OK Boomer: Decoding Asia’s Gen Z

Whether you’re trying to “suss out” what this young demographic wants, or want to get a “vibe check” on their interests and behaviors, here’s the lowdown on how to approach Asia’s Gen Z.

Millennials dominated the Internet during its boom days, but Gen Z is the talk of the town now. For brands wishing to access this demographic, it can be convenient to apply the same digital marketing approach to Gen Z as they did for millennials. But the truth is that millennials and Gen Zers grew up in drastically different societal contexts and Internet landscapes, and the tried-and-tested strategies are unlikely to last long.

Eugene Choi, CEO and Co-founder at Los Angeles-based digital media company Collab’s venture-backed Asia spin-off Collab Asia, talks to Jumpstart about approaching Asia’s Gen Z.

Essential Gen Z qualities

Choi notes that Gen Z interacts with digital media platforms in a very specific way – their mobile phones. That’s not to say that they are the only ones to do so, but that they’ve grown up within the mobile media ecosystem, as Choi explains.

“Millennials and even Gen X, including myself, remember a day back when they were accessing a lot of these platforms, via desktop and laptop devices primarily,” he says.

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Eugene Choi, CEO and Co-founder, Collab Asia. Image courtesy of Collab Asia.

A McKinsey report notes that in terms of hours spent on their phones in a day, Gen Z surpasses Gen X by about two hours, and millennials by one. Being a mobile-first demographic means that Gen Z carries their entertainment and content creation tools with them. As Choi explains, this allows Gen Z to not only consume content but actively participate in creating it.

“That’s why TikTok is having a moment – well, more than just a moment,” Choi says. “It’s so easy to also be creating content and participating in the conversations that are happening on that platform.”

This has influenced how this demographic engages with brands, and what value brands can expect from them as paying customers. For instance,

  • They are greatly influenced by the popularity of the brand, and even the format of content (video in this case), when it comes to choosing brands and products, the report by McKinsey suggests.
  • Further, Asia’s Gen Z keeps an eye out for value for money, making price-conscious decisions and looking for the best deals online.
  • Social media is a big one for Southeast Asia’s Gen Z. 49% of them rely on social media to research brands, one report notes. But not just any social media platform – visual-format media such as Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok are best to draw them in.
  • Another study notes that 70% of China’s Gen Z consumers prefer to buy products via social media, in contrast to the global average of 44%.

But it’s not simply that Gen Zers are online more often than their counterparts. They engage differently as well. Brands need to consider how this demographic engages with content online, and what their expectations are.

Choi notes that Gen Z is a demographic that grew up seeing the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. Not only that, they are also entering adulthood in a politically charged and polarized environment worldwide, both online and offline.

Along with being financially aware, Asia’s Gen Z is also a socially conscious demographic, Choi notes. Gen Z has emerged in staunch protest against junta rule in Myanmar, for instance. Elsewhere Southeast Asia, their affinity with TikTok has propped it up as a platform for social activism.

The report by McKinsey also suggests that Asia’s Gen Z would like to see themselves as environmentally conscious. At the same time, they may not always be willing to pay for it.

Speaking their language

To get started, brands will ideally want to take a multi-pronged approach to reaching out to Gen Z on social media. A one-platform presence won’t cut it any longer – each social media network has its own purpose within the ecosystem.

Twitter, for instance, is where a lot of the political and identity-based conversations (and calling out) happens. Instagram is more a space for users to share their personal lives with their followers, whereas YouTube is about finding and binging on video content that speaks to one’s own interests.

Other platforms like Reddit and Quora are community-oriented, while LinkedIn is intended for the users’ professional lives. Things are a little different for Facebook, where engagement rates have been on the decline – the platform seems to be losing edge in the face of competition from visual media, including one of its own companies, Instagram.

Choi suggests that brands approach Gen Z outreach across multiple platforms and formats, going to the online destination where they are congregating, and paying attention to what they are talking about.

Secondly, in addition to being multi-platform and multi-format, brand communications also need to be tailored to the various sub-segments within the Gen Z demographic. There are several ways to go about this, including one suggested by the McKinsey study.

The study identified six segments of Gen Z consumers that were apparent across the APAC region. The largest segments are brand-conscious followers, premium shopaholics, and ethical confidents (consumers that prefer responsible and ethical brands).

The remaining three are value researchers (looking out for the best deals), disengaged conformists (those who don’t shop actively) and quality-conscious ‘independents’ (who prefer quality over price).

Choi suggests that brands watch out for the ‘tribe’ trends in these segments. By tribe, he means communities of consumers that have shared interests, such as gaming, beauty, or music, within each of the top three brackets. For brands, factoring in the actions of a community of people with similar interests can bring depth to their strategy.

For instance, it can tell them which platforms these communities or tribes are actively using (in the gaming community, for instance, this could be YouTube or Twitch), what kind of content they are consuming or creating, and who the key influencers are in this segment. With premium shopaholics, for instance, Choi points out that “what is premium to one group may not be to another.”

In other words, brands shouldn’t be going in blind with their digital media strategy. Keeping the various sub-segments and tribes in mind can help brands to tailor their communications strategy to the specific contexts of the sub-segment they are targeting.

But this is just one way of doing it. Choi notes that at Collab Asia, consumers are directly segmented according to such tribes. This then helps the company identify the right online touch-points to reach different groups of consumers.

Further, Choi adds that apart from carefully targeting their audience, brands also need to pay attention to content-based targeting. Approaching content without context in order to reach demographic targets won’t yield results.

“I think [brands] definitely now need to get more involved and see who are the content partners that they’re working with, and what [kind of] content their messaging is being a part of. That’s where a company like ours comes in,” he says.

He particularly highlights the role of influencers and creators in enabling brands to speak directly to their target audiences. He thinks of them as consultants, he says, who know their audiences best and can guide brands on what kinds of content work well for those groups.

And finally, as a word of advice, Choi suggests that brands keep a close eye on the growth of audio-based content in the region. Noting that Spotify has been growing aggressively in the region – Asia is a focus of its global expansion – and Clubhouse is beginning to take off in South Korea and Japan, audio platforms could be the next thing that creators flock to, taking their audiences along with them.

Too long, didn’t read?

A summary of Choi’s recommendations for Gen Z outreach is for brands to (a) get to know their audience better by segmenting them, (b) make content a focus of their communication strategy, (c) partner with content creators for more effective messaging, and (d) keep an eye on emerging formats in the region.

There are several ways to set about this and tap into the Gen Z consumer opportunity, but there’s no formula – a brand’s approach will depend on its unique strategy and target market.

However, the challenge is for companies is to build a communication strategy that resonates with Gen Z values without being self-serving. Authenticity is key to doing that, Choi says.

“What’s important for brands to understand is it’s not something that you just kind of dip your toes in… Brands are getting roasted for doing those kind of disingenuous campaigns,” he says.

Authenticity, straightforward as it sounds, is not so easy to achieve. For one, it asks brands to actually care. It expects brands to make decisions not entirely hinged on the bottom line. This is a reckoning in the culture of business decision-making and its impacts on various stakeholders that requires a change in perspective, not just process.

Moreover, authenticity requires one to look within. Even as a personal exercise, that can be challenging. For a company, especially a large company with many vested interests and moving pieces, introspection can be a Herculean task.

But authenticity is more and more becoming a need-to-have, rather than a nice-to-have. Brands that fail to see this may be miscalculating their long term prospects when it comes to Gen Z. “They see you being active, just like they are on these different platforms and part of the conversation, rather than just trying to insert your ad message,” as Choi puts it.

“I think that will come across as being authentic because that is truly the way to reach those audiences,” he adds. There may be many different expectations that Asia’s Gen Z may have from brands, but a common thread through all of them is wanting to engage with brands that are genuine, transparent, and responsible. For brands looking to reach this demographic, it only makes sense to start there.

Header image by Artem Podrez from Pexels

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