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Once upon a timeline

How to engage Gen Z through brand storytelling

In a world where attention is the most valuable commodity and content creation is exploding, capturing the attention of customers is increasingly difficult  and maintaining that attention is a whole new level of tricksy. This why more and more brands are resorting to storytelling to drive engagement, evoke emotions, and put the brakes on content discontentment.

But should brands do something different when they create brand stories to  Gen Z? Without question.

Where once upon a time you could stick to tried and trusted methods of storytelling, you’re now talking to a generation that’s been shaped by years of using social media platforms and are avid content creators themselves. Simply put, you’re telling stories to natural born storytellers. As such, the quality and purpose of any piece of content for this generation must instantly prove its worth. Good just isn’t good enough anymore. And if you add to this an attention span that’s estimated to be around eight seconds, it’s clear you’re dealing with a truly challenging audience.

The 2Is and 2Es of content

But as ever, with adversity comes opportunity. Our extensive research shows that when it comes to content, Gen Z wants to be inspired, informed, entertained and engaged. We call it the 2Is and 2Es of content creation – and brands that embrace these four principles are far more likely to successfully connect with Gen Zers. However, it’s essential that brands get in the right mindset of the audience as failure to do so will quickly result in a lack of interest and, worse still, active disengagement . One of our recent studies shows that 50% of Gen Zers will stop following brands that fail to feel relevant to them.


Gen Zers don’t want to simply build a better future for themselves, they want to see a more equal and just world for everyone. And they expect brands to share in these values and walk the walk when it comes to diversity, sustainability, equality and community. So naturally creating stories around the values this generation cares deeply about, alongside content that directly tackles the issues they deal with daily, is a proven way to grab their attention. A great example of a brand embracing inspiring storytelling is Nike, who offered a contract to University of Oregon club runner Justin Gallegos making him the first professional athlete with cerebral palsy. Not only is the story inspiring in terms of its message of ‘beating all odds’  but also in the opportunities that have opened up for Justin, from helping to develop FlyEase sneakers for athletes with disabilities to becoming friends with the marathon world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. The story also highlights that Nike is a brand that cares about inclusivity – a big passion of Gen Z.

Another brilliant example that wraps together the idea of community, sustainability and self-actualization comes from the founders of Naadam, the socially conscious Cashmere company. The founders not only disrupted a segment of the luxury industry that for years had been built upon exclusivity and secrecy, they also developed an entirely new way of sourcing raw materials that made this luxury garment more affordable to consumers and fairer to producers. Told in a light-hearted way, their true story highlights how a product that may at first seem at odds with Gen Zers can be a perfect fit – in every sense.


Growing up not knowing a world without search engines and being accustomed to quickly finding the answer to every question that pops in their head, Gen Zers love educational and informational content that satisfy thier curiousity and their need to learn new things. Using educational storytelling is  a great way for companies with complex or intangible products to deliver their message. Take the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) for example. A career in accounting could easily be seen as a tough sell to Gen Z, due to perceptions about it being boring and a little elitist. Their solution was to turn to TikTok and Snapchat and get influencers involved to get Gen Z to reassess their opinions of a job in accounting by informing them in a way that resonated with them.

But informative content doesn’t need to be solely for big life decisions, it can be as simple as an instructive “How To” video – a format that became very popular with Gen Zers who believe they can teach themselves new skills online. From how to apply makeup, to how to clean your washing machine, through to how to bake the best chocolate cake, this medium offers endless opportunities for brands as long as they keep it simple, fun and easy to access.


While every generation wants to be entertained, Gen Z’s ferocious appetite for content makes them especially demanding. But as ever, the way brands tell their stories needs to be driven by authenticity and relevancy. Try too hard and it’s all too easy to fail. Humor is also a powerful tool to employ in brand storytelling, as proven by America’s favorite stain-mongers Cheetos. As famous for creating orange marks on everything as they are for their cheesiness, Cheetos ingeniously turned this product negative into a positive by creating a name for the infamous orange dust – Cheetle. In addition to making customers smile, the inclusion of MC Hammer in the campaign also cleverly tapped into Gen Z’s love for the past.


Finally, a key element in attracting Gen Zers to a brand is understanding their desire to contribute to, and be a part of the brands they love. A study by IBM and the National Retail Federation found that 29% of Gen Z would love to create digital content for a brand. For a generation that has democratized creativity, their willingness to engage with brands in a way that allows them to showcase their creativity is one of the biggest opportunities brands have these days. A perfect example is Apple’s Shot on iPhone” campaign which began as a simple user generated content campaign challenge that encouraged iPhone users’ to share their photographs for the chance of being re-shared on the brand’s social media feeds or for the lucky few, on billboards worldwide.

In fact, online challenges are a common way for brands to engage with their customers and get them to co-narrate their story. And when you have millions of unofficial brand ambassadors at your disposal, the business opportunities just keep growing. Here’s TikTok’s quick guide to creating effective hashtag branded challenges.

Long story short

There’s no denying storytelling is a proven way for brands to connect with Gen Z, so long as those stories are authentic and engaging. If you’d like us to help you get that story started, let’s talk.



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