Marketing to Gen Z: Insights and Trends
In episode 71 of Pit Stops to Podium, we sit down with Ziad Ahmed, CEO and Founder of JUV Consulting, a marketing and strategy consulting firm that specializes in Gen Z and Millennial insights. Join us as we delve into the world of marketing to Gen Z, including insights and trends that every marketer needs to know. Ziad will share his expert knowledge on the topic, including first steps for a young startup founder, social entrepreneurship, and how to effectively engage with the Gen Z audience.
With his extensive experience in the industry, Ziad will provide practical tips for young entrepreneurs looking to market their products or services to Gen Z. As a renowned speaker and advocate for social justice, Ziad will also discuss the importance of incorporating social responsibility into your marketing strategy.
If you’re ready to learn from one of the best, then buckle up and hold on!
Understanding Gen Z
Gen Z is not a monolith, they have varied interests and passions. However, within that diversity, patterns do exist. Their life has been marked by 9/11, COVID, and frequent economic turmoil. Therefore, they don't have a lot of trust that people are telling the truth, so companies that can cut through the noise with authenticity and honesty will get their attention.
"I think what Gen Z finds beautiful is what is true and what is honest...things that allow us to feel like we can, we are, enough."
How to Attract Gen Z Talent
Gen Z has grown up with the thinking that most institutions have let them down or lied to them in some way. Therefore, they are skeptical of the systems and status quos that exist. In the context of work, COVID showed that it's possible to have a completely different work experience than in the past, namely, working from home. Also, Gen Z sees a 9-5 work schedule (or more) in a company where you have no equity as unacceptable.
To attract Gen Z talent, managers need to not just be box checkers, but be willing to engage in the emotional labor that is required for tough conversations about reimagining has businesses operate. Also, companies need to refrain from dismissing Gen Z's opinions, even if they don't line up with the consensus of the past.
"What does it look like to reimagine the way we think about flexibility, transparency, ownership, and values?"
Gen Z's Influence on Product Strategy and Sales
Gen Z wants the easy, the convenient, the already prepared, but also the ethical and the thoughtful. Gen Z is most excited about the combination of utility and utopia, and products that are specific to their pain points. There's a real opportunity to build products with Gen Z in a community-oriented fashion.
Connect with Ziad
Brendan Tolleson: Hey everyone. Welcome to Pit Stops Podium, the RevPartners podcast where we talk to execs who competed and won in taking companies from high growth to high scale. My name is Brendan Tolleson. I serve as a co-founder and CEO of RevPartners, and I'm delighted to have with me today Ziad Ahmed for this edition of Pit Stops to Podium.
Ziad Ahmed: Welcome. Thank you so much for having me. Thrilled to be here.
Brendan Tolleson: Yeah, likewise. Um, so for our audience that may not know who you are or, or who JUV Consulting is, um, so I think this be a great opportunity just to give that elevator pitch of who JUV is and ultimately how you came up with the idea and got to where you are today.
Ziad Ahmed: Yeah, of course. Well, thanks again for having me. Um, so essentially my story begins, uh, in, in starting a nonprofit essentially when I was in like eighth grade built around social quality and social acceptance. And sort of through that I found myself in rooms that I didn't even know existed, uh, at a really young age, uh, where I realized how often young people were being spoken about but not spoken to, and that didn't sit right with me. And so my junior year of high school, I founded group consulting with this idea of being that I believe the world looks better when diverse young people have a seat at the table. And I believe the expert on any reality is the person closest to that reality. And so I started Drew, uh, as a junior in high school, and that was seven years ago. I'm 24 now. Uh, went to school full-time while, while running the business full-time. And essentially today we sit out, we're Refinery 29 calls, the largest and most popular Gen Z agency. And clients come to us to figure out how to better connect with and empower Gen Z. Um, and we help 'em do that through research, through strategy, through marketing implementation, and through bringing stories to life that hopefully, um, inspire hearts and minds. Um, and, and, and it keeps me. Fulfilled most days and busy all days. Um, and yeah, happy to, to chat about any or all of the above. Um, but yeah, CEO and founder here at JUV of 24 years old, calling in from New York City today. Um, and somebody with a lot more questions than answers, but happy to answer the questions that you have today. I'd offer whatever answers I can.
Brendan Tolleson: Yeah, it's not normal on this show that we're talking to a teen, somebody that started their business as a teenager, and I think, uh, would you, gosh, I guess you're a Gen Z speaking of Gen Z, is that is that a fair statement?
Ziad Ahmed: That's right, yes. And that's, and that's what the company's ethos and premises, right, is like we are Gen Zers, and the best way to reach Gen Z is by working with Gen Z. And so we are a team of diverse young people, including myself.
Brendan Tolleson: Yeah. Love it. Um, well, it's an important generation as we think about. Yeah, of course. The buyers that are now kind of moving into that market and ultimately the, to talent that's going to be recruit. So we'll get into that in just a second. But, uh, before we get into our big idea, uh, we do have a tradition here at Podium and that's to get to know our guests outside of work. So you shared a little bit about your, uh, origin story of starting the company, but really who are you outside of work? The idea of we're human beings aren't human doers, so what are the passions, hobbies that you have?
Ziad Ahmed: Yeah, I was just talking, uh, to my colleague Mia, about how like my cat is the, the, the thing that brings me most joy in life. So I'm a proud cat owner. Um, my cat is about to turn 14 years old. It's happened since I was a kid and she lives at me in New York City. I often think of my life as watching tv, being my static state of being and everything else, being a departure and break from watching tv. I truly love watching tv and then I love the hell out of my friends and my family and the people I get to spend time with. And. I'm a talker. I'm a people person. I'm a true extrovert. I get energy from other people and from spending time with wonderful humans. And so, uh, yeah, I'm a cat person, a people person, a TV person, uh, and, and a person talking on a podcast today.
Brendan Tolleson: What's the last show you binge watched?
Ziad Ahmed: Well, right now I'm watching this show called Extraordinary on Hulu. Um, and it's about like people when they turn a certain age getting superpowers and this gets girl who doesn't get her power on time. Yeah. Um, and so that's what I'm watching right now.
Brendan Tolleson: You've also got some fashion. I mean, the, the sport coat you, you're wearing, I feel
Ziad Ahmed: I, I'm not always this fashionable. I'm going an event tonight where they told me to dress festive. Um, so I pulled out a more festive look than I'm, than I'm usually wearing. Um, but I appreciate that.
Brendan Tolleson: I love it. All right. Well, you enjoy that, um, that, uh, event. But before that, let, let's talk a little bit about, we talked what, what your, uh, organization does at JUV, and that's really around the generation Z. Yeah. Um, and so I, I'd love to get your perspective. You have kinda a unique seat, both as a, um, fitting that generation, but also serving that generation. Um, as we look at kinda where, as I mentioned before, uh, you know, the new wave in terms of talent, but also buyers really is, is how do. People trying to figure out how to market to that audience. And so I think you provide that lens. And so, uh, maybe as we get started, just, uh, who is Gen Z? Um, and, and what should our audience know about them, uh, as we begin to think about how do we, uh, sell and attract to that audience?
Ziad Ahmed: Yeah. Look, well, gen Z's certainly not a monolith, right? There's, you know, billions of Gen Zers, um, that have varied interests and passions. But it's my job and I think our job as marketers to think about where are the patterns and where are the through lines, right? Within, um, that diversity. And I think that Gen Z, you know, the, right now at present, every middle schooler, every high schooler, every college student, every person entering the workforce is a Gen Zer. And our lifetimes have been shaped by certain events. Right. And you think about Gen Z's lifetime, you're thinking about a lifetime bookmark, right? By 9/11 and Covid 19. Right? And a lifetime of almost continuous turmoil, right? And subsequently, what you see is a generation that doesn't have a lot of trust that people are telling the truth, that people are showing up for them. And so a big part of what any leader's job is, is to restore trust, right? By being transparent, right? By being honest, right? By actually showing off. And so, I think that what Gen Z's looking for more than anything else is, I was asked recently in the interview like, what does Gen Z find is beautiful? And I think the role as, as marketers are, are, are storytellers, is often to shape the beautiful, right? Is what I think Gen Z finds beautiful, is what is true and what is honest, right? I think that what, what is what is most beautiful is that that gives us permission to be ourselves. That that gives us permission to not need to self-edit and self curate more so than we already are amidst a mental health pandemic and amidst right so much. Constant overwhelmingness, right? And instead, things that allow us to feel like we can, we are enough. Um, and so I think that there is a tremendous opportunity, and so far as our media ecosystems today to show up with messages that cut through the noise with honesty and with authenticity, um, such that it gives people permission to be themselves and such that you actually make people feel something, right? Uh, and, and I think that's, What our jobs are is to do that work. Um, and there is more media avenues than ever to do that, but it's harder than ever to cut through the noise given how oversaturated it's right. And so the opportunity then becomes partnering with the right folks to tell the stories that are actually true of mission and actually true of company, um, to cut through that noise in a way that pushes everyone forward.
Brendan Tolleson: Yeah, I, I think it's a really important call out that you mentioned, just in terms of the context. Um, and so what you've experienced informs like what you find important. And when you talk about the, the backdrop of, of course, whether it's 9/11 or even most recently with Covid, um, the, the anxiety you just described makes a lot of sense. And so, yeah. What, uh, gen Zers are looking for and need and want. Um, Is, is, is in relation to that. So, uh, let, let's talk a little bit further about that. When you mentioned, uh, they're attracted to, um, transparency, authenticity, uh, or some of those keywords that you'd mentioned, uh, when companies are thinking about how to attract talent, um, what are the things that they should be mindful of in terms of how they should position their company? The opportunity, the role. Yeah. Um, what, what's the right way to frame that?
Ziad Ahmed: Yeah. So as, as you mentioned, some of those moments, right, that I've really. You know, defined Gen Z um, 2008 is certainly one of those moments, right? And, and Covid is certainly one of those moments, right? And so far as I think Gen Z has grown up in a world where we looked around and seen that most institutions have let us down or lied to us in some way, right? And so increasingly we are skeptical, right? Uh, of the systems and the status quo that exists and where that's showing up in the workplace. Right. And I think especially coming outta Covid 19 when a lot of people were inside, right? And, and a lot of people were hurting and suffering in a plethora voice or a lot of people for the first time. Got to see what a different life looks like. A life where you're off the hamster. Go for a moment, right? And see that it is possible maybe to live an entirely different life, right? And to then ask themselves, okay then if that's true. Did I like the life I was living before? And I think for a lot of people the answer was no. Right, that a lot of the way that corporate America, that society has been configured doesn't actually set people up for success. The idea of working nine to five or double that for a corporation in which you hold no equity, right, for a corporation, you know, or a company in which you are not fulfilled by what you are doing for which you don't buy into mission or culture for 50 years. It doesn't seem that exciting to most people. Right. Um, and I think a lot of people are asking hard questions about how they wanna configure their lives and how it can be more in line with their values and more in line with, like, gives them joy and more online what makes them feel like they have ownership or purpose in what they are doing. And I think that the role of the workplaces today is to understand that those conversations are happening and you can't just object from them. We have to have them with our workforces, even if they're hard and uncomfortable. And what I always tell 'em, my, my clients is that. Much like on the part of marketing, it is the role to ask our why and to think about how we can manifest that in really true and honest and beautiful ways. We have to ask our why from a, from a recruitment standpoint as well, and ask ourselves, are we willing to show up for that with emotional labor, right? Because a lot of what being a manager today is not just like checking the boxes off a to do list during making decisions. It is doing the emotional labor to hear people out to listen. Right to transform and to reimagine the way the business is operating. And it's harder work, right? It's emotionally laborious and it's drinking, but it's necessary and it's worthwhile, right? And so what I tell my clients, you have to be prepared and build the, the resilience and readiness to have that emotion, to do that emotional labor. And then on top of that, understand that it is not fair or right to dismiss Gen Z's anger. Gen Z's anger is righteous. Even if you can say all day long, you didn't, when you were young, you just like sucked it up and did it. That doesn't mean it doesn't mean that it was right. That doesn't mean that it was good, right? And so I think increasingly understanding that it's not gonna benefit anyone to dismiss Gen Z, instead to hear us as a part of the conversation, do the emotional labor, and allow ourselves to do the hard work of reimagining, to think about, okay, what does it look like to build workforces that are political, maybe not partisan, but political, right? We talk about these things that work. What does it look like to reimagine the way that we think about flexibility? We think about transparency. We think about ownership. We think about values, right? To think about how do we actually build a workforce? That treats people as human and that sets people up for success. And that accounts for the fact that we're living in a world where people are actively questioning, um, everything, uh, but especially the workplace. Um, and so to build a new better one is something that we certainly challenge ourselves with internally. It doesn't mean we get it right. Right. We, we certainly are troubleshooting ourselves, but. Are probably a little bit closer to solving, and so far as we're having these conversations really openly and honestly and work shopping in real time with a really diverse and young workforce that's really interested in doing things differently and doing them better.
Brendan Tolleson: Yeah. I think it's, to your point, it's challenging status quo, but not for the, not for the sake of challenging, but really giving Gen Z a voice and saying, yeah, hey, we hear you. Um, and we understand that like you bring a, a perspective that we value. Um, exactly. So for tho those that may, to your point about clients, those are maybe skeptical. So if you, if you're a older generation Yeah. And you're looking to hire Gen Zers, um, that backdrops really helpful. Um, What do they get from a Gen Zer? Um, and so I see that hesitance, like there could be a hesitancy of, I don't know if I wanna deal with that, but what's the benefit? What's the value? Yeah, yeah. Uh, what do they bring that would say, Hey, I'm more than willing to do that because I get this in return.
Ziad Ahmed: Well, I like to ask you a question then. Um, what's something that's made you inspired recently?
Brendan Tolleson: What's inspired me recently? Yeah. I took. A week off last week, and it's the first time I have done that since I started my business. Yeah. Uh, and that was very refreshing and very interesting.
Ziad Ahmed: What did you do during that week off?
Brendan Tolleson: I was with my family and my three little kids, and so it was a lot of family time.
Ziad Ahmed: Yeah. And so what you find is that most people, when you ask them what inspires them, it comes back to youth. It was the fact that you spent time with your kids, right? Um, that perhaps you drew a lot of her inspiration from. And when you ask most people what is something that has kept them inspired or hungry recently, it is a conversation that they had with someone younger than them who allow them to look at the world differently and make them feel optimistic about our tomorrow. And so what Gen Z offers is, I think what has always been so magical about youth is the ability of young people to look at something and say, maybe it can be done better. Right to say just because it's been this way doesn't mean has to stay this way. When you know, like my nine year old sister looks at the world and says why, to a question that you never bother answering. You like realize that like. The world has conditioned us in ways to like not even see the full picture anymore. Right Into what Gen Z offers is. Expanding our aperture is allowing more people in and allowing us to see more colors, allowing us to see more of the world and to reimagine it in better in new ways. And so Gen Z offers inspiration and that inspiration comes sometimes with provocation. Yeah. Right. But that provocation inspires us, pushes us towards better, pushes us towards different, And that's where innovation comes from. And so when you think about what Gen Z offers, of course it's relevancy, right? Of course it's longevity, but it's also inspiration. It's also culture. It's also joy, right? Because I know like what I get inspiration from and there are, you know, like, you know, and I know running a business is a lot of hard days, right? There's a lot of days that are not fun and you don't wanna do this anymore. And then it's tiring and thankless and all of the, the things, but. What gives me hope, what makes me keep doing it is the amazing dynamic young people around me, right, who make me excited about our tomorrow. And I just came out of doing a session, you know, some college students came to our office to hear me speak for a little bit. They were doing a week of talking to our entrepreneurs and asked to come in to our office to chat with me. And you hear their questions, that you hear their optimism around what they can do for the world, and it makes you feel like then I can too. And I better too. And, and I think that's what Gen Z offers is, is, is Gen Z is a challenge to be our best selves. Um, and a shining light in a world that is, is perhaps too dark.
Brendan Tolleson: Yeah. I like that response. I mean, I think the, it's a good segue too. You mentioned relevancy, longevity, and then really innovation. Um, and so kind last piece I'd love to just get your perspective on is that idea of innovation. And so you're, you're bringing in. Um, a different perspective. That's challenging, that's questioning in, in a good way, not in a negative way of like why and what, what, what's, what's possible. So how does it inform kind of the, the product or the service aspect ultimately for the end user? Uh, I'd love to see it, you know, talk that to that further in terms of what, what does that really look like and, and what you've seen, how Gen Z can inform product strategy and ultimately how it gets sold to the end user.
Ziad Ahmed: Look, I think Gen Z is asking for a lot in terms of product, right? We want the easy, the convenient, they're already prepared. But we also want the ethical, the thoughtful, the conscious, right? And it is those that can productize and problem solve both of these things at once, that ultimately win, right? And so how do you create right? Uh, a user experience that is seamless? Right. That is also conscious, right? Uh, it is challenging, right? But I think that that is what Gen Z's asking for and I think those that are doing it are winning. And so when we think about like the products and solutions that we're crafting with our clients, right? It is when you marry something that has utility with something that has. Us moving towards our utopia. Right? Uh, that, that is when Gen Z is most excited to engage, right? Like Gen Z is certainly consuming, right? A a and, and certainly purchasing and certainly watching and certainly streaming. And we have a lot of critique around the things that we are engaging with. There's a lot of juxtaposition and contradiction between our choices and our behavior of experience. That's oftentimes because, uh, of the unique context that we're from, right? And, and, and, and the financial realities of this moment. But I think broadly speaking, There is a real opportunity to build products with Gen Z. And so you think of what that means in a lot of the upstart brands across sector that have been really successful. It is companies started by diverse young people with other diverse young people who are like, maybe this can be done better and differently and built so with a community of people who shared that pain point. And what I think brands can learn from that is like if you aren't building with a community in an actively cultivating community with your most evangelized, with your most modern users, You're gonna flop. Right? And Gen Z loves that word flop. Right? But like, if things aren't resonant and aren't community oriented, like that's not where we wanna be. Right? We wanna be around a community that shares in a problem and solves it together. And a lot of Gen Zers are showing exactly how that's done. And so building into your product workflows, not just like focus groups, but actually like. People that you consider collaborators, co-conspirators, were in building, right? As I think when things are ultimately can be resonant from a myriad of backgrounds. And so like we as a company are building a lot of communities for our brands of Gen Zers, whether they be creators or creatives, or. Influencers, right? Or entrepreneurs to actually be those co-creators, to make sure that the voices in the room of those you're trying to serve are actually included at the get of the building phase. Cause it's too late often when you're just like, Hey, does this advertisement land? And they're like, no. And you're like, well I already spent the budget. Right? It needs to be before even you green lit the ad, you green let the product, right? Like actually from the get building. Things that actually speak to, because why I started this business when I was 16, right? Is because I looked and saw that the delta between where adults thought we were and where we actually were was huge, right? And so including where we actually are and the pain points that we're experiencing such that we can build to solve and alleviate those is I think where innovation, like innovation should always. Serve alleviate pain point. Right. Um, that's where good innovation comes from. Uh, and I think that there's been a really dangerous conflation of innovation and progress of like anything new being good when it's really no. Anything new that is better is what's good, right? Um, but a lot of new things aren't better because they're so divorced from what people are actually experiencing. And so not just treating people as Guinea pigs but as partners is a big part of what JUV and Gen Z is pushing.
Brendan Tolleson: I like that. I think it speaks to some of the root cause issues you talked about earlier where when you talk about. Companies need be thinking about the concept of community around their proctor service. It speaks, it's that invitation. Um, for, from when we talk about ownership, there's invitation Yeah. To, Hey, we want you to be part of this and experience it and give us your feedback. And it also breaks down the barriers around, uh, trust. And so exactly. If you actually invite people in, allow them to collaborate and allow them to, uh, be a part of it, um, then it really creates that fabric of trust between, um, the business and ultimately the end user. Uh, so that makes a lot of sense based on we said earlier. Well, as we kind of wrap up, uh, one, one question I have for you, we didn't get into this in, let's say call the final lap. What, what is the biggest misperception of Gen Zers?
Ziad Ahmed: You can understand us, start talking to us, right? A lot of people are reading white papers instead of having conversations with actual diverse young people. Um, and, and that needs to change. And, and, and, and a lot of young people are in the room only as an intern in the corner taking notes, metaphorically and literally, rather than an actual partner and decision maker. And that needs to change. And so, um, I think people are looking for substitutes instead of for primary sources. Um, and, and, and I think that's a real problem.
Brendan Tolleson: Yeah. And I think that's, that's a good problem for almost any relational problem we have today is get to know the person before you draw conclusions. I, that's, and that, that's a, that's a good final word. Well, Ziad, if, if our, um, audience wants to engage with you, whether it's JUV consulting or just to learn more about what you're doing, uh, yeah. Where, what are the best platforms or ways in which they can engage.
Ziad Ahmed: Yeah, at juvconsulting.com or atJUV Consulting on socials, and you can find me at Ziad Ahmed, across socials. Uh, and certainly keep in touch with us that way. Would love to stay connected by socials and. To the point around having conversations, right? It's where it all starts and where it's all matters. And so if you're listening to this and, and you haven't had a conversation with the Gen Z today, hit me, hit me up by the dms or by email or whatever else, or hit JUV up and we'd be happy to be that Gen Zer to converse with you today and to keep the conversation going. And very grateful to you today for having us and having this conversation. Um, that hopefully leaves you a little bit more inspired perhaps as well.
Brendan Tolleson: I'm inspired, I'm appreciative, uh, and uh, this is a, a great conversation. So thanks for stopping by. I really do
Ziad Ahmed: Appreciate it. Likewise, likewise. I appreciate it and I hope that you have a wonderful week ahead.