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Gen Z Influencer Playbook: Are you focusing on what they care about most?

In the 80’s we saw the rise of TV ads, while the 90’s introduced us to email, and the early 2000’s brought us paid search and social. 

In today’s marketing playbook, we see the ever-changing world of influencer marketing.

Implementing paid influencers has become a major lever within brands’ media mixes. In fact, 92 percent of marketing agencies confirmed its effectiveness. Compared to hiring a creative agency or producing content in-house, brands can lean into influencer content as a means of showcasing their product through the lense of real users.

Influencer content drives the social proof your audience desires and puts your product in the context of their daily lives. Even better, it’s content that can fuel entire marketing funnels. Emails featuring influencer content drive an 11% increase in revenue, while influencer content in the form of paid social posts see an increase of 31% return on ad spend (ROAS) (via Curalate).

Given the rise of the influencer – celebrity, micro, and nano alike – we wanted to give brands an inside look at how one of the fastest-growing generations chooses to engage with influencers. We surveyed over 800 college students between the ages of 18-24 to better understand their opinions and sentiments around the world of influencer marketing.

A new player in the game (with deep pockets)

How does $29 to $143 billion in direct spending sound for your brand? We’ll answer. It sounds like big news and a need for a new marketing strategy. Gen Z is already on track to become the largest generation of consumers by the end of this year. 

College-age consumers and younger are already showing their spending influence, with 93% of parents claiming their children influence family and household purchases. So let’s be clear: a VERY significant portion of overall market spend is because of Gen Z.

It’s time to tap into this generation. Building out your marketing plan and getting your foot in the door with Noah and Emma of Gen Z should be a walk in the park, right? Brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Away have already seen major growth acquiring a younger Millennial demographic through influencer channels, so why shouldn’t it be the same for the up-and-coming generation?

Clout Chasers vs Inspirators: What’s Gen Z got to say?

Before you roll out that campaign, just know Gen Z is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to their “takes” on influencers. When survey respondents were asked “What first comes to mind when you hear the word “influencer”?” you’ll see it’s not quite that simple.

This generation of digital natives are a bit split (huge understatement) in their opinions of influencer marketing. Nevertheless, Gen Z continues to seek out and follow major content creators on channels like Youtube, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Twitch.

When posed “Think of an influencer you enjoy following. Why do you like their content?” many answers hit the notes of:

Gen Zers are looking for influencers showing their truest selves – real individuals with honest content. So for brands new to leveraging influencer channels in reaching this demo, it may be a bit of a challenge. Why? It’s all about their need for transparency.

Research shows up to 24 percent of influencers have falsely manipulated their engagement numbers. That’s ghost followers, inflated likes and the spammiest of comments to boost their “clout.” Gen Z notices, and as a brand, you don’t want to associate yourself with fake influencers, nor do you want to waste your ad spend on them.

And that’s just scratching the surface of where manipulation comes into play. Gen Z has been known to call out influencers for their blatantly uninspired promotion of brands. None worse of course than the 2016 debacle between Bootea and Scott Disick.

In their own words: “You’re not fooling anyone – it’s a paid post. You didn’t care about the product.” And unfortunately, you burned your rep with Gen Z on this one. 

It’s important to find an influencer who will not only appear authentic, but also be authentic. So what are your options?

GEN Z: Let’s keep it real

Influencers are still at play for Gen Z, but let’s keep one thing in mind: authenticity.

Our study showed that, above all other attributes, authenticity was ranked at the top of the list as Gen Z’s primary reason to follow an influencer (followed by how funny and knowledgeable they are).

And authenticity isn’t exactly a blurry line that your brand or chosen influencer can fake either. When asked if they could spot if influencers were authentic or not, 60% of respondents said they were confident they could tell.

The Gameplan: Recruit their peers

Gen Z’s inherent trust in brands has proven to be far lower than that of previous generations. They value insights from those from their own world – their peers. When the perks and privileges (and obvious inauthenticity) of influencers shine through, Gen Z turns a blind eye. And that’s opened the floodgates for peer-to-peer marketing.

Entrepreneur is calling peer-to-peer (P2P) the next wave of influencer marketing. For those new to the term: Peer-to-peer marketing is a method that involves customers engaging other customers through recommendations, and has made an obvious impact across college campuses with the emergence of social media.

P2P marketing offers an opportunity to shine a spotlight on your customers’ good experiences, using visual content to demonstrate social proof. Real consumer content gives credibility to your products, cultivates trust and fosters brand loyalty.

A study by CASSANDRA shows that Gen Zers are looking for narratives and content that have realistic endings (67%) and want to be engaged by real people, especially in advertising where they are nearly twice as likely to want to see “real people” rather than celebrities (63% vs. 37%).

For Gen Z, their peers are the most valuable resource for brands to leverage. There’s inherent trust there and with your brand attached, you’ve got an “in” to drive authentic awareness and sales for your brand.

*Study surveyed 800+ 19-24 year-old college students across 9 U.S. states and 21 universities. The results are representative of U.S. college students under the age of 25 (99% confidence level; 5% margin of error).

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