My fourteen year old cousin could not help but cringe when I unassuredly uttered these words while trying to convince him that I still knew what could be considered “cool” in his world. It was in this moment that I realised I had become merely an observer of youth culture as opposed to a proponent of it. We all may have heard or be familiar with the hit song “Man’s Not Hot” but that doesn’t mean we understand it or really get it– Come on, hand on heart, how many of us can say they know what a “roadman” is? That’s what I thought.
This is an issue of “relevance” or more pointedly, cultural relevance. In Adland a lot has been said of being relevant in social media. It’s deemed enough to tailor your content for a specific platform or tactically tapping into topical conversations. But this doesn’t fly with Gen Z, this unforgiving cohort expect you to do both. To get your share of their attention you need to be culturally and format relevant.
Gen Z were born digital and have created their own rules when it comes to relevance. Their cultural landscape is peppered with infinite nuances and intricacies that exists beneath newsworthy trends. To be relevant in their eyes, brands need to be fluent in their native tongue, be well versed in their cultural narrative and effortlessly adopt the forms of communications with which they are most familiar. In their world, trending memes are our popular articles and YouTube is their Netflix. Sadly, that does not just mean posting a meme. It means marrying format and culture seamlessly while meaningfully contributing to their lives in a way that shows you share, or at least understand, their view of the world.
So how do we avoid being the dad at the “disco”?
In terms of format, we need to go beyond abiding by the rules of the channel by unpacking the behaviours that unpin and determine best practice to get to the “why”. Culturally, we need to be relevant at a macro level (The Wellness Trend) and a micro level (The Running Man Challenge). Big brands play in the former and challenger brands typically focus on those fleeting micro “newsjacking” moments. The sweet spot is when you take a top level cultural stance but regularly inject your brand narrative with topical stimulus. However, when you are fuelling the cultural debate, you need to do it authentically. To do that you don’t only need to understand what you stand for as a brand but also what your consumers expect and want from you.
A brilliant example of a brand doing this well were the recent Playstation Gifs created by Livity. When young gamers talk about gaming they are heavily dependent on visual communication (emojis, gifs, bitmojis, etc) especially on dark social channels like iMessage and Whatsapp. However, there were no visual tools tailored for these game specific conversations. To solve this, working closely with their core audience to ensure both authenticity and relevance, Livity partnered with Giphy to create a branded PlayStation Gif hub to allow this young audience to better communicate with their friends.
At HeyHuman we help brands be more authentic by understanding what type of relationship people want with them to ensure they play with these cultural moments in a way that is true to themselves and aligns with their audience’s expectations. We talk about “active listening” and “adaptive agility” at HeyHuman and it is only through practicing this that we can remain relevant in the eyes of this next generation. On social platforms, we look closely at behaviours, mind-sets and need states at a granular level to create organic and native content, as opposed to merely trying to imitate common practice.
Ultimately, it is through a deeper understanding of Gen Z’s culture and preferred methods of communication that affords us a meaningful role in their complex social world. We need to adopt a holistic approach to relevance beyond a one dimensional view point based on format and social media analytics. We must do away with our assumptions and immerse ourselves in their world. We can’t just use their forms of communication we need to truly understand them.
Speak to one of our social listening experts here: