Youth marketing

Creating content that doesn't give Gen Z the ick

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
February 5, 2024
Last updated
May 9, 2024

What this article covers

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In 60 seconds…

  • Showing up in the right spaces and mastering your tone of voice is vital for capturing Gen Z's engagement, spend and trust.
  • Relatable, conversational content is the key to engaging Gen Z - they don't want overcomplicated corporate jargon.
  • Working directly with Gen Z is the key to success - after all, no one knows this generation better than them!

They grew up with a phone in their hands and can post a TikTok video faster than you can say “What’s CapCut?”. As digital natives, Gen Z are, in many ways, way ahead of their elders. And, thanks to this, a lot of the ways they communicate are way beyond the understanding of older marketers. 

This makes targeting the Gen Z buyer persona increasingly difficult - after all, how do you market to someone who essentially doesn’t want to know? 

This cohort of young shoppers is disengaged by obvious marketing and cringey ads. Instead, they want marketing to fit seamlessly into their scrolls and, ultimately, their lives. 

Understanding and mastering the right tone of voice for content and campaigns is vital for brands seeking to build trust and credibility amongst Gen Z, and in this blog post, we’re going to share how you can get it right. We’ll be highlighting Gen Z’s biggest content icks, sharing our top tips for success, and hearing from Mary-Anne Weeds, Social Media Executive for Pion’s student brand, Student Beans.

What gives Gen Z the ick?

So what exactly is it that gives Gen Z the ick? Check out our favorites below. 

The Millennial pause 

Ugh, Millennials. They paved the way for Gen Z, but that doesn’t stop these digital natives from rolling their eyes every time one appears on their social feeds.

It’s often easy to spot a Millennial on TikTok thanks to the short, apprehensive pause at the beginning of their videos. Not only does this make Gen Z cringe, but it’s also a crucial error - with only seconds to catch young people’s attention on the app, pausing is a sure way to lose their interest.

It’s worth noting that for long-form videos, such as YouTube, pauses and fillers add to the content - it suggests the creator is taking their time to think about what they’re saying. But when it comes to short form, edit these out for maximum efficiency. 

“The Gen Z version of the ‘Millennial pause’ is propping up the phone to record a GRWM or putting their phone face up on a desk”, says Mary-Anne. “It’s very hectic but effective. It also creates a ‘Facetime effect’, which makes viewers feel like they’re talking to a friend - it’s a great way to gain a TikTok community!”

Misused emojis and slang

Nothing screams trying to get down with the kids more than an awkward emoji. Overusing stereotypical Gen Z phrases (‘Slay queen!’ and ‘Hey bestie!’ come to mind) massively gives Gen Z the ick.

Our advice is not to emulate Gen Z, but to be you. If you use the phrase ‘slay’ daily, great, it’ll naturally fit right in. But if you’re squeezing ‘rizz’ into a sentence, it’ll be blindingly obvious. Focus on being the real face and voice behind the brand, not forcing pushing something fake onto your young consumers.

Being predictable 

“I feel like every Get Ready With Me I’ve ever watched begins with the same intro”, says Mary-Anne. “Lots of creators have picked up on it, and although it’s still effective, sometimes it only works with the creators we already know and love.

“The hook is a super important part of engagement - if you don’t hook your audience in within the first two seconds, they’ll swipe off! My top tip is to start with a better hook to your videos - that way, people will be intrigued to watch even if they’ve never seen your TikTok before.” 

Capital letters 

“Gen Z hate capital letters!”, Mary-Anne says. We know - it’s a copywriter’s worst nightmare. 

“Everything needs to be lowercase - it just looks cleaner and more aesthetic. So, for example, refrain from using ‘POV’, and instead use ‘pov’.”

8 tips to create content that doesn’t give Gen Z the ick

So now you know some of Gen Z’s biggest icks, how can you avoid them and create content that doesn’t make them turn away in disgust?

1. Know your audience

Gen Z is not a monolith: they’re a generation of individuals with complex interests and values, which means you need to do your research. 

By using tools such as surveys, interviews, and social media analytics, you can gather data on your community (more on this later) and tailor your content to ensure it hits the mark every time. 

P.S. At Pion, we’re experts when it comes to Gen Z data and trends. Get in touch to find out how you can stay ahead of the competition. 

2. Be human

Gen Z doesn’t want corporate jargon and complicated formalities, they want relatable, conversational content! To connect with this young generation, it’s important to put a human voice front and center of your content - let the marketer behind the brand appear and show some personality (innocent drinks are great at this). 

And remember: creativity needs to take precedence here. Think visuals, stories, fun, and emotion. Recent Pion research revealed that the most appealing type of marketing content for Gen Z is humorous (60%), authentic (44%), and inspirational (40%). 

3. Take the community-led approach

These digital natives love active participation, and they want a space for their voices to be heard. This is where communities come in. 

By asking questions, starting conversations, awarding loyalty, and creating real engagement, you’ll soon see a loyal cohort of shoppers and fans following your content. And, when it comes to creating content, you’ll have genuine, unfiltered UGC ready to go. 

4. Work with Gen Z

There’s nothing more cringey than a brand attempting to hop on every TkTok trend without really understanding what it is or what it means. But what’s the solution?

“How do you encourage your team to get in the Gen Z mindset? Put them in the room. Talk to them”, shared Platform 13’s Leila Fataar in our recent webinar, Think like a Zalpha. 

As Leila suggests, the most effective way to avoid this problem is by working with or being advised by Gen Z. By hearing directly from young people (remember that community we mentioned?), you can integrate their insights and ideas into your strategy instead of just assuming and, inevitably, getting it wrong. 

Joe and the Juice are experts at this - they jump on every trend, have a strong tone of voice and share videos of their Gen Z employees. This makes it easy for viewers to relate - they’re seeing people their own age! 

“Get as many Gen Z faces in your videos as possible”, says Mary-Anne. “Ask them what they want to see - I usually do this through CTAs (for example ‘Send this to your friend who ___’) to get Gen Z’s real opinions!”

5. Peer-to-peer influencing

45% of Gen Z are most likely to be influenced by a friend/peer, so when it comes to creating great content, peer-to-peer influencing is key. 

Identify and collaborate with relevant and relatable influencers who can endorse your brand and share great authentic content with their followers. In time, this will create a two-way dialogue - just watch the engagement soar! 

And when it comes to creating your own content, make sure you’re tapping into the creator mindset. One of Gen Z’s biggest icks is content that’s clearly posted on the wrong site, so make sure you’re not only sharing platform-specific content but that you’re also prioritizing entertainment and education above a hard sell (trust us, those conversions will come in time). 

Top tip: Boost your brand’s potential with Pion’s award-winning creator marketing campaigns targeted at Gen Z students: Student Beans Creators. We can help your brand to deliver authenticity with peer influencers through advertorial social content. Get in touch now to learn more. 

6. Quality, not quantity

Gen Z doesn’t want endless streams of content for the sake of it. This generation wants quality. They want well-written, well-designed, and well-produced content that’s relevant and engaging. We know - easier said than done! 

But, be careful: don’t mistake ‘high quality’ for the literal quality of a video. Gen Z doesn’t want to see a perfectly filmed, overpolished ad, they connect more with authentic content that looks like it could have been filmed by anyone, anywhere! 

7. Show up in the right spaces

Taking your content directly to Gen Z will ensure that you’re not only increasing the likelihood of engagement but that you’re also not wasting your resources. For example, 86% of UK Gen Zers use Instagram compared to the 44% who use Facebook. 

When it comes to engaging with a brand, email content is Gen Z’s format of choice, with 54% preferring this. However, in terms of direct advertising, 55% prefer a video ad; this isn’t wholly surprising when we consider the fact that 30% of Gen Zers trust creators on TikTok more than they do on other apps (Youth Trends Report 2023). 

@_darciebrown As a Student Paramedic with a big workload, self care is one of the most important things! 10% Student Discount at @Boots UK ♬ original sound - Darcie Brown

8. Don't overcomplicate things

One of Mary-Anne’s top tips is to keep it simple. “Explain what the viewer will gain from watching the video and make sure the viewer knows you’re making more of this content to give them a recent to follow - for example, if it’s a makeup video, create a series so people know to come back for parts two, three and four. 

“And, for whatever you’re talking about, use examples - I call this ‘trending adjacent’, so when something is already trending on TikTok, relate it to your niche.” 

Why Student Beans Creators?

So, how can Pion’s student verification technology, Student Beans, help you deliver authentic content to Gen Z audiences? 

Check out the highlights of our Student Beans Creators program below:

  1. We know the audience you want to target
  2. Outperform other influencers on the same scene - our student creators have a 104% better click-through rate than big-name influencers
  3. You'll benefit from a multi-channel campaign
  4. Benefit from an entirely bespoke campaign tailored toward your KPIs

Plus, much more! You can find out more about Student Beans Creators here.

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