Executive Editorial Director, Charlie Cottrell, discusses how brands must grapple at the intersection of identity and technology in order to reach and engage with Gen A.
If you’re a brand desperately writing briefs to help you engage the demanding yet desirable Gen Z audience, hold onto your pants; it’s time to start worrying about Gen Alpha (Gen A). These are the kids born from 2010 and, like every cohort before them, will become the biggest demographic segment in history – 2 billion by 2025.
So why worry about them now? In 2023 the first Gen As will turn 13 and become legitimate profile-holding social media citizens. From Twitter customer service complaints to influencer marketing to live-stream shopping, we’ve seen how successive generations have used social media platforms to change the consumer-brand dynamic in their favour. This gives us two to five years to understand and prepare for how Gen A will change the game.
In fundamental ways this audience is similar to generations of teens who came before them – they are forming their identity, they want to be unique but also to fit in, and they’re deeply motivated by a desire to make the world a better place. But digital teens have had a different toolkit to grow up with. Technology has allowed them to create and express their personality unhampered by some of the barriers they face IRL, so whether you want to have wings or a bionic limb or be dripping in designer brands you can create an avatar that expresses the true you, and take off into virtual worlds populated by like-minded people.
It’s no shock that Gen A are so fluent in using technology to get what they want. This is a generation raised by the ‘digital nanny’. Growing up with gaming has taught them to be active participants in problem solving. Responsive technology encourages them not to passively consume but to actively co-create their digital spaces. They prefer to spend their time on platforms which encourage this creativity – such as TikTok, Minecraft and Roblox. These are the platforms that future-proofing brands need to consider now.
As Gen A emerges into wider society, they have the same expectations of agency. They’ve seen young people like Greta Thunberg, Emma Watson and Malala use social media to take centre stage in fields like science and social justice – and they believe they can do the same. To reach and engage with Gen A, brands will need to understand this intersection of identity and technology and to show up with a co-creation mindset.
No easy task. A brand’s identity is a considered thing, traditionally presented to the public with carefully controlled assets and guardrails. How does a brand manager protect their brand’s values, identity and IP, but also open it up enough to make it feel relevant to Gen A? This is the time to start experimenting, to answer some of the challenges before a demographic shift forces you onto these platforms.
There are a few different things you can try right now. You could look at creating environments where Gen A is able to interact with your brand playfully. This is the approach Clarks have taken with the Cicaverse, a stadium built within Roblox that offers games, points and prizes to users. In these spaces you could give Gen A a first look at products by translating them into wearable assets for customising their avatars. You might want to take it a step further and use this customisation behaviour to develop products in a digital space before they’re released in the real world. Vans and Gucci have experimented with this within Roblox and seen virtual product interest translate into real world sales.
When you’re thinking about how to engage Gen A audiences on social media next year, simple things like posting content that uses questions and polls stickers can help an audience feel participatory in a way that is still very safe for brands. If you haven’t already, make cultural and conversational insights a regular part of what informs your marketing strategies. Start from social conversations and build out from there. You can do this immediately through good community management.
To give you a medium to long-term perspective, dig deep into conversational data and start to identify the trends, movements and mindsets that are forming around communities you want to reach. To kick you off, here are three things you might like to understand about how Gen A thinks about brands.
While they’re not technically allowed social media handles yet, Gen A are already active on YouTube as both viewers and creators. 10 year old Ryan Haji has an audience of 33 million subscribers on the platform. In 2020 his channel Ryan’sWorld generated merchandise sales of $250,000.
Technology has made them more financially savvy in other ways too. BusyKid, a chore tracking and payment app allows Gen A to buy fractional shares in brands they love – Nintendo, Netflix and Disney top the advocacy list.
When Gen A are splurging, it’s on gaming. Gaming brands took the top three spaces in the Pocket Money Index 2021 report of how tweens spend their money – Lego remains their favourite brand but they spend most of their cash on in-game Roblox purchases.
To prepare your brand for the advent of Gen Alpha, your goal should be to get close and stay close to the communities they’re part of. Co-creation platforms are built around community. Brands who open up a feedback loop with Gen A will find it easier to establish and iterate a position in their digital spaces. If you’ve already built an engaged audience in social media, you’re well placed to pivot your thinking and tune into this new demographic.
This article was originally published in Creative Brief.