Ignorance is bliss: why inexperience trumps expertise when talking to Generation Z

Marcus Rashford was a breakout voice of 2020

Pundits, trend researchers and business consultants like to think they know Generation Z pretty well by now. The cohort born between 1996 and 2010 are different from those who preceded them when it comes to brands — they’re skeptical of advertising and won’t notice a company unless it has a clear point of view about the serious issues facing the world. But how do you market to an audience that is turned off by marketing? The answer lies in being able to think like a novice.

Inexperience counts

Shunryū Suzuki, the monk credited with introducing Zen Buddhism to the West in the 1960s wrote that if “your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” Perhaps the most compelling example of this principle is from Gen Z environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Through a distinct brand of optimism and determination, she has mobilized millions to imagine a future that doesn’t involve turning the world’s surface into an uninhabitable crust. In this way, the positivity associated with inexperience trumps the negativity associated with expertise. With brands, the same holds true: in designing companies, products, services and campaigns designed to speak to Gen Z it’s more important than ever to relinquish our preconceptions of what is — or isn’t — possible.

Wading in

Part of the mentality above hinges on the ability to bravely break new ground in what your brand says and does. At face value, few would expect ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, with its whimsical packaging and kookie flavor combos, to deliver political and moral leadership in the 2020s. But in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement in June, the ice cream brand issued a statement to its customers rallying support for the campaign and imploring the Trump administration, Congress and the Department of Justice to usher in changes. Crucially, the campaign didn’t come off as preachy or a marketing stunt, the injustice had simply reached such a point that even ice cream had to get involved (bizarrely, Ben & Jerry’s probably delivered more leadership on the issue than the government). Again, the novice approach wins praise and acclaim for coming from a place of originality and authenticity.

Crucially, those at the helm of brands in the 2020s must un-learn the millennial marketing tropes that guided them through the last decade, relinquish expertise and speak to Gen Z through the issues that matter.

If you’re an expert or a novice, our (largely Gen Z) studio would like to hear what you have to say. Drop us an email, a call or connect with us on TikTok or Instagram @okcool.io

Originally posted to LinkedIn on November 26th, 2020.

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