Ask An Expert: Sidecar’s Mike Farrell on Connecting with Gen Z and Winning the Battle for Consumers

The rate of change has never been greater — or faster — for the footwear industry, with new challenges popping up every day in nearly all corners of the business, from navigating cash crunches and supply chain issues to understanding the latest technological advances. In its “Ask An Expert” series, FN asks industry leaders — all solutions-based providers — to take on some of the most timely topics.

As consumer behavior shifts and shoppers become less brand loyal, there is an opportunity for brands to capture a whole new audience. At the same time, a younger generation of shoppers is emerging with dollars to spend — but with new demands and expectations. In order to generate important sales now, as well as create loyal customers for the future, brands need to figure out an effective strategy that speaks to a younger audience while maintaining their core values.

Mike Farrell, senior director of integrated digital strategy at performance marketing company Sidecar, spoke with FN about the Gen Z demographic and how brands can connect with this audience through their marketing.

FN: With consumer behavior radically shifting and a new generation of shoppers joining the landscape, why is it important for brands to prospect this younger demographic?

Mike Farrell: As consumers move from one phase of life to the next, their disposable income, buying behaviors and purchase priorities change. Retailers must continually understand which demographics are core to their business today and which demographics will be core tomorrow. Right now, Gen Z is a current or up-and-coming target audience for many brands. Fortunately, there is tremendous opportunity to reach these consumers because they thrive on digital experiences; have high levels of engagement with online advertising; and—for footwear brands especially—are extremely plugged into fashion trends and fads. Smart customer segmentation is the best way to allocate budget to the highest intent audiences and drive the strongest results. Additionally, while creating relationships with these younger shoppers early on can help build brand loyalty, these shoppers can be easily swayed by the next best thing. Brands must constantly find ways to remain relevant to these shoppers as their interests change.

FN: The “battle for customers” begins a lot earlier than some brands realize. Where in the customer journey should they be turning their attention to ensure they’re not too late to the fray?

MF: Addressing the battle for customers starts with you as a brand. It’s critical to know your core customers and what they value—before you prepare to compete for their attention and deploy marketing dollars. In many cases, we see that consumers prefer certain elements in a brand experience when shopping. As a baseline, most consumers generally look for discounts and free shipping. In addition, other elements that can help build brand interest and confidence include strong product and store reviews; smooth checkout and website experiences (particularly on mobile); loyalty programs; and social consciousness messaging. Determine what is most important to your core customer and build it into who you are as a brand.

Younger shoppers are most likely to begin shopping out of boredom and use social channels to do so.
CREDIT: PhotoPlus+ - Adobe

FN: Targeting messaging is a familiar concept, but how can brands ensure that they are targeting the right categories and at the right scale?

MF: Audience segmentation is critical to developing targeted messaging. Evaluate your customer segments and the KPIs that characterize them. What segments are driving higher traffic? Which are converting better? These are key questions to answer to then map budget appropriately to each segment. This exercise might sound obvious, but many brands struggle to do it well. Once the audience segmentation is decided, you can determine how to customize your messaging to each group. A/B test various messages to determine which “calls to action” and imagery resonate with customers – and drive results.

FN: Smaller brands may not have the same resources as their larger counterparts. How can these brands leverage their smaller size as an advantage and where should they be investing resources?

MF: Smaller brands tend to have several factors working in their favor. They are often more nimble and can make quicker decisions with fewer team members, which helps them get to market faster with new ideas. They also tend to have a more focused product catalog, which lets them highlight their niche specialty and deliver a more relevant customer experience compared to larger, multicategory competitors. Smaller brands should consider all these factors to amplify their differentiators.

There are a few key priorities to keep in mind to stay ahead of the curve in such a constantly shifting landscape. First, strong data analytics, paired with automation: Analytics are critical for capturing shifting trends as they unfold, with automation playing the crucial role of taking action on those shifting trends. In addition, rigorous testing lets you determine how to best craft messaging and brand experience when consumer behavior alters so much. Often, brand marketers lose sight of testing and can underfund it. But it’s wise to prioritize it, especially in this climate.

Connecting with Gen Z is both a revenue-driver for right now and an investment in future sales.

FN: Looking ahead, what areas do you predict Gen Z will be most concerned with and how can brands prepare for this now?

MF: The younger generation is living faster and more jam-packed lives. They’re shopping on the go. They’re relying on their social networks to help them make buying decisions. This dynamic comes with its advantages and challenges, however. Gen Z can be enticed to buy a product just as easily and quickly as they can be repelled by poor shopping experiences and messaging that doesn’t align with their values. Brands should prioritize their mobile experience, including mobile ads. Invest in visually engaging content, including videos, that secures mindshare in seconds. Be more out front on social media about how your brand is supporting social issues, the environment, and healthy living. Experience-driven brands stand to build faster and longer lasting relationships with Gen Z customers.

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