The Gen Z Shopper & Participation Branding

I was recently reading an article on Inside Retail about a report on “Gen Z” by Fitch which really crystallized for me a tangible indication of how the face of retail is changing and an insight into how we need to change our communication strategies to suit – in particular around the concept of Participation Branding and creating ideas that make the most of our bought, owned & earned media channels.

Gen Z, classed as those born after 1995 are hard wired to be cautious of standard marketing ploys and particularly happy to browse before making an informed purchase. A key finding from the report for me was that they demonstrated a “real gap between seeing & buying” enabled mostly by digital platforms such as social media, search or price comparison sites. Essentially the Gen Z shopper can go through a long period of what they termed “Aspirational Browsing” where they may set their sights on products far in advance of actually making a purchase. As agencies this means we need to change the way we communicate as the typical broadcast campaign based methodology is simply not going to be as effective in generating immediate sales with this audience and we need to be present across the omni-channel environment to take advantage of the long tail of our bought, owned and earned media online to ensure we get infront of them at the right time during this extended purchase funnel.

As they said in the report, “It’s all about keeping the brand and potential purchase front of mind during this extended aspirational browse period”. See the below diagram for a visual representation of this process, essentially digital platforms and connectivity enable the consumer to more easily discover, browse, buy and share then ever before.


The path to purchase for Gen Z. Source: Fitch

So how can we overcome or capture the interest of these people during this period of delayed gratification? We have to make sure that our messaging is spread across our digital brand ecosystem through our bought, owned & earned channels so that whilst we will have a big spike in activity across our campaign period, the content lives on so it will be there when and where our Gen Z consumer is browsing or ready to purchase. I recently attended a talk in which the idea of “Participation Branding” was presented, which reflects how we can change our communication strategies to suit this extended period of digital browsing. Participation branding was defined as the below:

“How a brand engages and behaves with consumers across channels and over time to earn their attention and participation through motivating stories and experiences.”

By weaving digital experiences into our campaigns we create an element of interactivity for our ideas which encourages participation by these digitally enabled shoppers. This means that we can actually harness this new shopping behaviour as a positive for our brands and use it spread our message across our brand ecosystem by engaging them through this period of aspirational browsing. In terms of our approach it’s simply just adding another set of tools to our arsenal on top of brand marketing & direct response in the form of social influence marketing:

Participation Branding

Brand Marketing

Direct Response Marketing

Social Influence Marketing

By ensuring we use media neutral ideas that propogate digital content and experiences across our bought, owned & earned channels, we start to rally participation and engagement in the brand which builds a digital trail of content or “brand ecosystem” over time. This allows us to take advantage of the long tail of this content by having it live on after the campaigns which means it will be there in the consideration set when the Gen Z shopper is browsing or comparing to make sure we are top of mind – whether it’s during the campaign period or months after when they are looking to purchase. See below a chart from the same presentation which shows how the spikes of campaigns help to build our overall ecosystem over time.

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 10.47.31 AM

Source: Heather Albrecht of Digital Connections Pty Ltd

It’s an exciting time to be in both the retail and communications businesses, the way people consume media and even the way they browse and shop is changing as fast as technology allows. However as long as we continue to create engaging ideas that get infront of the right people at the right time, we will continue to see results – some things never change!

Author: Alex Leece