Why Digital-Native Gen Z’ers Will Crave VR Done Right
As brands continue to navigate the complexities of engaging niche audiences across generations, they face a simultaneous challenge of what new technology or innovation to place budget and emphasis in. For a time, and even still much today, Millennials have been the subject of a somewhat convoluted love affair with brands – overwhelmingly influential, engaged, but also fickle and not particularly loyal. Understanding the generation’s media preferences and behavioral queues, mixed with their passions and ways of self-identifying continues to be a large priority for brands….but not the only priority anymore.
While brands and marketers grapple with Millennials, a far more influential group of consumers is not-so-quietly emerging, and they are the Gen Z’ers. Gen Z (classified as individuals born between 1998 and 2008) is more culturally, environmentally and socio-economically aware than their predecessors, and while still in their early years, they’re making waves in the way society evovles. In just three years from now, Gen Z will represent 40% of US consumer spending, and is positioned to become the single largest group of consumers worldwide, according to HRC Retail Advisory’s report, “The Emerging Generation Z Powerhouse”.
Much is at stake for brands who wish to stay relevant in the world of these increasingly intuitive and intelligent individuals, but like any successful relationship, the ability to build meaningful connections with Gen Z requires a nuanced approach. Gen Z’ers have proven that while they may have a shorter attention span than most, they are willing to take the time to explore a brand relationship if they feel an authentic story is being told, and that the story is not outside the bounds of what the brand stands for.
One way that brands have explored more immersive, connected relationships with consumers is through virtual reality. According to International Data Corporation’s (IDC) study, “Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker” 8.1 million virtual and augmented reality headsets were shipped to consumers worldwide in 2016 alone. By 2021, that number is predicted to grow to 60 million, reflecting a steadily increasing interest in the emerging tech. We’ve heard much about the possibilities of AR and VR, but even as we near the second half of 2017, there have been very few successful executions of these new realities that both add a unique value, and do not disrupt the consumer experience. But through clearly defined intention, creativity and precision in design and execution, VR can become the pathway for not only connecting brands and their followers, but bridging an experience more directly with buying, donating or whatever the intended method of engagement may be.
With all that we know and continue to learn about Generation Z, here’s why VR can be the key brands need to establish loyal relationships with this empowered audience (but remember, there’s no dabbling in VR, and certainly no dabbling in Gen Z!)
- Gen Z is the first true digital-native generation
Generation Z has never known a world without smartphones. They grew up in a more connected, more technologically sophisticated era than any generation to come before, which has critical implications for Gen Z focused marketing tactics. VR technologies like Google Cardboard, the Oculus Rift and Samsung gear have found their way in the lives of Z, with 41% having tried VR, and 12% that make use of it on a daily basis (Q4 2016 study of 300 Gen Z’ers by Sabre Labs “Emerging Tech in Travel 2017”).
As an up and coming technology, it might be enough to pique the interest of Gen Z consumers – but to really maintain their attention and establish a meaningful connection, the application of the VR must be done right – i.e., the storyboard, design, production and other elements must be high-quality and reflective of the brand. Remember, Gen Z’ers are quite the content curators themselves, and with limitless content experiences available to them, the quality of the VR experience must measure up, and likely even surpass their expectations of technology-oriented brand experiences. With decreasing attention spans, and more technology distractions emerging by the day, focusing on the storytelling aspect is where marketers can win with VR and Gen Z.
- Gen Z is more culturally and socially aware, and craves community connection
Understanding the multi-cultural perspectives of Generation Z is crucial for marketers, and in turn, the tactics used to engage them. Because they don’t like to be boxed into any specific categories or stereotypes, any experience that creates a demographic silo will not work with Z. Luckily, marketers can leverage this insight to build the right content experiences for Gen Z consumers, which in the VR world, leaves a lot of room for creative freedom and inspiration.
Gen Z wants to feel a greater connection with society, and more importantly, wants to feel they are making an impact. For a nonprofit organization, or a company that leads through corporate philanthropy, virtual reality can put Gen Z’ers directly inside the environments they are most passionate about – like a remote village in a third world country, or in a bee farm, understanding the importance bees have to the environment. When Gen Z can’t be physically in the experience, you can bet they will crave a connection with the causes, and that can be achieved through VR. For instance, take what Häagen-Dazs did with “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” or what Pencils of Promise accomplished through transporting donors and other viewers to a classroom in Ghana. These are the types of content that will positively impact the cause and community-driven Gen Z, by leading with emotional storytelling.
- Gen Z is experience-driven
While we know Millennials to be one of the first generations more interested in experiences versus “stuff”, Gen Z’ers are that much more interested in experiences beyond just the brand or the product. Virtual reality is becoming a unique experience like no other – at its best application, it gives consumers access to a world where they would likely not be able to go otherwise, and therefore connecting with and inspiring them to immerse themselves in this creative universe. While Gen Z may cherish a vintage pair of boots, or a bomber jacket from the Vietnam War passed down by their grandfather, they also cherish a memorable experience. And the more memorable the experience, the more likely Gen Z’ers are to share that with their social spheres.
As retailers continue to cope with the realities of the changing consumer landscape, there has come a necessity to blend technology with the traditional retail shopping environment. In March of this year, we saw Walmart make major investments in its newly created innovation hub “Store No. 8”, where it will explore applications of augmented and virtual reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence. For Gen Z, the store experience is still integral to the relationship with the brand, but retailers must figure out how to blend digital and virtual experiences with the physical world.