Our high school-aged readers – better known as Generation Z – intimately understand their world, navigating “Local Twitter” and knowing how to get friends’ attention with their latest “Snap Story.” And then there’s the rest of the world. While many companies and brands think they understand the best way to reach Gen Z through traditional and social media marketing, they end up sending the entirely wrong messages in an awkward attempt to be cool.
Authenticity is the first rule in getting teens to listen, says Emma Himes, director of development for JÜV Consulting, a marketing consultancy run by high school and college students that helps clients to successfully engage Gen Z. “Companies are trying to market to Gen Z, which is impressive in and of itself. But they’re going about it the wrong way,” notes Himes, who is also a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.
KWHS invited Himes to our studio to discuss JÜV and Gen Z, a demographic that is near and dear to our hearts. An edited transcript appears below.
Knowledge@Wharton High School: Emma Himes spent her summer in a loft space in Brooklyn, New York, working alongside other college and high school students who were motivated by a common theme: what makes Generation Z tick? Emma is the director of development for JÜV Consulting, a Gen Z consulting firm run by real Gen Zers, typically kids between 10 and 21 years old. Lots of companies, nonprofits, and big brands want to know how to appeal to today’s youth. Since they’re living it every day, Emma and her entrepreneurial JÜV teammates offer deep insight into the Gen Z zeitgeist. And as a recent article in The New York Times pointed out, they not only bring experience to their clients’ boardrooms, JÜV Consulting also has an impressive business and marketing edge.
Emma, who is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, joins us in the Knowledge@Wharton studio to discuss why businesses and brands should be talking to teenagers and not about them. Emma, welcome to KWHS. It’s great to meet you.
Emma Himes: Thank you so much for having me.
KWHS: Tell us how you got involved with JÜV Consulting, and also a little bit more about what it is.
Himes: Like you said, JÜV Consulting is a marketing consultancy firm. And we have teams of consultants who we pair with brands, companies, anyone trying to market to Gen Z. We pair our clients with these teams to build out marketing campaigns that target Gen Z. This summer, like you said, I was director of development. I actually started as a consultant at JÜV, where I was for a year. And then I had previously met our co-founder, Ziad, who runs the branding side of JÜV Consulting. He brought me on to do outreach and a couple other things this summer. That was very cool.
KWHS: Help us understand a bit more about what a director of development does.
Himes: This summer, I was focused on doing outreach to clients. That meant sending hundreds and hundreds of e-mails to potential clients. And then once they responded, I handled the initial negotiations. That was anything from explaining our capabilities, to writing up SOWs [statements of work that define project-specific activities and timelines] to help them get moving on the process. The second thing I did was help with market research and a business-development plan, which we finished this summer.
KWHS: I can’t let you go off this topic without telling us a little bit about how it was to be in Brooklyn, to be working in this cool space with young people. Did you enjoy it? Was it fun?
Himes: We were all living and working out of a loft in Brooklyn. It was such a cool group of people. I miss them. I haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks, and it’s already like I’m missing them. But I think it was really important. Especially as a start-up, it was so important for us to be there all the time. We would have midnight sessions where someone would come up with an idea and wake everyone up and say, “We’re gonna work on this now,” and everyone would be so excited about it, because we were passionate about what we were doing.
KWHS: So you had that whole complete picture, 24 hours a day, right?
Himes: Yes. We ate pasta together at night. We woke each other up at nine, which was hard to do. But yeah, it was a great experience.
KWHS: I was looking over your social media, and I noticed that a recent JÜV Tweet said that “Gen Z is SpongeBob memes and ironic dabbing, offbeat vines and Drake lyrics as Instagram captions. Gen Z is also inclusive, dynamic, multifaceted and diverse. We’re changing the world bit by bit, and this is only just the beginning.” I love this Tweet, because it explains that Gen Z is so many things. I need to ask you, what is the essence of Generation Z?
Himes: We talk a lot about this at JÜV — what is the essence of Gen Z? I think one of the important things to remember is it’s really hard to call Gen Z one single essence, because we’re not a monolith. And, we’re the last generation that’s going to be majority Caucasian. We are such a diverse generation, that it’s really hard to talk about essence. But I would say one of the most important things, at least when we talk to clients about how to talk to Gen Z, how to market to Gen Z, is authenticity. Whether that’s on social media or in their marketing campaigns, being authentic to the value of whatever your brand or company is, is so important. That’s at least one of the things I would say is important to the essence of Gen Z.
KWHS: What do you see as one of the biggest mistakes that companies make when they’re marketing to Generation Z, other than that lack of authenticity? Specifically, I know I mentioned this in the beginning, I said, ‘talk to us, not about us.’ And I remember reading something else about how you say that we’re much more about the collective “we” and not just “I”. What are some of the ways that you see companies are taking a misstep?
Himes: One of the reasons that our three co-founders founded JÜV Consulting was because they saw that companies were doing all this market research, doing focus groups. And by the time all this research was processed and aggregated into a marketing plan, it was obsolete. Our social media trends change so fast that it’s hard to do a focus group and get the right answers in time to develop a proper marketing plan. So we thought, why not just create a group chat, 10 teenagers, some marketing executives, and have them real-time bounce ideas off of us? I think that’s one of the main issues. Companies are trying to market to Gen Z, which is impressive in and of itself. But they’re going about it the wrong way.
KWHS: Things are moving so quickly. I’m sure technology plays a hand in that.
Himes: For sure. I think social media is making everything so fast. I’m in college right now and I’m going to classes. I find it hard to keep up with the trends. Jacob in our Brooklyn office was our director of trends. His job was to monitor Gen Z trends. Our CEO, Ziad, is not checking Twitter every 30 seconds to see where social media’s headed, where the new memes are. That was [Jacob’s] job, which I think is hilarious and so important, because it’s something that needs to be monitored.
KWHS: It sounds like a lot of fun! Tell me a little bit about why it’s so important for the world to understand your generation. I mentioned at the beginning that you’re going to change the world, right? That was in the Tweet? How are you going to change the world?
Himes: I think Gen Z is different, mostly because we’re the first generation to grow up immersed in technology. And I think that’s one of the most important ways that we’re going to change the world. Because we understand it. We are social media natives. The second thing I’d say is that we’re coming of age at a time where a lot of issues have been pushed off. They are issues that we have to deal with as a generation, whether it’s global warming, political polarization, inequality. These are all issues that we as a generation are going to have to deal with. I hope that’s how we change the world. I hope we can deal with those issues.
KWHS: Is that what you’re hearing from your peers? Are people really engaged and passionate about these issues?
Himes: Yes. One of the other interesting things [I think of when] we talk about Gen Z being different is [that] we are really focused on corporate social responsibility. When we’re looking for jobs, if there are two companies and one is interested in the same causes we’re interested in and the other isn’t, it’s more likely we will go to that company that supports things that we’re interested in. I think that’s what sets us apart from previous generations, and also shows that we are engaged in the world around us and the issues that we will have to deal with.
KWHS: Can you give me an example of a company you’ve worked with? Even if you just talk about it in generalities. I would love to know how you’re helping somebody who’s not a Generation Zer understand who you are. What are the specific things you’re doing?
Himes: We recently started working with a social media startup. One of the things we’re doing with them is pairing them with a team of consultants. That’s made up of a senior partner, a junior partner, and eight-to-10 consultants. And we’re still hiring, for anyone watching. They have both a Slack (online collaboration tool) group chat and they have feedback reports that they give. This social media company will develop an image or develop an idea, and they’ll run it by [our team of consultants]. And then the senior partners finalize the feedback reports; they react to it and say what they think and if they think other people will like it. That’s one of the main things we do.
We also do things like campus activations. Companies have really been interested in that, because we spent a lot of our summer developing our network and hiring consultants. I think we did a really good job getting a pretty diverse group from a lot of different places. Those are two of the things we do.
KWHS: What exactly is a campus activation?
Himes: Let’s say an ice cream company wants to come to Penn and do a little stand, an event where students are coming and posting on social media about it and trying the ice cream. It’s [a way to] engage a population of Gen Z.
KWHS: I want to know a little more about you. What are you studying here at U of Penn, and what are your aspirations? You sound very entrepreneurial. Do you hope to get into business eventually?
Himes: I am a sophomore at Penn. I am studying economics and international relations. As for what I’m doing at JÜV right now, I’m still doing my outreach role. I’m still director of development. I’m also building out an advisory board, which has been really cool, because I’m talking to a lot of the marketing experts in the field, which is really interesting. As for when I’m a little older, I really enjoyed doing the business development and market research that I did this summer. I’m hoping to do something similar to that. But like I said, I’m still a sophomore. We’ll see. I’m enjoying the work I’m doing.
KWHS: It sounds like you’ve got a lot of new skills from your experience.
KWHS: What is an important, influential Gen Z trend or trends on the horizon that you think we all should know about?
Himes: I’ll talk about one that I really like. Wendy’s on Twitter is really good. There’s this new trend where companies are engaging with customers or even other competitor companies as if they’re an individual on Twitter. So, Wendy’s will engage in banter with customers and other competitors. It’s just — like I said, it’s the authenticity, just because it kind of makes this huge Wendy’s company seem like a single person, which is really funny.
KWHS: It makes them more relatable, right?
Himes: Exactly. I think that’s a good Gen Z trend.
KWHS: My last question for you would be about the future of JÜV Consulting. You mentioned that you’re hiring more help, and that you’ve had this great team of high school students and college students for the summer. Where do you think it’s headed? Is this going to be, like, a legit business? Am I allowed to use that word?
Himes: I think you are, yeah. So, we are a legit business. To anyone watching, let’s just make sure.
Himes: We are continuing to hire. We’ve been onboarding a lot of clients, because we’ve gotten a little bit of press recently. So, we are still hiring. And one of the things that I think is really important that we do is social impact. We are really cognizant of the fact that the people that are seeking out jobs to consult for Gen Z probably aren’t representative of the entire population. We also do partnerships with underserved youths and people in places that we might not traditionally reach. I think that we’re going to develop that a little more in the coming months, which I think is exciting and important.
What is your favorite Gen Z trend, and why?
Emma Himes says, "Whether it's global warming, political polarization, inequality, I think these are all issues that we as a generation are going to have to deal with. I hope that's how we change the world." How would you respond to Emma? Do you feel Gen Z is engaged enough with the serious issues facing our world? Will you be the changemakers?
How would you describe the essence of Generation Z?