As millennials, we are the first generation to grow up with social media. I say we because I’m a millennial too, although, I’m old enough to have had a completely digital-free childhood. (yikes!) I didn’t spend my afternoons taking dozens of photos trying to create that perfect selfie and come up with a smashing caption, although, considering what I ended up doing for a living, it wouldn’t have hurt.
I spent it building pebble-decorated mud cakes, playing hide & go seek with a street full of loud kids and getting handed my lunch by my grandmother over the window sill. We didn’t care that our hair looked like a rat’s nest, that our clothes had gotten so dusty we got a good talking to from our parents. We had fun and we didn’t care what that looked like. Teens and young adults today often do. They are so painfully aware of their self-image and start building their personal brands before they even know what that means. Today we’re talking about what the iGeneration or Post-Millennials can teach us about personal branding.
Head over heels with branding
I don’t know if they have a better sense of aesthetics, they’re better at mimicry or, having grown up with a smartphone in one hand and a tablet in the other, they’ve simply taken onboard that branding is so, so important. You know, the tune we’ve been playing for the past decade.
Where we still struggle with convincing brands to stick to their brand manuals or even build one, defining an aesthetic or signature look is something Gen Z tends to pick up naturally. I’m not saying they do it very well but they seem to pick up and hang on to elements of their looks or behaviour which have brought them into the spotlight, which makes it a lot easier for marketers to create a clear identity and an effective communication strategy.
Know for he full glam, beaming highlighted look, makeup artist and beauty blogger Nikkie de Jager, has put together a well-rounded personal brand and she’s brought those elements into the collaborations she’s been part of. Her Power of Makeup video went viral back in 2015 and her openness about the transformational power of makeup carries through in all of her content. Her communication is consistent and personal, which makes it easier for her to connect with fellow iGens.
Takeaway: While visuals play a very important part in branding yourself, identity is about personality traits, beliefs, attitudes and communication. You do need to make sure they are all in harmony with your visual aesthetics but, more importantly, that they are accurately reflected in everything you do.
Welcome trends with both arms open
While they’ve learned from Millennials we still snicker about that what goes on the Internet tends to stay on the Internet, making them more guarded and aware of their privacy, Gen Z’ers are much more present and comfortable on digital than they’re predecessors.
This translates into more awareness about what’s hot and not, and which trend train they can jump on to boost their own visibility. From epic fails to people reacting to GoT’s Red Wedding episode or Youtubers’ own videos (I never really got this one), Gen Z seems to be quite good at telling which type of quick and dirty digital content is likely to score them points with their audience.
Where some plan a piece of content for months and end up releasing it when a trend is fizzing out, as was the case with smaller companies publishing Harlem Shake videos weeks after they has stopped being popular, others roll up their sleeves, shoot, edit and publish, making sure they get a cut of the hype.
Takeaway: Digital is a very fluid environment, in which visibility depends just as much on coherent communication as it does on being fast about it. Your personal branding strategy should include how you can overlap a new, hot trend with your own brand and deliver content quickly.
You do you
Another tune we’ve been fiddling for years is the need for brands to be authentic and human in their communication. Brands may not have listened but something seems to have stuck with Gen Z. They are openly fighting standardised beauty, happiness and identity, using their own personal brands to deliver a positive message of self-love and acceptance. The fashion industry is arguably the hardest industry to break into, particularly if you’re not a standard.
Yet 19 year old Barbie Ferreira has modeled for brands like Outdoor Voices and Eckhaus Latta, and is an outspoken body positivity advocate. I really struggled with picking just one of her Instagram posts because her profile is such a wonderful, raw rendering of her identity as a model and regular person. Her posts include glam shots, covers, and professional photos but her profile is mostly about unfiltered reality.
Takeaway: With every year, social media is becoming more and more personal. Cold, distant language and rigid styles of communication are quickly fading away and brands that stubbornly insist on them are getting ignored. Personal brands, more so than brands, need to learn to not just incorporate a personal, conversational style of communication but build their entire strategy on it.
When I started out as a digital marketer, the top priority of every brand manager and owner I spoke to was establishing a presence for their brand on every single major social media network available. And forums. Everyone wanted to be on the forums. Those who either didn’t listen or had the misfortune of working with marketers who only do as they’re told, quickly found their resources were spread out too thin and their return on investment was next to nothing. In a knee-jerk reaction, many withdrew to a single network, maybe two, and they’ve been there ever since.
As Facebook’s little snafu with Cambridge Analytica has shown us, relying on a single social network might not be the best idea. Market research shows that 85 percent of Generation Z learns about new products on social media and they use different networks for each stage of their shopping journey.
Takeaway: We tend to think we have a lot more ownership over our social media profiles than we actually do. At most, they’re a rented billboard for our content which can be taken down or broken down by way too many things to maintain the illusion of control or ownership. Instead of relying on a single one, we need to branch out to other networks but we need to do so in a sustainable manner.
The Bottom Line
With a brighter outlook than previous generations, a positive message of self-love and acceptance, a more authentic and personal approach to digital communication, Generation Z influencers have embraced the Millennial YOLO mantra and are running with it. By embracing their open, fast and flexible approach to communication, we can go for miles too. It’s the kind of exercise that’s good for your physical and brand health.