The power of 8 seconds
Short-form video taking off as a way to make an impression on Gen Z consumers.
While millennials have come into their own as a major social and economic force, they will soon be sharing the limelight with their Generation Z successors.
Described as those born from the mid-1990s to early 2000s, Gen Z is coming of age and is on track to become the largest generation of consumers in the world.
Various studies put spending by Gen Z consumers on themselves at anywhere between US$29 billion and $143 billion, while they are said to influence another $600 billion in spending by others.
"Gen Zers' income today is lower than that of other generations, but their purchasing power should not be underestimated," said An Hodgson, head of income and expenditure research at Euromonitor International. "Tweens, teens and young adults are often a spending priority for families, while they also have significant influence on family purchase decisions."
But Gen Z is a whole new breed and conventional marketing approaches cannot be applied to them. They are the first true digital natives, a catalyst for cultural revolution and socially and environmentally responsible business.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of the younger generation is said to be a short attention span. Marketers love to quote a 2015 Microsoft study in which it was noted that the average human attention span has contracted from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds, supposedly less than that of a goldfish.
The trouble is, Microsoft didn't actually say that. The figures appeared in an infographic from a third party that was published in the study -- and scientists don't know a lot about goldfish attention spans.
The point Microsoft was making is that spending a lot of time multi-screening reduces the likelihood of focusing on one task if that task is repetitive and boring. If anything, the study suggests, human attention is becoming more intensive and efficient.
But no one disputes the need to grab and hold people's attention effectively, which has given rise to a boom in short-form video, which could range from a few seconds to a few minutes. Applications such as Vine, Snapchat and TikTok have become wildly popular platforms for a new generation of influencers, digital creators and viral memes.
"When we look at Gen Z, I think of them as millennials on steroids. They have so much energy but so little attention," said Rana Deepender, CEO of the market research firm Kantar China. "So platforms that serve content that is extremely relevant to them while fitting their attention span will be very valuable."
Another popular assumption is that Gen Z has been numbed by constant exposure to questionable content online, and lacks a sense of morality as a result. But Mr Deepender points to statistics showing that this generation smokes and drinks less than its predecessors and is very environmentally and socially conscious.
"They also expect brands to act responsibly because if a brand doesn't have a bigger purpose or doesn't take care of the environment, they will not feel relatable to those brands," he said.
"Gen Z is a diverse, adaptive, open-minded and socially responsible generation who want to make the world a better place," said Ms Hodgson.
"Brands and retailers need to demonstrate their true commitments to make the world a better place -- corporate social responsibility must expand from, for example, just reducing a carbon footprint to creating an entire business model that is built on equality, inclusion and acceptance."
To get those messages across to Gen Z, short-form video has emerged as the best option for marketers, said Jamie Wang, associate director of the global media agency network Mindshare.
"Consumers today want stories that are inspiring, interesting and easy to digest," she said. "Video is the best format to deliver all these elements. Brands or video makers need to make sure that the content is concise because people are not going to have the time to finish watching a very long video."
"We're noticing a steady increase in the consumption of short-form video content across Asia, especially among Gen Z, as 98% of them own a smartphone," said Lionel Sim, senior director for global marketing business solutions at TikTok, the short video app owned by Beijing-based Bytedance.
Currently available in over 150 countries and regions in 75 languages, TikTok has a three-part strategy: working with brands, working with creators and localising content.
"Our focus now is the user experience across Southeast Asia, not the monetisation," said Surayot Aimlaor, head of marketing, TikTok Thailand. "We want to see organic growth. There are only a few markets with a pilot monetisation plan. Our main focus now is to build and develop the ecosystem -- users, creators, brand marketers."
"Understanding how culture permeates the content and how content accelerates [TikTok's] growth in the ecosystem is very important," added Mr Sim.
"Understanding how culture permeates the content is very important for TikTok," says Lionel Sim, senior director for global marketing business solutions. SUPPLIED
With their emphasis on uniqueness, authenticity, creativity, shareability and recognition, Gen Z is known for an ability to co-create and redefine culture. They are not no longer just passive consumers of content.
"They want to do good, they want to make a difference. So anything that helps them to collaborate, create and contribute, they would like that," said Mr Deepender. "They are not passive receivers of entertainment. They are not happy just clicking through or tapping likes. They want to create."
"Brands should allow Gen Zers to co-create (personalise) and have control of products, as Gen Z do not want to be defined by any brand other than their own," Ms Hodgson added.
Gen Z now dominates the world of influencers or digital creators (defined as someone whose fame is entirely online), which is seen as a powerful way to build brands and businesses.
"When they go online, they usually go for entertainment, not utility," said Chito Jusi, head of media at Kantar Singapore. "But they don't go for any kind of entertainment. They look for authentic, real entertainment and they tend to look up to digital creators rather than celebrities.
"While Millennials are also looking for authenticity, Gen Z takes it to a whole new level. When they see videos that are over-designed, over-polished, or when they sense that it's fake or pretentious or meant to fool them into thinking that the products are way cooler than they should be, or that a person is someone who he or she is not, they would just break away and shut off."
Ms Hodgson pointed out that many Gen Z consumers were born during a time of economic downturn so they tend to be more pragmatic and cautious. They prefer products that offer them value and reflect real life.
"Influenced by internet stars and the media they follow, they seek uniqueness in all walks of life, either in social media, shopping or future employment. They appreciate authenticity and look for products that help them express their individuality," she said.
One tactic that content platforms use to generate engagement and empowerment among Gen Z is the hashtag challenge.
"For TikTok, hashtag challenge has been among the most popular," said Doreen Tan, user and content operations manager for TikTok in Singapore. "Through the platform, brands or creators would launch a competition through a video and invite others to create their own version using a specific hashtag.
"Depending on the objectives, we are able to customise stickers and music that would fit with the challenge."
Technology such as virtual and augmented reality and stickers opens a new chapter for short-form video creation and will encourage more people to participate in the platform, she added.
"Short-from video now is a little bit under-appreciated. If we look at the amount of engagement, the pull factor and the ability to communicate certain messages or the ability to engage with certain audiences is much higher with short-form video," said Mr Deepender.
"Marketers should start looking into the brand building, brand awareness and other long-term effects from these videos to see how they could capitalise on it."