Getting Ready for Gen Z (Conclusion)

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Gen Z will rely on social media video testimonials, according to the author. (Image licensed by Ingram Publishing)

Steve Kallenbach |

Author says textile selling standards for new generation need to be established

LOS ANGELES — For a number of years now, our industry has been talking about moving our marketing, sales and customer experience strategies toward the communication modes of Generation Y buyers, now referred to as millennials. 

As with other industries, we are working our magic to be able to reach this new buying power via social media, using emotional and social branding to bring purpose-driven customer experiences to the new base of purchasing power in America.

Gen Y millennials were born between 1982 and 2004, the oldest of whom are now 35 years old and are currently assuming the seat of power in American purchasing. Now that we are all riled up, trying to catch up to this new and exciting buying experience, let’s shake it up a bit more.

Introducing Generation Z. This lively new bunch is just now entering college, getting ready to embrace the workplace in a few years (the youngest of whom are still in middle school). They have already lived through the “Great Recession,” and some have watched their parents and family friends struggle financially. They have seen college costs spiral up and witnessed acts of terrorism through the media. 

They expect the worst, because they have seen it. In some ways, they have actually had to grow up faster than previous generations, especially with the speed of information across many new communication channels. This generation has already been taught resilience, and their view of themselves, and the world, is pretty sober. 

As a result, this new and upcoming generation of buyers will require a different kind of engagement. They are cost-conscious and practical. They look for quality, not just “the cool factor.” They know where to search for what they want—they were born into the information age—and certainly know how to “Google it.” 

This generation knows technology, and they are skilled and savvy in it. There was no conversion from previous modes of research. Modern communication technology is all they have ever known.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE INDUSTRY?

Just as we are all clambering to catch up to the millennials, we really need to think about content. We need to be real. According to a study in the Harvard Business Journal, Gen Z won’t just take our word for it. Moreover, their expectations are truly the good and ethical values for all of us to live up to. 

Our industry doesn’t really have true textile “selling standards.” Get ready; you’ll see definitions and specifications develop that can be questioned and compared. Suppliers and laundries will develop more specific languages when “talking the talk,” and we’ll all need to really back up what we say with true technical information. What exactly does a 17-pound bath towel, with ring-spun cotton blended with poly, really mean? 

You probably won’t be surprised to know that a large majority of today’s sales representatives cannot articulate textile specifications properly. They’ve never been trained to do this, and that’s on us. The future will no longer allow us to just say and claim something. Gen Z will make us compare it and prove it. 

Personally, I welcome this change. Just as we develop our social media platforms and start to improve our impact on millennials, we must be mindful of real content that is specific and proven. And we should be looking at positioning our content via social media video (YouTube, etc.), using real people who can talk the talk. 

“The Future is Now.” No, I’m not referring to the 2002 hip-hop album by Non Phixion, or the electronic game released via Kickstarter in 2016. Not the YouTube channel that highlights cool new things, or the book by the famous Tibetan Buddhist. We, as an industry, need to truly embrace our future and do it now. 

Establish selling standards that can be articulated to our customers and backed up with content that counts. Train our reps to understand that facts matter. Towels are fluffy; selling should be rock-solid. And as we develop our media platforms, we should develop communication with real, significant messaging. 

What we offer matters, and here’s why. Our industry provides needed product that touches almost every single American, every single day. That matters. 

What is important for all of us is that the general public doesn’t know about us, that we deliver hygienically clean textiles that are sometimes made from recycled materials and are reusable to the point that we positively impact the environment versus the use of disposable products, regardless of whether that product was or will be recycled. That matters.

Gen Z is about to make things real. While they will rely even more heavily on social media and online research, they will want to touch and feel our products and truly understand them from a technical aspect. They’ll want to meet us personally, understand our products and services, and actually trust our facts. Life-cycle costing will become an everyday term in our industry. Sustainability proof will be expected as an entry point.

Our industry is filled with wonderful people who do great work. While we know this, Gen Z has yet to discover it. 

Get ready for Gen Z’ers. They will count. And we’ll need to matter. 

Miss part 1 on what Gen Z is looking for? Click here to read it.

About the author

Steve Kallenbach

ADI American Dawn

Director of Market Solutions

Steve Kallenbach is director of market solutions for ADI American Dawn in Los Angeles.

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