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How to Market a Startup to a New Generation

How well do you relate to people two generations away from you? It’s hard to stay edgy and funny after more than 40 years, but “Saturday Night Live” is one Boomer brand that’s regained relevance in the digital age. Despite some rough seasons in the ’80s and ’90s, the show reinvented itself in the 2000s by hiring new talent, embracing online and social platforms, and leaning in to the cultural and political zeitgeist.


Entrepreneurs should take a lesson from SNL — or any successful legacy brand — when figuring out how to connect with younger generations of consumers. No, you don’t need to take a political stance (although it sometimes helps). But to grow an audience, startups must show they’re hip to the times to resonate with more consumers. 

Generation Z, in particular, represents a consumer segment of interest. According to Millennial Marketing’s “The Power of Gen Z Influence,” Generation Z commands spending power of up to $143 billion per year. These consumers, all born after 1996, have never known a time before the internet. They expect businesses to be fully integrated with web and mobile.

Perhaps because Gen Z consumers are so connected, they also prefer companies to take a stance regarding sociopolitical issues. Smart brands have boldly answered the call. Toms, a 13-year-old shoe company, has donated $5 million to organizations working to reduce gun violence. Levi’s, founded in 1853, uses its ads to promote inclusivity and progress. 

While they don’t yet have to reinvent themselves like legacy brands do, startups must demonstrate their relevance to engage with younger consumers. Consider three ways you can start doing that now.

1. Challenge traditional notions.

Expand the way potential customers view your company and its offerings. Dove, which first introduced its Dove Beauty Bar in 1957, took on this challenge in the 2000s with an advertising campaign that showed “real” women in an empowering light. “There are so few commercials that in any way are different, that challenge the stereotypical images,” notes ad industry critic Jean Kilbourne. Count Dove’s Real Beauty ads among them. One video, “You’re more beautiful than you think,” has received more than 68 million views, showcasing the message’s resonance with current generations.

Just as legacy brands must evolve, new brands should offer fresh perspectives to prove they’re culturally in step. As you get your brand off the ground, look for ways to round out its personality. A great place to start is with socially responsible messaging that promotes equality, fairness, and progress. How does your product or service enable your audience members to be their best selves?

2. Find the best meet-up spot.

Young consumers expect to find brands and products in a natural way as they explore their world, whether in person or online. A key tactic for staying relevant is showing up where your consumers are searching, hanging out, and going out. Get creative with it: Ads aren’t the only way to reach your audience.

For example, Jelmar, a 70-year-old company that manufactures CLR and Tarn-X products, created Spotify playlists to inspire happy cleaning vibes. Alison Gutterman, president and CEO, underscores the need to meet customers where they are. She notes that instead of waiting to be presented with a problem and its product fix, today’s consumers “self-identify issues and actively seek solutions. Because consumers have stopped being passive, brands have to follow suit and be where customers need them, when they need them.”

3. Enable personal growth.

Helping younger consumers meet their personal goals is one of the most powerful ways of staying relevant and top of mind. That’s because it appeals to this generation’s insatiable appetite for learning and personal growth. 

Provide ways for your potential customers to educate themselves and level up in skills. That may come in the form of video tutorials, online training, or other methods. Apple has put this tactic to good use in its Today at Apple program, which offers 30- to 90-minute training sessions. Taking place in its retail stores, the trainings cover topics like professional video editing. This sort of educational outreach can make a big difference for Gen Z consumers, accelerating them toward a tech-driven career or allowing them to make better use of the tools they own.

Startups need to be in tune with the times, and proving a brand’s cultural relevance is an effective way to appeal to the newest wave of consumers. Unlike SNL, you don’t need to hire a new cast of players. But you do need to re-strategize your messaging, meet potential customers on their own turf, and offer opportunities for personal growth. Whether a legacy brand or a brand-new startup, a company that demonstrates its significance will be able to fuel growth in the years ahead.

Author : Holly Hutton

Born in the Big Easy and raised in the Sunshine State, Holly has spent the last five years brunching in the Big Apple and bantering with Big Ben. As a wandering writer, techy-in-training, and avid alliterator, Holly has written everything from educational policy and political news briefs to web content and travel blogs. She is thrilled to be a part of the KS team and working with a community of smart, savvy, entrepreneurs on all things startup!

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