How do you connect with the most connected generation?

How do you connect with the most connected generation?
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Just as it would seem odd for a retirement savings firm to address customers with a “Yo,” social media platforms would be ill-served by initiating user interactions with a “To Whom it May Concern.” Companies need to speak the language of their customers, and more often than not, that language is shaped by a generational sensibility.

And now a new generation is entering the marketplace: Generation Z, which encompasses people born in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Heralded as the first true digital natives and raised during times of uncertainty marked by events like 9/11 and the Great Recession, Gen Z is unmistakably distinct from millennials in behaviors, beliefs, goals, and consumption habits.

According to EY’s Marcie Merriman, author of the recent report Rise of Gen Z: new challenges for retailers, Gen Z is almost uniformly tech-savvy and content-hungry, and tend to be pragmatic, entrepreneurial, socially conscious and highly tolerant. “They represent a major opportunity for businesses attuned to what they want and how to deliver it,” she says. For media and entertainment companies, which are often the first commercial entities encountered by a young generation, the question is whether these businesses are ready to speak the language of this rising class?

The key to understanding Gen Z lies in data, and as it happens, this group does not have the same hang-ups as previous generations about sharing personal information. Gen Z’s near-constant engagement with smartphones, social media, and entertainment innovations like Apple TV and Roku means that we know much more about the when, where, how, and why of content consumption than ever before. But it would be a mistake to concentrate solely on technology-centric solutions to capturing this market. Both data and technology are merely the means to the end of connecting to Gen Z on their terms: through intense customer focus, storytelling, and interactive experiences. 

Raised in an era where crafting personal stories on social media is a daily activity, Gen Z has a penchant for storytelling. This is a boon to companies, as science has shown that narrative can be the best device for conveying information: stories evoke emotion and empathy and release dopamine into the system, all of which aids recall of details. As explored in EY report From innovation to expectation – how M&E leaders are responding to Gen Z, the proliferation of media and entertainment channels means that there are more mediums than ever before to share these stories, whether through social media platforms or by bringing traditional media together to create experiences that are greater than the sum of the parts.

“The difference between this generation and what we’ve seen before is that this is not a one-screen only generation,” says John Nendick, Global Media & Entertainment Leader at EY. “Today’s multi-screen world presents a huge opportunity to tell stories and to build bigger more engaging experiences.”

Dawning technologies like virtual reality and autonomous cars will yield further opportunities for immersive experiences that Gen Z craves, which are currently best represented by brick-and-mortar stores that operate more like hotel lobbies or coffee shops: lifestyle-oriented “third spaces” that feel like home. These are the kind of environments that allow Gen Z to interact with and shape the experience they share with a brand or product. The narrative and the experience are the most important thing, and the data gleaned from the in-store experience makes the approach valuable for businesses.

The most promising entry in this field is the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) and the ability for objects to capture data generated by individuals or their environment and respond to it in the same instant. A recent collaboration between tech firm Philips and the Syfy Channel, for example, has yielded an app that combines Philips’ smart lighting system with Syfy programming. The color and brightness of the lights are coded to follow the plotlines of unique episodes, intensifying the emotional impact and creating an immersive sphere of entertainment in the viewer’s own home.

Thanks to advanced sensors, IoT devices can capture vast and varied data from the home, the car, or work, allowing companies to best understand what customers want and to deliver it in new, imaginative ways. As was once said about TV but is as true today for new forms of technology: the medium is the message.

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This article was produced on behalf of EY by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.