Singapore businesses must engage with Gen Z consumers

With high expectations and short attention spans, this group of digital natives will become a larger focus in the coming years as they grow in spending power

WITH different influences shaping their attitudes and values, how do young Singaporeans under 20, or "Gen Z", respond to advertising and what should businesses be doing to ensure they connect with them?

Singaporeans are some of the most connected people on the planet. With superfast Internet speeds and smartphone penetration levels of more than 100 per cent, they are the digital veterans of the region.

The latest Connected Life study reveals that Singaporeans spend 6.7 hours a day online, a lot of this time spent on mobile devices. Members of Gen Z, who have grown up with this technology, are particularly hooked. They use more than six social media platforms on a daily basis, constantly jumping between instant messaging, gaming and online video.

A new consumer group, a new business opportunity

This presents businesses with a seemingly huge opportunity. It stands to reason that the more time consumers spend online, the more chance to connect with them through advertising.

However, we can also see that Singaporeans are not automatically open to engaging with brands in this space. Only a third (35 per cent) say that they trust big global brands; more than half (51 per cent) have concerns about the amount of personal data that brands have on them.

People have experienced the intrusive nature of marketing and advertising approaches for a number of years now, and as a result, are cynical of how brands behave online.

Compared to more traditional forms of advertising such as TV and outdoor, digital advertising is viewed less favourably across all generations, especially among Gen Z.

According to our AdReaction study, pop-up ad windows online are unpopular among all generations, while Gen Z are especially frustrated by unskippable pre-roll that plays before online videos because they demand control over what they are viewing online.

With the advent of this truly "mobile-first" generation, businesses need to re-evaluate how welcome they are on screens and rethink their approach if they are to connect with younger consumers.

It is clear from our research that Gen Z are much harder to engage. They are the least receptive to digital ad formats and the first to skip ads that do not immediately hook them: over a second faster on average than Gen Y and three seconds faster than Gen X.

Building authentic relationships with Gen Zs

Digital advertising needs to evolve to ensure it connects with them, or risk being seen as irrelevant and intrusive, and ultimately having a detrimental effect on the relationship. So what can brands do to ensure they are getting it right?

The first step is to focus on making the right impression with the creative. Online video is one of the most effective ways of engaging young consumers - they watch 1.9 hours every day - however it needs to be approached carefully as Gen Z are the fastest to disengage and skip ads.

Marketers should move beyond aiming to land multiple messages and focus on the impression they want the ad to leave behind as a whole.

Secondly, tell a good story. Stories are a key strategy for engaging consumers with the real-life power of a brand, and too few brands use this device. However, our research shows that even where there is a story, more than half of ads still include explicit product or service messages, which leaves consumers disenchanted.

In addition, we know that humorous ads perform well among Gen Z, but it is hard to hit the right note, so businesses need to make sure they have targeted their jokes at specific Gen Z groups instead of trying to create something that will work across multiple age groups or countries.

Finally, get the channel right - and this means not forgetting traditional channels. Identify how and when Gen Z are viewing content and target to that moment. Identify the places where they are most receptive and using the formats they feel positive towards.

With Gen Z spending five hours every day on their mobiles, the opportunity for engagement here is high, especially using newer forms of digital ad tech such as branded filters or ads placed in games.

However, we found that while younger consumers watch less TV, they are more receptive to TV ads than they are to all digital formats, which means brands need to consider their media mix in order to optimise the marketing budget to secure maximum impact.

With high expectations and short attention spans, Gen Z are a challenging group for brands to target, but will become a larger focus over the coming years as they hit adulthood and their spending power increases.

Businesses need to start thinking about how to make a meaningful impression with this group through their marketing activity, delivering relevant, targeted content in a way that adds value to their busy lives.

  • The writer is group account director at Kantar Millward Brown in Singapore. She specialises in advising FMCG brands on the best strategic approach to deliver brand growth. She spoke about how brands can engage across generations at Millennial 2020 in Singapore last October.