Business Strategy

For established brands, Gen Z holds the key for future growth

For established brands, Gen Z holds the key for future growth

Can jumping on the Snapchat bandwagon help McDonald’s lure back younger customers?

In my latest post for MediaPost, I examine the fast-food chain’s plans to take advantage of Snapchat’s paid geofilter digital stickers—the first brand to do so. When customers visit any of the fast food chain’s U.S. locations, they can now add branded digital stickers to their Snapchat posts.

It’s not a surprise that McDonald’s is eager to do more in Snapchat. The global brand is in the midst of turnaround—a colossal effort to stop bleeding market share to fast-casual companies like Chipotle and Panera. To drive growth again, it needs to resonate with Gen Z customers, and given Snapchat’s popularity with teens, the move is a no-brainer.

Of course, McDonald’s is not the only global company that is currently struggling. While the economy and the job market are bouncing back, many established companies are seeing flat or decreasing sales. In 2014, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola saw lower revenue year-over-year. In the consumer goods space, Procter & Gamble recently brought back in its previous CEO, Alan G. Lafley, and announced plans to divest some of its brands.

In their efforts to drive future growth, these blue chip companies can’t afford to ignore young customers. That’s because Gen Z can provide brands insight on the trends that will go mainstream and the spending power of this cohort is already growing exponentially. Making a meaningful connection with Gen Z customers is a must for any established brand serious about a turnaround. These three tips should help companies accomplish that.

  1. Add diversity to your team.

You don’t have to look very far to see that many struggling companies have a diversity problem. A majority of senior executives and board members in these companies are in their 50s or older. Of course, it’s possible for somebody older to have great insight into Gen Z, but it’s less likely for a company to understand this demo if all the key decision-makers are more than two generations older.

Some established brands are already on their way to adding younger executives to their team. McDonald’s promoted Steve Easterbrook, 47, to CEO earlier this year. Easterbrook is now the youngest person on the company’s board. Similarly, Walmart just passed the chairmanship to Greg Penner, who is currently 45. The company’s board members include 39 year-old Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, and 31 year-old Kevin Systrom, founder and CEO of Instagram.

What these companies are realizing is that someone in the boardroom needs to bring the perspective of younger customers. It’s critical to have someone who intuitively understands the lifestyles, purchasing habits and motivation of younger generations.

  1. Engage with Gen Z often and consistently.

The behaviors of Gen Z customers continue to evolve, in no small part due to the ubiquity of mobile and social technologies. More importantly, the attitudes of this generation are also changing. For instance, more studies show that Gen Z is much more diverse and more entrepreneurial than older groups. Companies can’t afford not to continue to engage this cohort.

Lack of engagement with younger customers could hurt brands in a big way. An understanding of what the younger generations want from their food would have helped McDonald’s see the trend towards “fast casual,” for instance. To avoid missteps in the future, companies need a comprehensive, two-way insight program that engages teens—one that involves listening across social media as well as more structured, in-depth insight communities.

  1. Co-create with Gen Z.

If you’re treating Gen Zers simply as “consumers,” you’re missing out on important opportunities to really connect with them. The truth is that this generation wants to have an impact—they want to be heard.

To engage more deeply with this group, consider co-creation. This can be as simple as brainstorming new product ideas with your Gen Z customers, but in some instances it could mean giving customers the tools they need to personalize and customize products. For a recent example, look no further than McDonald’s, a company that recently rolled out a “Create Your Taste” program that lets customers customize burgers to their liking. Coke and Pepsi are both rolling out soda fountains where customers can create an almost infinite number of soft drink combinations. These programs are a step in the right direction—but a stronger insight program could have inspired these ideas sooner.

Conclusion

Taking marketing risks—as McDonald’s is doing with Snapchat—could help established companies reignite growth. But more importantly, turnaround efforts require an understanding of today’s empowered customers. It involves delivering products, services and experiences that will resonate with customers. Gen Z is the most connected and one of the most empowered customer groups, so companies need to prioritize getting closer to this group if they want to stay relevant.



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