Higher Ed. Media Strategy: How You Can Reach Gen Z Beyond Their Smartphones. Higher Ed. Media Strategy: How You Can Reach Gen Z Beyond Their Smartphones.

As we all know, Gen Z has grown up in a digital world, with technology at their fingertips from an early age. They see and experience the world in a different way than many of the marketers who are trying to reach them, and have lived most of their lives with a smartphone in their hand. 

Does that mean digital is the only way to get your school noticed? And if so, what’s the best approach? It can be challenging to know exactly what platforms will make the biggest impact and find the right media mix. Following are key insights for reaching the next generation of students across a variety of channels.

Reaching Gen Z through social media is an obvious choice: but context matters.

“We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it?”
Erik Qualman

According to Vividata – Canada Spring 2020 data, teens aged 15-18 were 16% more likely than the average Canadian to have accessed social media and 13% more likely to have used an app the day previous. No surprise there. If you don’t have a teen of your own, what might shock you is how much time they spend online, since they spend considerably more time online than the Canadian public at-large. For context: adults between the ages of 25-34 are about 32% more likely to spend 6+ hours online during the week. For Canadians 15-18, that likelihood jumps to 163%.

Higher Ed. Media Strategy: How You Can Reach Gen Z Beyond Their Smartphones.

When we look at the number of channels available, an hour here and there adds up quickly. It’s worth noting that TikTok was so new at the time that it wasn’t included in the study by Glacier/Academic (referenced in the previous graphic). It has, of course, exploded onto the social media scene, and even more so since stay-at-home measures went into place in spring 2020.

Since you already know where you are guaranteed to reach Gen Z, the bigger question is how to present your message. Yes, a 15-second video (or even better, a series of 6-second videos) works well on YouTube, but will a similar ad style or the same content keep them watching if it’s on SnapChat or TikTok? 

Likely not. Gen Z doesn’t want to be served ads. But they’re not likely to skip past content that feels organic, or content that fits into the feed they’ve taken their time to curate.

Which is reflected in research seen in the January 2020 study, Gen Z: The Culture of Content Consumption by Ontario Creates and VICE. Gen Z:

  • Are motivated by better quality (61% said so), better experience (56%) and convenience (50%) to pay for content, versus avoiding ads on free services (41%)
  • Are especially interested in internet culture/memes, humour and gaming
  • Are more interested in being “entertained” by content than “being informed”
  • Want ease of discovery. They look to social media channels like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok to find new content and to form relationships with the creators themselves.

Multiple messaging approaches can take a campaign from good to great.

Once you’ve got your strategy and creative approach ready, an important aspect will be A/B testing. That doesn’t mean you need two totally different campaigns in market – it could be as simple as a headline tweak, a different call to action, changing up images, or simply switching from static to animated ads. Testing different approaches allows you to see which tactics best engage your audiences (who are known for having the attention span of a goldfish). And you can adjust your campaign at any time, or in future flights.

So it’s important to monitor your engagements. At what point do you start to notice a dip in clicks, likes or shares? Decreases could point towards creative fatigue and can be addressed with updated creative or a shift in tactics. Fatigue can also be avoided and attention spans activated by ensuring creative is different on each platform, which gives the audience the feeling they’ve asked to have your ad appear in their curated feed. 

Movie theatre advertising: because teens love screens (not just the ones in their pockets).

“I feel there is no substitute for going out to the movies. There is nothing like it.”
Steven Spielberg

Teenagers live in an age where content is available within a few clicks on any chosen device. If they do leave the basement, where do they go? You may be surprised to learn that prior to the pandemic, teens aged 15-18 were 82% more likely to have gone to the movies within the past two weeks, and 66% more likely to have gone last week (source: Vividata – Canada Spring 2020). And while you may be thinking this data refers to video seen on the big screen, remember that theatres offer a variety of inventory options: digital and lobby signage that’s seen while audiences grab their popcorn, theatre apps such as SCENE, and of course, there are showtime and pre-show videos for the big screen. 

According to Cineplex, ad recall is 65% on showtime and 59% on pre-show ads, while 50% recall seeing an ad in the lobby. And since we know that Gen Z are going to the movies, we can geofence the theatre and retarget them later online. We can get as granular as targeting theatres during a huge movie release, especially when it’s a genre frequently enjoyed by this group: action/adventure, animated, horror and science fiction.

Out-of-home advertising: because life is lived in the real world (and selfies prove it).

“Oh the places you’ll go!”
Dr. Seuss

When we say out-of-home (OOH), the natural inclination is to only think of billboards. While this is correct, there are others. OOH may not be an obvious choice for the teen demographic, but it can be very effective. Public transit is a very strong medium for teens aged 15-18 (index 157 for using public transit yesterday). Seeing that stat may make you think transit interiors are ideal. But this is where we need to look beyond what the research tells us.

Regardless of age, most people on the bus, subway or light rail are glued to their smartphones. So placements like transit exteriors, bus shelters near high traffic pick-up/drop off spots near high schools, movie theatres and malls can be more effective. Corridor posters or station dominations near lines that offer high ridership will also ensure you’re getting eyeballs on ads before the phones come out.

Turn a list of tactics into a plan that delivers results.

So digital rules when it comes to Gen Z, and theatre and public transport placements help to reinforce messaging and increase campaign reach and frequency. But does that mean you need to be on all social channels, in theatres (as soon as they open back up), and on every transit bus there is? Of course not. 

As is the case with any campaign, a great place to start is journey mapping. Think about a typical day for your audience: where are they are going, what are they doing, and what are they thinking about while they’re there? Their device is bound to be in their pockets (if not in their hands), and throughout the day they’ll use that device to check a transit schedule, research, make a purchase, or get details about an event – and each of these have real-world applications and real-world media opportunities.

A final bit of advice: armed with this nuance, while you resist the urge to be only in one of the places your audience hangs out – also resist the urge to be in all these places, too. Context matters. Consider what you’re saying at each of these interactions and how your message fits into that part of your customer’s journey. Otherwise, you’ll be just another repetitive voice in their lives to tune out, which is something teenagers (in every generation) have always done best.

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