Gen Z looks to brands to give them hope. Here are five ways for brands to not miss their mark with America’s largest population demographic.Gen Z Wants Steak, Not Sizzle: Five Ways To Make Sure Your Brand Delivers

Brands are struggling to connect with Generation Z (youngsters aged 6-21).

Even cutting-edge Google fell short with its recent report on “what teens think is cool” embarrassingly titled, “It’s Lit.” My colleagues over at Mashable astutely observed that it looks like a Macy’s catalog circa 2004.

This begs the question: if Google is struggling to understand and connect with Gen Z, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Gen Z is America’s largest demographic cohort and the one with whom companies are least prepared to engage. Having been born into a digital world, Generation Z is beyond digitally native—fluent across platforms and screens, often simultaneously.What brands need to know about Gen Z

They communicate through images and use Snapchat the way Millennials use texting—to engage one-to-one with their inner circles, which they value over broadcasting their lives. Perhaps most importantly, Gen Z expects their favorite brands to be on social media, but only in an unobtrusive, relevant, and authentic way. Finally, during a time when they see the world as pretty bleak, they look for brands that can give them hope.

Here are five things brands need to know about Generation Z:

Steak, Not Sizzle
Gen Y desires a great experience, but Gen Z wants a kick-ass product. Brand storytelling that tugs at millennial heartstrings will need to give way to selling that once again emphasizes steak over sizzle.

Brands like MAC Cosmetics and Beats by Dre appeal to Gen Z because the products are unique and emphasize substance and usability. Gen Z may be more demanding than other generations regarding great products that deliver on promises. Armed with a mastery of the Internet, hyper-connected social spheres, and a desire to find the best value, they understand that if your product doesn’t authentically do what it says it will, they have many other options.

Show Me The Value
This generation has grown up during the “Occupy” movement, and watched their parents struggle with joblessness and the housing crisis. They are already demonstrating that they’re more careful with money than their millennial counterparts and want to pay only for what they use.

Value-based brands like Spirit Airlines and those that exploit the sharing economy (e.g. Airbnb, Uber, Handy) are in favor. If your brand plans to market based on “value,” prepare to be transparent about what people are paying for.

Unique Over Popular
Millennials put trust into mass-market brands because they want to fit in, but Gen Z wants to stand out. Gen Z emphasizes being unique over being popular and prefers brands that align with their values.

Mass-market brands represent big business to them. Beats by Dre is a good example of a brand that markets effectively to Gen Z by helping them express themselves in unique ways: headphones aren’t just a listening tool; they’re a fashion accessory.

Hard Work Creates Success
Generation Z is a bit like the Baby Boomers in their work ethic. Gen Y wants to be “discovered,” but Gen Z realizes that success comes from really hard work, and they may be the hardest workers we’ve seen yet. The nature of work is fundamentally shifting, with the gig economy replacing traditional jobs, and an increasing push towards making hobbies and interests into bill-paying pursuits.

Gen Z wants to be the smartest of the smart and get ahead by getting their hands dirty. Brands will need to understand the entrepreneurial and hard-working nature of this group and demonstrate how they’ll help propel Gen Z to the success they desire.

Tech Is A Tool, Not An Obsession
For Generation Z, technology is a bridge to information, ideas, and people; it’s a means to an end, not the end itself. Brands must become part of ongoing conversations and infiltrate this generation’s day-to-day lives on all the technology platforms they’re using.

This means going beyond Facebook. Ten years ago, Facebook was the next frontier for advertising and brand integration; now it’s the ante to get into the game. To connect with Gen Z, brands must be on Snapchat and Instagram and be ready to jump into the conversation wherever it is happening, in an authentic and connected way.Gen Z and Sour Patch Kids

This generation appreciates brands that give them opportunities to interact. Brands that are winning at Snapchat, like Sour Patch Kids and Warby Parker, are already showing they have power to evolve to meet Gen Z wherever they are.

Since many members of Gen Z haven’t even finished first grade yet, it’s impossible to draw definitive conclusions about how they’ll be as they mature.

But as the oldest Gen Z-ers start college and begin to join the workforce, we’re seeing important trends emerge.

Many brands are already trying to force-fit Gen Z into the Gen Y mold, and it’s going to backfire. Gen Z is brand-weary, smart, frugal, and value-oriented.

Companies must pay close attention to how this generation is developing, what they care about, and how to fit meaningfully into their lives.

With a current purchasing power of $44 billion, it will be a few short years before this generation becomes an even more powerful consumer group. Missing the mark with them will ensure extinction.

Deb Gabor

Deb Gabor is the author of Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything. She is the founder of Sol Marketing which has led brand strategy engagements for organizations ranging from international household names like Dell, Microsoft, and NBC Universal, to Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway and RetailMeNot, and dozens of early-stage tech and digital media titans. You can connect with Deb on Twitter, @deb_sol.