Caution! Gen Z are cynics who don’t believe in your brand

by Advertising, Branding, Communications

We meet the most interesting people on our video shoots. A few weeks ago we interviewed a patient for a client in London, and we realised her expertise on brand authenticity — a critical factor for dental practices — would be gold dust to our readers. Ilaria Pasquinelli, who works at trend forecaster WGSN, kindly agreed to take time out of her schedule to talk to Fine Words.

Ilaria, tell us a little about your role at WGSN.

I am global brand and proposition director, in charge of the proposition strategy of any existing or new products; I am also responsible for the brand messaging and its alignment with our positioning as well as all global campaigns including the creation of creative campaign assets.

Authenticity is the single largest driver that creates the emotional connection people have with a brand. There’s a concern that Millennials are far more cynical about brand authenticity. Why might this be the case?

Both Millennials and Gen Z [the demographic cohort after Millennials] are cynical about brand authenticity. Both these generations were born and raised in periods of financial, environmental and geopolitical insecurity. They have been raised in a society where trust in institutions including companies has been decreasing steadily.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust is in crisis around the world. The general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, NGOs and media — has declined broadly, a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment in 2012.

In addition to this, both generations are tech-savvy and were raised with social media (especially Gen Z) that has given a voice to everyone and an opportunity to challenge companies / brands directly. For both of these generations, experiences and products alone are not solutions. We’re looking for meaning. And it’s this quest that is carving out new generational priorities.

What can business leaders do about it?

Business leaders should start from what the brand stands for. It goes beyond the financial targets and retail plans. They should be able to define what their purpose is and articulate why this is relevant for their consumers and the world out there. If you did not produce that specific product, what else would you do as a business to fulfill your purpose?

Consumers are increasingly asking business leaders to think how they can help solve the big societal issues. And some smart businesses are responding to that. Business leaders should listen and ask themselves how they can impact society in addition to shareholders. It’s not about sustainability like we would have talked about 5-6 years ago. It’s about relevance and how brands can stay relevant in the future by being useful and purposeful.

Then, if there’s a trust issue, brands and companies should adopt transparency as much as possible. This will definitely help establish a trust relationship with young consumers. It may not be easy for some very well established, big corporations but there are definitely some very good examples from young and small companies.

Everlane is a US clothing retailer that stands for quality products and radical transparency. The US online retailer Brandless combines convenience (very relevant for Millennials), low prices (justified by a very efficient supply chain) and transparency. Looking at interesting propositions, Calmbox is a wellness subscription service, a curated selection of self-care products that comes in the post. There is a new theme every month, such as meditation, stress relief or living in the present moment. This is therapy in a box. Or Depop is now the platform of choice for the See Now, Buy Now, Sell Now movement as these generations are very comfortable in not owning stuff. It’s been dubbed the eBay for the Instagram generation and with 4.5 million users in the US alone, an item sells on Depop every four seconds.

Should small businesses like dental practices worry about speaking with the same voice across all their customer-facing platforms?

Yes, absolutely. Every small business is a brand in the end and should absolutely decide how it wants to come across to its consumers. It is true that, after all, the dentist-patient relationship is what’s important for dental practices but it is undoubtedly also important that patients know what to expect when dealing with a dental practice. Who likes to go to the dentist? There are lots of nervous patients out there. Smart dental practices have an opportunity to map out the patient journey and touch points and find a way to turn a potentially stressful moment into an experience opportunity.

Private dentistry is fast becoming retailised, with an explosion in facial aesthetics. WGSN forecasts retail and skincare — is there anything dentists need to know about where these markets are headed in the next five years?

Some headline trends are:

  • According to Grand View Research, the oral care market is expected to reach $40.92 billion by 2025.
  • New innovations in dental care product development from startup companies through to big brand names are fuelling this growth.
  • Driven by the wellness trend, growing awareness among consumers about dental hygiene and oral health is also driving the demand in the oral care market. An influx of new product innovations is emerging on the market, with cutting-edge design and accessible price points that cater for everyone.
  • Hipster oral care:new products have the wow factor. Brushes come with built-in AI and the transformative texture trend in the skincare category is trickling down into dental care, with powders that change into a liquid.
  • Fashionable floss: dental flossing is the new cool kid on the oral care block. New startup brands tap into this category with modern and bright packaging and innovative design elements with sustainability in mind.

Skincare offers up some of the most exciting advancements in the coming years. Personalisation and naturals still form the core of the category, but how will these change moving forward? For truly personalised products, look to the menstrual cycle, with skincare routines set to be created based on each woman’s monthly cycle.

Toun28 offers a subscription skincare routine aligned with hormonal changes, sending fresh products that last the length of your cycle. Pheromones will also be key, with skincare and haircare emerging that tap into your natural pheromones, or add new ones, to heighten natural body odours in a natural way.

Tapping into our body’s rhythms and processes will be key to skincare regimes that are tailor made for you. For the natural category, we’re starting to see technology come into play. As demand grows, focus will shift from cultivating the land to growing it ourselves, with the emergence of aeroponics and hydroponics allowing natural ingredients to be grown anywhere, without the need for land or soil. In the future, expect consumers to be able to grow their own natural ingredients at home, creating a fully DIY experience that is completely transparent.

What are your top technology-related predictions for the year 2018?

2018 will be when consumers begin to expect technology like AI or AR [augmented reality] as part of their shopping journey and will have much less tolerance for anything less than a totally seamless consumer experience.

Artificial intelligence a buzz word as businesses really start to really experiment with how they can implement AI and machine learning within their businesses to both optimise the back end of the business and also create a more personal customer facing one. This will mean advances in visual commerce, but also dynamic websites that are able to adapt to the consumer’s preferences around which products are surfaced.

Augmented reality is going to continue to emerge as a key technology, particularly if forecasts for 900m AR enabled smartphones in the market by the end of 2018 are correct. AR will continue to become better at bringing products to life by visualising them in the real world — through make up on faces or furniture in a person’s home, but also adding an engaging layer to experientially focused retailers.

The emergence of voice-controlled digital assistants in the home will continue to be one of the key trends. Brands and retailers will need to figure out how they play in a space that is already being dominated by Amazon and its Alexa system.

What are some of the best ways a business leader can understand their customers better?

Observation is one I am a big supporter of and technology today helps us do that discretely, especially online. Look at your customer’s behaviour either in-store or online, be one of them, put yourself in their shoes, talk to other consumers and see what they say about your brand.

How has the rise of online video been affecting consumer behaviour in your experience and where is this headed over the next five years?

Inspired by the rise of social media and the ubiquity of the smartphone, mobile video is more important than ever. Creating compelling video content is essential to engage an over-stimulated Millennial and Gen Z audience. Consumers spend an average of 19.7 minutes a day viewing online videos on their mobile devices, compared to 16 minutes on fixed devices. The average duration of a top Facebook video is 1.5 minutes.

Mobile is an intimate channel, giving brands an opportunity to interact more personally and introduce interactive elements — but they must tread carefully, as not to disrupt the experience. Despite the shrunken screen, mobile commands a captive audience: Millennials are twice as likely to be focused when watching on a smartphone, compared to watching TV, when many multitask.

With traditional television watching on the wane, mobile streaming on the rise, and one out of five smartphone owners using mobile ad blockers, consumers are primed to receive quality video content. According to a 2016 study by content-to-video platform Wibbitz, of the 55% of respondents willing to watch 30 to 60-second video ads, 60% of them preferred to do it on mobile, rather than desktop.

Faster network speeds, improved displays, and the worldwide accessibility of sophisticated smartphones have led to tremendous growth in viewership of mobile video. Zenith Optimedia predicts digital video ad spend will continue to increase by 19.8% a year, eventually catching up with fixed advertising.

We’re entering a golden age of mobile video. Brands must adapt to consumers’ mobile behavior, rather than the reverse, to engage them in video content. The majority of video consumption is done via social media. Brands must rely on smart distribution, rather than drawing an audience in directly in order to make a meaningful and useful impact on the viewer’s life.

Attention spans are shorter than ever. Brands must find a happy medium between sound disrupting a user’s experience and a video’s message being lost in a sea of content. Since most video ads in mobile feeds are viewed without sound, it’s important to convey your message visually. Showing captions, logos and products can help communicate your message, even in silence.

Ilaria Pasquinelli

“Millennials and Gen Z have been raised in a society where trust in institutions including companies has been decreasing steadily”

Ilaria Pasquinelli, global brand and proposition director at WGSN

Author: Zac Fine