The 8-Second Key to Engage Gen Z

 You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

Can you spare eight seconds?

That’s a question that communicators and marketers of all stripes should be asking themselves these days. 

If you’re still with me (after all, my time is up), I’ll explain. 

So eight seconds is the estimated attention span of Generation Z -- those people born after 1997.

Experts have summed up Gen Z’s approach to processing information as ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget.’ Spend any time with Gen Zer’s ripping through their smartphones, and that description likely resonates. 

And it’s not surprising. Gen Zers have lived their entire lives awash in a flood of information and messaging. In many ways, ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget’ represents the only logical way to process information and navigate through a day. 

Yet what does it mean for someone hoping to capture a bit more than eight seconds of their time?

In my view, the key is to find a way to flip ‘forget’ to ‘remember.’ The best way to achieve that: Tell a compelling story. 

“This generation loves story,” Marcie Merriman, executive director, cultural relevancy and brand strategy, Ernst & Young, told me during an interview last year. “What’s the history behind it? Why is it relevant? What does it mean to me?”

It makes sense. Stories are a way to differentiate your content from all that other information that Gen Z quickly forgets. Even better, a good story works for people of any generation.  

So whatever your mission, look for the story—something that provide context and meaning. 

Then find the best way – and medium – to tell it. 

But make sure you lead with a strong hook. You have eight seconds to make the sale.

How to Combat the Content Crooks

 Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Adrian Scottow

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Adrian Scottow

Poet T. S. Eliot once famously quipped “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” 

T.S. would likely have a different take in today’s cyber age where there’s plenty of borrowing and stealing going on – but not by those looking to master a literary technique.

No, in the virtual cut-and-paste Internet era, content gets lifted at an alarming rate.

We’ve had clients and fellow writers voice concern that competitors are looting their content, changing a sentence here or there, and then passing it off as their own.

Yes, it happens.

No, there isn’t much you can do about it when it does. 

Yet there is solution: Create more content that is all but impossible to steal.   

Specifically, focus on your organization’s unique purpose and craft customized content that tells your story and highlights your strengths in ways only you can. 

For businesses, customer success stories and case studies do the trick. For nonprofits, it’s featuring a dedicated donor or someone whose life was bettered by your services. For any organization, it can be thought leadership content or op-eds that convey personalized insights or anecdotes.

Not only is this content well insulated from theft, it’s also much better than the generic copy that anyone can pump out and does little more than add to the clutter of the Web. 

Success stories from your customers or clients bolster your credibility by doing much of the heavy lifting to highlight your strengths. Meanwhile, thought leadership pieces helps your key leaders develop their own unique voices and share experiences and insights to connect more meaningfully with readers and set your organization apart. 

Creating steal-proof content doesn’t have to be a lot more work either once you get in the habit of branding your content as your own.

For even routine how-to or educational content, you can find ways to pepper in customer or client examples, or have the content bylined by a leader or subject-matter expert who can share personal lessons learned. 

Another T.S. Eliot quote that does stands the test of time is this: “Business today consists in persuading crowds.”

Whatever your business, a key way to persuade your crowd – while thwarting the thieves – is to create content that is uniquely your own

Get Outside of Your Echo Chamber

 Creative Commons photo by David Shankbone

Creative Commons photo by David Shankbone

One of the first rules of effective communications is to know your audience.

No matter what you’re trying to sell, or who you’re trying to persuade, it's critical to both understand and speak to your key audiences.

But in a culture that has become toxically divided, is it possible that we’re becoming too good at targeting our most ardent supporters?

In politics, in business, in nonprofits, and on our Facebook feeds, people and institutions are incredibly adept at stirring up the people who align with them. As they do so, they are turning off massive waves of people who might otherwise hold similar values and ideals.

This approach can yield great short-term results — but it also carries a dangerous long-term cost.

For a politician who is fighting to win an election, playing to the base can help drum up support and enthusiasm — but it can lead to massive dissent once he or she gets into office.

For a nonprofit that is looking to capitalize quickly on a hot-button issue, this can help inspire folks to donate — but it doesn’t really help grow the donor base long term.

And for those of us looking to vent on Facebook or Twitter, it can feel satisfying to get folks to retweet and like our comments, but it can actually damage long-term friendships (which I’ve seen happen all too many times among some of my friends).

As communicators and marketers, Scott and I are passionate about helping organizations identify and speak directly to their core audiences.

But we’re equally passionate about helping them expand those audiences — to help them change minds and lead movements.

You can’t do that if you’re only talking to your base.

Whether you’re trying to change minds about important policies, expand your customer base, or win an election against an entrenched incumbent, you can’t accomplish your goals if you’re only speaking in an echo chamber.

Over the coming months, we’re working on projects that will require us to help our clients reach outside of their core audiences and convert new people.

During these divided times, this challenge is greater than ever before.

We’re excited to share what we’re learning as we attempt to conquer that challenge. We’re also looking for examples of others who are trying to communicate across the invisible — but very real — divide between our core audiences and the ones we need to reach.

Tell us how you’re communicating in a divided world — and what you’re learning as a result. These are challenging times and we all need to be in this together.

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Content Strategy: Keep Your Eye on the Hole

 Flickr Creative Commons  photo by David Joyce

Flickr Creative Commons photo by David Joyce

Anyone who has ever played a round with me knows I'm a dismal golfer.

But there's one piece of golfing advice that has served me well: When you’re standing over a putt, your final sustained look should be at the hole. Not the ball.

This same advice also applies to content strategy.

In this case, the hole is your targeted audience. Those are the people you are trying to influence, engage, inform, and, ultimately, drive to donate, buy, advocate, or act.

Yet, a lot of content folks aren’t really taking a long, sustained look at those audiences – their attitudes, interests, motivators and preferences -- when crafting messaging and editorial calendars. 

Quite simply, too many people are keeping their eyes the ball. But they should be focused on the hole.

The reasons for this are many and largely understandable. Too little time. Preconceived, and likely misguided notions of exactly who your audience is. The quickening pace of change which means what connected with your audience two years ago completely misses the hole today. 

Really knowing your audience well takes some work. But it's far from impossible.

If you take the time to follow these three simple steps, you start sinking more putts with your content:

1. Work your beat

Back in my days as a newspaper reporter, I would spent the first two hours of each workday checking in with sources. I’d go from office to office in city hall, chatting up everyone from the administrative assistants to department heads. It was through that effort that I got a much better sense of what was going on. And it often was quite different from the stories chronicled by the city’s press releases.

Approach your job like a beat reporter, talking with as many people in the organization, particularly those the front lines working directly with customers or donors you are trying to reach. 

2. Rely on analytics

There is just too much good technology out there to rely solely on your gut when it comes to content. Your gut still matters, so trust it. But verify.  Get to know your analytics team or tap an outside source for expertise.

Data can reveal a lot of nuance and details about the people you are trying to reach that can then inform your content strategy.

And on the back end, good data and metrics can give you a steady feed of what’s working and what’s not so you can course correct accordingly.

3. Create and update personas

Personas provide a readily accessible and detailed profile of the people you are most trying to reach. As a composite of your most important audiences, personas can keep your content on track and help others in your organization focus their efforts as well.  Further, the process of building those personas reveal tons of great insights that help the content team get a much clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities that others in the organizations face, and how great content can address them.  

If you're new to the world of personas, check out some sample personas we’ve worked on. You can find them in the online appendix to Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits.