Analysis: Zoom's silent but unexpected love affair with Gen Z

Zoom edged out TikTok to become the top app by quarterly downloads for the first time during the second quarter of 2020. According to mobile app market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, Zoom was the third app to cross 300 million installs in a quarter, joining Pokemon GO in Q3 2016 and TikTok in Q1 and Q2 2020.

On the App Store, Zoom had nearly 94 million installs while TikTok had nearly 71 million downloads in Q2 2020. On Google Play, Zoom's installs jumped by more than 200% quarter-over-quarter to over 200 million, while TikTok saw a 9.5% dip to nearly 250 million from its high in Q1 2020. Globally, Zoom was the sixth most downloaded app on the App Store and Google Play. A quick check by Marketing found that Zoom has not done any aggressive marketing in the Asia Pacific region since January. Yet, this still enabled its app installs to surpass competitors such as Skype and Microsoft Teams during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement to Marketing, Derek Pando, Zoom's head of international and partner marketing, said:

The viral enthusiasm that happens once people experience the ease of use, reliability and innovation of Zoom has always been our biggest marketing asset.

"Prior to COVID-19, most of our customers were businesses and large enterprises that relied on us for internal and external communication around the world. Use of Zoom exploded overnight as the pandemic hit, and we saw completely new use cases to help users live from their homes, from education, parties, quiz nights, violin lessons, yoga, and religious and political meetings. We were taken by surprise as no one anticipated these use cases when we were developing the product," Pando said.

According to him, Zoom's popularity within the higher education vertical has helped it build brand love with Gen Zs. Gen Z values authenticity, personalised experiences and creativity, the company has found that simple and fun features such as virtual backgrounds or reactions in meetings and cosmetic touch-up functions allow members of Gen Z to express themselves and personalise their experience in a way that has resonated. It also gathered and told the stories of the many different ways Gen Zs and other users are leveraging Zoom on its microsite titled "Together On Zoom".

Ever since Zoom began to feel the impact of COVID-19 on its business, the company shifted as many resources as possible to helping consumers, including many of its marketing resources.

According to Pando, it became less about marketing and more about educating customers and new free users at scale.

For example, since members of its events team were unable to do physical events, Pando said Zoom shifted many of them to a variety of different initiatives that helped educate its massive influx of new users at scale. These included making how-to videos, answering questions on social media and creating many other types of content in many more languages, as well as dramatically increasing the frequency of its training webinars.

According to Pando, the company does not break down its marketing budget publicly but has traditionally used a mix of tactics and platforms to raise brand awareness. They include sports sponsorships to account-based marketing campaigns. It also had to shift how it marketed in the current environment and recently announced a Virtual Paddock Club partnership with Formula 1, offering guests a range of experiences including live updates and insights. Under the partnership, Zoom will provide an exclusive experience throughout the eight-race European season, and in addition, F1 will look to work with Zoom to expand the Virtual Paddock Club offering to its global partners and F1 teams.

As marketers at Zoom, Pando said the team tries to look at the different platforms where someone might find or experience Zoom and try to take as much friction out of the process as well as align with extremely targeted and relevant messaging. He explained that it is easy for users to find documentations on Zoom on its blog, as well as from other channels such as videos, chief information security officer panels and its "Ask Eric Anything" sessions helmed by founder and CEO Eric Yuan.

Ability to maintain awareness without aggressive marketing

In many ways, Zoom was in the right place at the right time, Nick Foley, president, Southeast Asia Pacific and Japan, Landor and FITCH said. Amongst all types of companies, there was a demonstrable need for a platform that enabled businesses to keep interacting with one another given the disruption of the virus. Zoom had the technology in place that provided the connectivity required to deliver the necessary interaction in an affordable manner. Additionally, the brand stretched comfortably across work and social, Foley explained, being able to credibly blend enjoyment and business.

Understanding that people interacting online is not only just about high quality and ease. Enjoyment and individualism, for example, is important in business environment, not only for casual.

The company was also able to raise and maintain brand awareness even without aggressive marketing by focusing on power users, i.e. individuals who are knowledgeable and skilled about computers, and early adopters, Andrew Crombie, MD of crombie.design said. According to him, Zoom effectively used them as a test product experience development and have been responding to them with genuine product improvements. Through this strategy, Zoom was able to create "an epicentre of credible, influential advocates" to trigger the waves of influence and recommendation.

"When the product experience is good and reliable, there is social power to be gained by being an advocate, and Zoom made sure these influencers would not be let down. Being a Zoom advocate and early mover had ‘cred’, versus promoting Skype or Webex, in the same way that early Apple advocates had ‘cred’ over the staid IBM users in the early days of desktop computing," Crombie explained.

Having a simple, evocative name also helped convey the accessibility and user-friendly perception of the experience.

According to Crombie, it is an onomatopoeic name that evokes performance, simplicity and friendliness at the same time, whilst being universally easy to say, remember and pass on.

Another area that Zoom benefited from was earned media, with all the press related to work from home due to the pandemic, Prophet's senior partner Jay Milliken said. However, he explained that it is a bit of a fallacy that Zoom is not an aggressive marketer. Even before its meteoric rise due to the pandemic, Milliken said Zoom was executing a solid marketing strategy. 

In 2016, the company rolled out a campaign titled "Video conference that doesn't suck", highlighting ways individuals can take a liking to video conferencing and avoid the hassle. It also touched on how Zoom can solve typical video conferencing issues such as bad video quality, easy user interface and the need for only the meeting host to have an account. Its other campaign in 2019, Meet Happy, featured some of the ways Zoom creates happiness, such as supporting its partners, volunteering and offering discounted pricing for the community, and enhancing its products.

"Zoom has executed a number of advertising campaigns but have executed these campaigns in a more local way instead of using TVCs. The company heavily leveraged OOH with billboards and digital marketing in addition to more targeted account-based marketing. Zoom’s digital marketing has used a lot of digital marketing, heavily leaning on social and SEM," he said. Additionally, the company has also invested in its user conference Zoomtopia, which is a good way to develop strong word-of-mouth recommendations, and has been active in sports sponsorship in the US and UK, Milliken said. The teams Zoom works with are Golden State Warriors, San Jose Sharks, Arsenal and Manchester City. 

Prioritising customer experience and a freemium model

A few years back, founder and CEO Yuan said from the moment it created Zoom, its main focus has been to provide a cloud video communications solution that would make customers happy. According to him, this focus has continued to guide its innovations, partnerships, and other initiatives. Earlier this year when Zoom came under fire for privacy issues, Yuan apologised in a blog post for falling short of the community's and its own privacy and security expectations.

He explained that the platform was primarily built for enterprise customers and Zoom did not design the product with the foresight that in a matter of weeks, users worldwide would suddenly be studying, working and socialising from home. Yuan explained that the company worked hard to actively and quickly address specific issues around incidents of harassment and privacy, as well as rolled out a guide for education users on setting up a virtual classroom. As of April this year, Zoom had over 300 million daily meeting participants.

Crombie.told Marketing that the most important driver of Zoom’s phenomenal success was that it prioritised customer experience over all other factors. Yuan was known for his intense focus on seeking customer feedback to constantly reshape and refine the product experience, he said.

"In doing so, Zoom created an easy-to-use, stable, effective high quality environment that quickly proved superior to the established offerings - Webex, Skype and Teams. It quickly addressed many of the gripes power-users found with each of these systems, and then raised the bar again on the experience. This bound them tighter to the brand," Crombie explained.

The company's responsiveness in constantly changing or adding features, creating virtual backgrounds to enable personalisation and"‘emotional ownership" of their Zoom identity added to customer confidence. So did its excellence public response to the security issues raised early this year, he said. Lastly, having a "freemium" entry-level tier helps brand neophytes get hooked on the experience before they are asked for their commitment.

When COVID-19 made Zoom the new office meeting room and office 'water cooler', conversion to paying customers took care of itself.

Agreeing with Zoom's ability to personalise was Landor and FITCH's Foley, who said people were immediately able to get their identity and personality across with the availability of beauty filters and backgrounds. Where one could not interact with real people, Zoom still allowed individuals to show off elements of themselves in creative (and filtered) ways. In addition to this, the platform created a more immersive user experience. Right from the start, Zoom offered more than the stock stand video conference which everyone was doing, Foley said.

With Zoom, individuals could see multiple people, split people off into groups or separate rooms and conduct polls, among others. "Overall, Zoom provided a much more enjoyable and flexible user experience that felt closer to the lives we’d all taken for granted prior to when COVID-19 hit and we all switched to working remotely," Foley added.

How brands can remain top of mind without aggressive advertising

While difficult to build a brand without advertising it is not impossible. According to Prophet's Milliken, the factors that make a business are quite simple but very difficult to execute properly.

"Create a great product or experience and be relentless about consumer engagement, which will lead to good word-of-mouth and ideally earned media exposure. There are some very well known and successful brands such as Zara, US grocery chain Trader Joe’s, Costco and Spanx that do not engage in traditional advertising or marketing campaigns," he said. 

Meanwhile, Crombie is of the belief that despite all the fads in marketing, success is and has always been rooted in the customer experience and that is usually dominated by the product experience. "Digitalisation has meant that there is more seamless communication or integration between the product and the overall experience. This means that marketers must think beyond the physical product to the overall customer experience, seamlessly linking the physical, the human and the digital aspects," Crombie said.

Creating the overall experience requires special thinkers and broader inputs of skills than advertising agencies alone can usually provide.

Also weighing in on the issue was GOLIN's president of Asia Pacific, Darren Burns, who said the current pandemic has accelerated trends that were already in play and the idea of earned-first has never been more relevant. During COVID-19, Burns said it has been brands that are perceived as creating value for their broad stakeholder set that have stood out. According to him, this could be by supporting working from home, switching out production lines or supporting key and front-line workers. Burns added:

Increasingly brands that create value create awareness - this is usurping the old paradigm of awareness creating value.

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