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How to engage Gen Z trendsetters for insights: 4 key lessons from ViacomCBS

Kelvin Claveria
Kelvin Claveria (@kcclaveria)..

Almost every global brand today wants to connect with Gen Zs and Millennials. But as any marketer knows, creating campaigns that resonate with young buyers requires a deeper and nuanced understanding of the unique needs and wants of this audience. 

I can't imagine life without this tool available to us because we've gotten such great traction in the use of our studies and with our team using it. 

It’s no surprise engaging with Gen Zs and Millennials is a big focus for many market research teams today—the more accurate insights you have about this young audience, the better chance your brand has of coming up with messaging and creative that resonates. 

Media giant ViacomCBS knows firsthand what it takes to build a highly engaged community of Gen Zs and Millennials for customer insights. At the 2021 Market Research in the Mobile World conference, Dana Wade, vice president of creative strategy and cultural intelligence at ViacomCBS Velocity, sat down with our very own Andrew Reid and Julia Morton to talk about Culture Keepers, the company’s mobile community of trendsetters powered by the Rival Technologies platform

A full recording of the session is available here—we highlighted some key takeaways from the presentation below. 

Use tools that deliver real-time insights 

Velocity, ViacomCBS's content development division, partners with Fortune 500 companies to develop social and digital content that runs on Paramount+ and Viacom's other digital and social channels.

The content Dana’s team develops to support brands is grounded first and foremost in strategy. Their main goal with their Culture Keepers community is to connect to young people and keep a pulse on what they’re talking about and what motivates them.

"Since culture changes really fast, we really wanted to engage a tool that will allow us to get real-time questions back from our audience," said Dana, explaining why they chose Rival’s mobile market research platform instead of other insight community solutions in the market. The ability to conduct in-the-moment research with a group of highly engaged and pre-profiled community members allows Velocity to be agile and get ahead of trends instead of merely following them. 

Everything you need to know about Gen Z market research

Make research a conversation, not an interrogation 

Gen Zs and Millennials don’t want to feel like they are being studied under a microscope. That’s why they are especially put off by the clinical and overly-formal approach that’s typical of traditional market research. 

At the end of the day, people don’t want to be tested—they want to be heard. It’s important to choose market research technology and approaches that feel more like a conversation rather than an interrogation. 

viacomcbs-video-exampleFor ViacomCBS, making research more conversational means using language that resonates with young people and leveraging videos whenever possible. For example, chats sent to the Culture Keepers community often include videos from the Velocity team. This helps to humanize the company and shows research participants that there are real people behind the research. 

Similarly, Culture Keepers regularly ask for video feedback from their community. This provides richer context and deeper insights into what young trendsetters really think and feel. More importantly, allowing people to submit videos lets them express themselves fully. 

This more human approach helps Velocity get more candid feedback for a wide range of topics. One example Dana shared is regarding the company’s Halloween 2020 study—an interesting project given the COVID-19 pandemic. Dana’s team was working with a partner in the confectionery industry and wanted to understand how traditions around Halloween would change. 

Dana shared, “We asked our community tripwhat their plans were for 2020 and how they thought things would be different.” 

Velocity got a great response rate for the study and found that, surprisingly, people were really looking forward to celebrating Halloween and talking about how they were changing their traditions for COVID. 

“People were really planning around Halloween and actually looking forward to it," said Dana. "Something to break the monotony of what was going on in the COVID world.”

Engage Gen Zs and Millennials where they already are

Today many brands still rely on email surveys—a technology that’s becoming dead and irrelevant among all consumers. 

ViacomCBS recognized that they need to think outside of the email inbox to talk to the right people. The company is able to leverage mobile-first approaches to go beyond traditional recruitment tactics through the Rival platform. This approach enables Dana’s team to bring in new voices—those who can’t be reached through access panels and other old-school sample sources. 

“I can't imagine life without this tool available to us because we've gotten such great traction in the use of our studies and with our team using it,” said Dana. 

Prioritize the participant experience

When you’re discussing sensitive issues with research participants like Velocity does, a good participant experience is imperative. This all starts with what and how you ask your questions. 

“These young people are chatting with us about a lot of things because we don't ask typical questions,” said Dana.

In the past year, Velocity had to engage their Gen Z and Millennial community on difficult and potentially polarizing topics. The team had to be tactful in their approach, but more importantly, Velocity had to make sure the experience for community members is fun and seamless. 

In one example, Dana’s team set out to understand young people’s attitudes towards politics. 

“One of the questions we asked is ‘if the following coverage in the 2020 election were taking a trip, which trip would you be on?’” shared Dana. “Is it a trip to the dentist? Psychedelic trip? Road trip? Trip to grandma’s? Trip to Hawaii? Trip over my shoelaces? Or I am still at home—I am not on this trip at all.”

Those fun and relatable choices allowed ViacomCBS to get more candid feedback and get really interesting insights on how Gen Zs and Millennials were thinking about the elections. 

Finally, make it a two-way dialogue. ViacomCBS gives their community an opportunity to ask the Velocity team questions in a recurring chat called AskAlly—an approach that really humanizes the research experience and keeps community members engaged over time. 

By taking a mobile-first approach and prioritizing their community members’ experience, ViacomCBS Velocity and its partners is able to capture cultural intelligence in a way that feels fresh, fun and organic. This conversational approach—combined with the world's best mobile market research platform—enables the company to keep its pulse on the ever-evolving attitudes, routines and habits of young consumers. 

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