Gen Z may be on every social media site, but they also appreciate human connection. Authenticity won’t be lost on them, and in that sense, they’re the perfect small business customer.
1. Start connecting with customers like you do with friends. Stuffy ads belong on tissue boxes. Leave them behind. People like quippy, and if you can make someone laugh, you can probably keep them coming back too. (Same goes for dating, so I’ve heard.) This is easier than ever via social media, where you can mix original and recycled content to frame your own voice.
2. Consider your most loyal customers. What level do you connect on? If they love you for your quality, then be more vocal about the heart and soul you put into your product. If you’re all about speed and efficiency, don’t sugarcoat that. There are plenty of people that will love you for that too, but they need to know that’s what you’re all about before they buy in.
3. Novelty is your friend. What is the soul food spot with the line out the door doing differently? They’re probably wholly themselves, and they let their branding show it. If customers are coming to you for an experience, then give that to them.
4. Nail the visuals. Colors, typefaces, logo, and graphic style combine to form your visual presentation. This should carry through from your storefront to your ads to your app. Seal it up and make it recognizable. Consistency will work in your favor.
5. Don’t be afraid to share. Again, what you lack in size, you make up for in human connection. Remind your customers of the faces and stories behind the gig. Small is strong.