Digi's Bernard Lee: 'Marketers tend to underestimate Gen Zs'

Marketers have always been stressing on the importance of authenticity. In today’s climate, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook ad boycott and Black Lives Matter protests, authenticity is no longer a concept that brands can merely talk about instead of acting on it. Moreover as more and more Gen Z's attain spending power, companies need to echo their sentiments on driving change and standing up for what they believe in. 

In an interview with A+M, Digi’s head of marketing services, Bernard Lee (pictured) said that marketers tend to underestimate Gen Z and dismiss them as trend followers but as digital natives, the younger generation is more informed than ever. A digitally-savvy Gen Z is more likely to look for additional sources of information to verify their news and will also seek out like-minded people on the Internet to rally around their opinions. This can be both a positive or negative thing – to have a strong community of supporters or detractors.

However, traditional marketers might also be reaching them on the wrong platform, he said. Quoting Meltwater, Lee said the top used apps for influencer engagement are Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. However, a majority of brands are still focusing their social media efforts on Facebook. “With 49% of Gen Z researching for information on purchases on social media, brands need to explore more visual media on the platforms where Gen Z are found,” Lee explained.

At the heart of it, Lee said that Gen Zs are a diverse group made up of very different personalities and interests so there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Marketers should understand the specific subset of Gen Z that they are trying to engage and modify approaches to best appeal to them.

For Digi, the telcos believe in the power of word of mouth when engaging Gen Zs. To target this segment and increase local advocacy, Digi has built strong relationships with content creators and welcomed them into the “Yellow Family”. “We also work towards weaving the voice of the younger generations into each of our key campaigns to ensure our messaging remains relatable and relevant to them,” he said.

Besides word of mouth, it is also understanding the importance of digital channels, allocating “a significant portion” of its media spend on digital platforms. Lee, however, declined to reveal specific figures.

While emerging platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat are of interest to Digi, Lee explained that the team is working to examine how these fit into its engagement strategy. As one of the early adopters of Snapchat, Digi in the past discovered that the audience was not aligned to its engagement strategy and it has since refocused its efforts to Instagram Stories. Similarly, for TikTok, the unique and fast-moving nature of TikTok content requires Digi to examine how it fits into its engagement strategy. “We want to respect the platform, what works for it and to do right by that and we are still strategising on the best content fit for the platform,” he added.

What authenticity and brand trust means to Digi

Today’s younger generation, especially the Gen Zs and Millennials are even more concerned about whether a brand’s values aligns with theirs. According to the 2020 Zeno Strength of Purpose Study, the younger generation is also most likely to champion on behalf of brands with a strong purpose, with 92% of Gen Zs and 90% of Millennials indicating they would act in support of a purposeful brand.

In the new normal, Lee said consumers are looking at brands under an added level of scrutiny, determining and aligning their affinity based on the brand’s authenticity, purpose, and values. More than ever, brands need to re-evaluate their purpose and ensure that their communications are aligned with their brand principles, Lee said. “In a highly competitive segment like the telco industry where products are largely similar, the affinity and loyalty that customers have with a brand makes all the difference. One way that brands can differentiate themselves from other players in the industry is by building customer trust,” he explained.

When asked what the idea of authenticity and brand trust is to the telco, Lee explained that it believes in connecting consumers to what matters most. Citing its CSR initiative Yellow Heart as an example, Lee said it is the telco’s extension towards its commitment to create a sustainable business that is responsible towards its customers, society and environment by reducing inequalities and creating a safer internet experience for all.

He added that the pandemic has been tough for consumers and they need to rely on more digital means than ever. Besides curating a list of offerings, such as free data and digitalisation boosters for businesses, to help them through these challenging times, Digi has also been supporting our customers through its digital channels such as MyDigi App and Digi Store Online. It also continues to reinforce its brand messaging with heart-warming inspirational stories such as “A Digi Promise: Connecting You to What Matters Most” videos, where despite these trying times, Digi will stay true to its promise in keeping them connected to what matters. Its Raya video, Menyulam Budi, also highlighted the selfless deeds of everyday heroes during the Movement Control Order.

“Brands need to remember that the aim is not just about selling a product, idea or service - authenticity and transparency with consumers is just as important because these are the key building blocks in nurturing trust and truly building a genuine connection with consumers,” Lee said.

He explained that in such times, it is vital for brands to constantly evolve and innovate to cater to the growing needs and ever-changing lifestyle of their customers. Building a brand purpose helps brands to focus on the fundamental needs behind their products and services and determine what benefits it can bring to the community, Lee said. Again citing Yellow Heart as an example, Lee said it operated initially as a standalone sustainability arm. However, as the telco realised the importance of responsible business practices, Yellow Heart has since evolved into its underlying principle across all business units, serving as a reminder for the company to be responsible in its way or work and keep customers at the core of its business.  

Factors to successfully build brand trust among consumers

While gaining consumer trust is crucial, maintaining it is just as crucial and Lee believes that it is the foundation of becoming a responsible business. “Always keep abreast of consumer trends to see how your brand can add value to the customers lifestyle and better serve the community. Maintain a relatable approach to your products and communication to humanise your brand and have your customers believe in what you stand for,” he said.

That said, while innovating to deliver relatable products is important, trust also begins with having the brand’s internal business process and employees reflect the values of the brand. According to him, marketers should ensure that there is a culture of operating in the highest standards of integrity, transparency and governance in the company and maintain the same standards across the supply chain.

After all, the people of your company can become the strongest and most reliable advocates for your brand.

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