Anastasia Pixler
Associate Social Strategist at Critical Mass

Jenna Studt, Critical Mass: "Employers and brands must be active participants in culture, sustainability, and social responsibility to appeal to Gen Z."

Critical Mass
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Calgary, Canada
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Gen Z is redefining the content and communications world as we know it through activism, authenticity, and social media. Jenna Studt, Social Strategy Director at Critical Mass, and the social team give us a glimpse into their humanized and authentic approach to data and insight when strategizing how to resonate with younger audiences.

 

In what ways are you leveraging new platforms and technologies to engage and resonate with the digital-native nature of Generation Z and younger consumers? Further, what channels and formats are you prioritizing and how are you adapting your content for these platforms?

One of the things we do really well at Critical Mass is understand where our clients’ audiences are, which social trends they’re indexing for, and how a given client’s organic social channels (among other touchpoints and channels) are performing compared with their competitive set. By refining our signals into audience and category insight, we learn how to engage with people through specific platforms, channels, and keywords. But this doesn’t mean we can overlook basic best practices or discount our own experience or undeniably popular trends.

When looking at the data and information when planning strategy, we must think of the audience first in every step of creating strategy. All of the tools are great, but unless you take that information and approach it from a humanized and authentic lens, you’ll never get anywhere—especially on social media.

 

How are you tailoring your messaging to align with the values and interests of modern consumers, and how does this differ from your approach with previous generations?

“Make genuine connections.” That's the challenge in social media, and it happens so rarely, even with the world's greatest brands. Many brands talk about it, but too few of them do it. You can see it on their pages and in their communities. They just aren’t engaging authentically, selling a story rather than telling a story and building connection. 

To make genuine connections, we have to be smart enough, sophisticated enough, and authentic enough to understand how to connect with an audience of real humans and accelerate a never-ending journey through a brand’s entire ecosystem. And for that, we’ve got three truths!

  1. A brand is a connected ecosystem of experiences, and social is the front door.
  2. A perfect audience for each brand exists in the world, and to understand them and invite them in, we need to use the world's most powerful tools, data, and platforms.
  3. Above all, we have to be authentic and relatable, because authenticity and relatability lead to trust, and trust builds loyalty.

 

What role does culture, sustainability and social responsibility play in your brand's communications strategy for engaging with younger demographics?  

More than any other generation, Gen Z is looking for brands that not only align with their personal values, but prove it through action. And it’s not just about what they’re buying, but seeking employment as well. Employers and brands must be active participants in culture, sustainability, and social responsibility to appeal to Gen Z. Full stop.

Gen Z is also redefining the norm in everything they touch, from their careers to communication to consumerism. What was once considered traditional and set in stone is now no longer the case. Taking this into account is crucial—you can’t rest on your laurels or make assumptions based on how things are “usually done.”

When creating content, the simplest changes can relate and stand out to the younger generations. For example, when planning a photoshoot, an easy change is to look for models who actually look like the audience you are relating to and showing households that are not traditional, white heterosexual households.

 

In what ways do you utilize user-generated content and interactive experiences to connect with younger consumers on a more personal level? 

For most brands, UGC outperforms regular content significantly. It’s authentic, and opinions aren’t being paid for like with influencers. Creating a consistent UGC posting program gives the online community an incentive to post content regularly, as it excites fans of the brand when they are recognized as such. Consumers are also 6x more likely to buy from a brand that features UGC because they trust it.

For interactive experiences, this builds a much more impactful relationship. It feels 1x1, which leads right to brand loyalty. That’s why community management is so important. Just by liking a user’s comment or responding, you’re giving them that personal, human connection that users crave.

 

Can you share any examples of successful campaigns or collaborations with young influencers, organizations, or platforms that have helped shape your brand's communication approach for Generation Z and beyond?

Absolutely! One example that stands out is Lactaid. While Gen Z is the next generation of lactose sufferers, the brand was struggling to find a presence on TikTok, with most of its younger audience associating Lactaid with something their grandparents would drink. By leaning into what Gen Z celebrates—real, relatable content—Lactaid was able to establish a relevant presence and connection on the platform.

Another very important point: be willing to take risks, which you can't do unless you've cultivated a strong, trusting relationship with your client. 

We’re not saying everyone needs to do a choreographed TikTok dance. We look for trends, platforms, and formats that make sense, and find the sweet spot between that and the brand.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of niche influencers and communities. This goes back to a brand’s authenticity. It looks more natural for a brand to integrate with a relatable person within their audience’s community than attempting to relate to a much larger audience.

 

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