Andrew Roth, founder of research firm Dcdx, talks about how virality and instant gratification have fundamentally changed the way young people interact with brands.
Andrew Roth is the 24-year-old founder of Dcdx, a research and strategy consulting firm geared toward helping brands understand how to connect with Gen Z. As an undergraduate at Vanderbilt majoring in human and organizational development, Roth was studying abroad in London when he was sent home because of COVID-19, which left him with questions about organizational behavior.
“It was clear to me there was a lack of empathy in some of these conversations,” he tells Fast Company.
Moreover, he felt like there was a mismatch between what organizations were doing and how Gen Z wanted to see its voice represented. At the most foundational level, he could see cracks in the methodology that his professors were using to gather data on Gen Z. He’d get 45-question surveys to fill out.
“I’m Gen Z,” he says. “I’d fill these out but have TikTok in one hand and Netflix on another screen. By the time I got to the end, I didn’t know what was in there. Yet these results were being presented to boards.”
At Dcdx, Roth has designed a new methodology. Dcdx has a network of more than 100,000 Gen Zers on Instagram who answer poll questions. To do this, Dcdx works and pays Gen Z ambassadors—people who aren’t influencers but who are likely to have other members of Gen Z in their network—to share polls on their social media. Dcdx also comes up with a ranking of the companies that are attracting the most conversations from Gen Z based on the popularity and consistency of user-generated content about the brand.
Fast Company spoke with Roth about how companies can best connect with Gen Z.
Fast Company: What makes Gen Z different from other generations?
Andrew Roth: The biggest is the onset of technology and when that came up in the lives of Gen Z, and the role that’s had on shaping how we behave and who we are. Convenience is not a want or a fun [thing]to have; it’s who we are—we were born with Google. We had everything at our fingertips. Brands that are slow are nonnegotiable for our generation.
This comes with a negative impact. There’s a reason why mental health is just as important, if not more important, than physical or economic health for us.
FC: You mentioned having a list of companies that do really well at connecting with Gen Z. What strategies do they use?
AR: They’re not as focused on the micro moments. Trends are important to Gen Z, but at the core trends come and go today faster than they’ve ever gone before. These brands recognize that. They understand how to serve the convenience-born generation and leverage all parts of their technology and services. They embody the idea of authenticity, not just as a buzzword, but they live and breathe it: how they treat their employees, the way they exhibit their values with their partners, their social impact. They have openly accepted the fact that Gen Z has an equal role in shaping society. Gen Z has come up with the Chipotle hacks on TikTok, and Chipotle is the one that’s taking them into the menu.
There’s often this idea that Gen Z’s favorite brands are the new ones, or the most flashy. But Crocs are in our top 25. Some of the brands that millennials have grown up with are still there: PlayStation, Starbucks, Target, Apple, Nike. They’re still some of the most relevant brands because they’ve successfully incorporated Gen Z’s preferences.
FC: Can you actually walk me through one of your top 25 and explain what they did really well? I’m in shock Crocs is there. I personally find them hideous.
AR: They are hideous. That’s the point. Okay, let’s do Crocs. They had this huge decline. Then COVID hits and there’s a huge social shift in mentality, which is that we can actually be comfortable. We saw the rise of comfortable fashion. At that moment, people started to turn to Crocs. Crocs played into that. They’ve done collaborations with influencers—Bad Bunny, Disney, Marvel . . . In many ways, they embody what Gen Z is about. You don’t have to be pretty, you have to be functional, work, and be fun. It’s a really good example of, You don’t need to be the most glamorous thing to win. You just have to have your unique role and play into that.
FC: Every time a new generation enters the workforce, there’s a conversation about how to accommodate them because the existing systems were set up by older generations. How is this conversation around Gen Z different than previous conversations?
AR: The reason I think this generation has currently and deserves a different type of focus is their ability to exert their own influence. Thanks to technology, a 12-year-old has the same ability as a 45-year-old does to influence culture—maybe even a greater one because of their familiarity with technology. Platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram mean anyone can go viral.
On the flip side of that, they have access, but this generation has been on the receiving end of more information at a faster rate than any generation before. It’s impacted their mental health and the way they behave. Everything is changing at a faster and faster rate.
FC: What last pieces of advice do you have for brands trying to connect with Gen Z?
AR: Just talk to young people. It’s so easy to pit the generations against each other, but research shows that’s harmful. It’s easy for boomers to say, “When I was growing up, we didn’t have this. I wasn’t complaining this much,” etc. Totally reasonable. I get it. But at the same time, have conversations with young people today and you’ll start to quickly see why things are different.
There’s never a right answer with this generation: It’s made up of so many different people and audiences, but at the same time, we’re all human. Start having conversations with Gen Z and that will start bridging these gaps.
This article first appeared https://www.fastcompany.com
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