When people think of marketing and advertising, they often think of the world of Mad Men, where men in suits & ties sat around a table, figuring out how to push whatever was in front of them into the hands of consumers. Marketing back then was a one-way street: brands decided the product and the message, and consumers bought whatever resonated with them the most. Brands had to be personable, perfect, and sell you on a feeling of happiness you just couldn’t get from their competitors.
This notion of one-sided marketing occurs under the assumption that “consumers don’t know what they truly want” and it’s up to brands to determine what a consumer should want. This Mad Men-esque principle of heuristics has pervaded the advertising industry for decades, if not since the industry was born. Creating a campaign so influential that consumers subconsciously start worshipping the brand is a high that advertisers inevitably seem to chase—and on their quest to do so, they ignore one very small detail: actually listening to the consumers. This same assumption is probably why 99% of ads feel like noise: advertisers are too busy testing their psychological tricks they forget what exactly they are trying to accomplish. In other words, it’s like trying to go on a date with someone who only knows “hacks” from an “Alpha Male” guide they read and forgot they actually have to talk to you in order for them to get to know you.
With the rise of social media, things have changed. Brands evolved from being just personable to being like actual people. The ad industry is bett—well it still exists. But a new dynamic in marketing has emerged: a two-way street between consumer and brand. More specifically, there is a greater sense of transparency and conversation between brand and consumer, one that requires new ways of thinking.
This two-way street dynamic is incredibly insightful, but radically different. Only a few brands truly utilize it to their fullest potential. Unlike a customer service line or call center, social media is a direct line of communication between the brand’s decision makers and their audience, meaning while brands are now directly connected with their fans, the opposite is also true: fans now know who/where to go to when they have thoughts about the brands they buy. Consumers now have platforms for their voices, and they are enthusiastically using them—giving brands unfiltered, real time reactions and responses for anything and everything companies do. And with reviews, ratings, and other ways of communicating feedback, brands have no excuse not to listen to their users.
In this new era, Gen-Z in particular has shifted brands’ power dynamics. Given our unique demographics and relationship with technology, Gen-Z is more open to expressing themselves authentically online. The level of connectivity for Gen-Z is one that pervades brands’ pure data and research. There is more information out there than ever, and more diverse personalities, circumstances, environments, and other factors to consider that brands can no longer rely on select focus groups, surveys or polls to generalize a whole generation. It is a challenge that starts with Gen-Z, but will only get harder as we continue to move through generations. Brands that have tried the old marketing tactics have found that the “Gen-Z young” is a different type of “young” from “Millennial young”, and are thus not completely reaching us. The only option is really, to stop guessing and assuming what Gen-Z wants and to start listening to Gen-Z’s thoughts and opinions.
Brands can no longer be the experts: it’s apparent in all the failed campaigns currently being made. The 60’s perception of smiles and euphoria no longer fly. At the same time, it’s also no longer enough for brands to be a person. Brands need to be human, erase their preconceived notions of perfection, and talk to their audience as people, not consumers.