For a long time, back to school has reigned as a key strategic moment for brands and retailers to engage young adults during a significant happening in their lives. It’s understandable: projected spending for back to school is set to exceed $100 billion annually. Whether students are entering college life for the first time or returning, those first few weeks on campus set the tone for the year ahead.
After more than 15 months of lockdowns and remote learning, this year’s brand race to capture student mindshare is more competitive than ever. Gen Z’s lives, like the rest of ours, have been unbundled. Zs are now figuring out which habits, routines, and brands they’ll embrace as their “new normal” — and which they’ll switch up to fit their new situation or lifestyle. Now more than ever, loyalties are up for grabs.
Cutting through the clutter will require brands to look beyond back to school as a moment in time, and consider how to naturally integrate into — and enhance — the ever-evolving lives of students.
Some thought starters to meaningfully connect with Gen Zs in 2021 and beyond:
Be on-the-ground when and where Gen Z’s new routines, opinions and loyalties are being created. The best brands meet Gen Zs where their needs are, so let students tell you what they need. Restore Zs’ sense of control by empowering their voices and actions. Students want to engage with brands they can tell are listening to them.
Put students in the driver’s seat. The only way to show up in an authentic, relevant way that speaks to the unique 2021 college experience is by empowering students themselves. Give students the tools to bring your brand with them as they forge whatever new path campus culture is going to take. Otherwise, brands run a huge risk of missing the mark and showing up as out-of-touch.
View back to school the same way schools and students do: as the start of something. Back to school should represent the beginning of a conversation that lasts throughout the year, rather than something that wraps up and gives way to a totally new conversation come holiday season. Brands should speak the same language and follow the same course calendar as students themselves.
Leverage Zs’ trust in “people like me.” Young adults are open to learning new information about products; they’re just looking to sources beyond ads. And often that source is a “person like me.” In our own recent research, we found that Gen Zs are three times more likely to trust a product recommendation from a friend or family member than a traditional ad. Zs are straight up less likely to buy your products if they saw a traditional ad as their first exposure.
We understand that reaching Gen Z can sometimes feel like the Wild West — and this is especially true in these times as we navigate a pandemic. If you know you want your brand on campus but aren’t sure how to get started, hit us up. At Archrival, we have successfully activated programs on campus for Red Bull, adidas, Outdoor Voices and Spotify. We can help guide how your brand goals can be amplified through a human-powered approach on campus.