Gen Z: the content-friendly cohort

January 31st, 2017

Consumers may be turning away from ads, but all is not lost. A Millward Brown study shows Gen Z are the most receptive to content – as long as you follow their rules. Millward Brown’s Jane Ostler talks to CMA consultant editor Dominic Mills about content and measurement

Marketers without access to a mass-audience platform like the US Superbowl and a multi-million $ budget to match know that, in the face of declining ad receptivity, their future is about pushing a heavy stone up an ever-steeper hill.

The latest Ad Reactions study, published last month by WPP-owned research giant Kantar Millward Brown, lays this out in painful detail, especially in digital.

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But all is not lost, says Jane Ostler, its managing director for media and digital. “There’s a general shift,” she says, “away from ads.  But if you look at the younger generations [Z, X and Y], they are much more receptive to formats that we think of as content-led. This includes anything from branded events to expert reviews, celebrity- and influencer-driven material, and tutorial or guide material.

Jane Ostler hi res

“This group comes to very quick judgements about what’s cool and what’s good,” Ostler says, “and anything that gives them social status or that they can leverage with their friends fits the bill.”

Of them all, she adds, “it is Gen Z [aged 16-19] that is least open to traditional advertising – cinema and outdoor apart – and most open to content. And the profusion of new technologies – whether it’s live video, AR, chatbots or 360-degree video – enables many different types and formats of content to be produced.

“If you want the thread that links it together,” Ostler adds, “it’s that formats that are intrusive are less favoured, while those that offer control are more favoured.”

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Of course, members of the CMA won’t be too surprised by this. But, Ostler says, it is an issue for many CMOs. “Tech is moving so fast that CMOs have to realise the limitations of their knowledge. They need to understand it from an audience perspective, and then be prepared to experiment.”

To this end, Ostler advises that they roughly divide their budgets into three buckets – 70pc for tried-and-tested techniques, 20pc for new, and 10pc for next or experimental content and formats or new audiences.

Follow Gen Z’s rules…

So what sort of content should brands be producing for Gen Z? As one might expect, they lap up celebrity and social media influencer content, but they are by no means one-dimensional in their preferences.

Curiously, generations Y and X are less receptive to celebrity or social influencer content, suggesting that brands targeting across more than one age group should be wary of throwing to much (and too high a proportion of their budgets) at celebrities.

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As the chart shows, branded content that helps them get the most of services and products – such as reviews or tutorials – also scores highly. For brands in low-interest or functional categories – such as financial services – this may mean content that is useful is better than content that is entertaining.

But the real key, believes Ostler, is in providing Gen Z with content that they can influence in some way or interact with. “It’s very clear,” she says. “The more consumers can interact with content, the more receptive they are to it.”

Types of interactivity range from simple voting at one end of the scale to shaping the narrative, characterisation or story ending at the other. In between, there are multiple options, including sharing, co-creation and joining discussions.

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And while Gen Z consumers over-index on receptivity to content they can interact with, generations Y and X also respond positively.

…but don’t forget to measure

As one might expect from a company whose roots are in measuring ad effectiveness, Ostler is adamant marketers and media owners must step up their efforts to measure the impact of content.

“We see more interest in this,” she says, “but I understand it’s not easy. Content sits at the junction of a lot of different areas, whether it’s sales and e-commerce, customer service, marketing or PR, and so it’s possible that, at the client end, there are siloes and budgets that have to be brought together.”

She adds: “Often, compared with TV, content is a collection of lower-reach, lower-budget activities. But there’s no point in not measuring it. Measuring it is the only way to learn.”

Thus she advises marketers to set aside budget – perhaps from the 10pc pot that is for experimentation – for measurement. “It needs to be done leaner and quicker than traditional measurement,” she says, “and to find a way to separate out the effect of different channels.”

The best way to do this, Ostler says, “is to use the different channels in synergy, so each has a specific objective and, ideally, different creative treatments.

“The key things marketers should be asking,” she says, are: “Am I spending my money wisely? What creative is working best? And what could I do better next time?”

Dominic Mills, Consultant Editor, The CMA



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