TextNow, the free phone service technology company, has a corporate mission anchored by a simple idea, that “communication belongs to everyone.” The company and its app attract Millennials and Generation Z, in particular, with marketing that reflects that ethos. But what do these generational cohorts expect from a brand? What other attributes are key?
Here, Ken Willner, chief growth officer at TextNow, shares insights into what brand marketers need to know about these generational cohorts — especially in regard to social activism and being purpose-driven, and what it takes to engage them.
WWD: What are some of the attributes of Gen Z and Millennials that brand executives need to know?
Ken Willner: Millennials and Gen Z tend to get grouped together, but in reality, they prove to be pretty different. Gen Z is particularly purpose-driven, using their voice to talk about social justice issues and to try to drive meaningful change in the world. They prioritize authenticity and want to feel a connection to brands and influencers that enrich their lives. While Millennials have a short attention span, according to Forbes, Gen Z is four seconds shorter on average. You don’t have a lot of time to make an impression, so brands need to ensure that their messages are succinct and straightforward.
WWD: What do these generational cohorts expect from a brand?
K.W.: The key is authenticity. Gen Z especially has been bombarded with digital ads their whole lives, so we’ve found that highly targeted, one-size-fits-all campaigns don’t really move the needle. Both groups expect brands to be authentic about what they stand for and the social issues they choose to champion. Ad messaging needs to be congruent with the overall values of the company and brand, without pandering.
Gen Z also doesn’t like to be advertised at; they expect a value exchange where each party gets something out of the interaction. Gen Z tends to view themselves as influencers, they want to feel like collaborators with a brand and not just customers. It’s incumbent on marketers to create mutually beneficial partnerships with younger generations, and in return, you get a loyal, highly engaged audience.
WWD: What role does social activism and being “purpose-driven” play in these expectations?
K.W.: Social activism and being “purpose-driven” play an outsize role in Gen Z’s expectations from brands. The connection that Gen Z craves will come from companies with authentic and transparent ads that align with social causes they care about. According to a recent study we conducted, consumers most want to see authentic messages related to mental health advocacy (71 percent), public health and safety (66 percent) and sustainability (65 percent) because it shows that the brands understand them and the causes most important to them. Having a higher purpose is key for brands looking for engagement and loyalty from Gen Z.
WWD: What else should brand marketers consider when developing strategies aimed at Gen Z and Millennials?
K.W.: For Gen Z, their phones are an extension of themselves. With 44 percent of Gen Z checking social media channels hourly, brand marketers should focus their attention on a robust mobile strategy. Coupled with the fact that Gen Z and Millennials are spending much less time on traditional channels like television, it’s important to reach them where we know they are engaged. Between Gen Z and Millennials, marketers have about 1.2 seconds to capture their attention, so mobile channels are the perfect medium to keep it short and impactful.