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Harnessing The Power of Gen Z: Why Brands Must Prioritise a Student-First Strategy



Founder and CEO at UNiDAYS, Josh Rathour, tells LBB how an explosive decade growing the global student benefits platform has proven that marketers need to start understanding the influential generation Z that will soon outnumber millennials

Harnessing The Power of Gen Z: Why Brands Must Prioritise a Student-First Strategy

Over the past couple of years there has been a growing interest in the spending power of one generation - Gen Z. Typically when we think of the generation with the most spending power, it doesn’t tend to be those at student age. Since it was flagged in 2018 that their annual estimated global spend power is $200 billion (with an indirect spend of $3 trillion) brands have started to notice that age doesn't equate to spend – even if the oldest Gen Z-er is only 24.

Now there is evidence to suggest that this group of individuals is spending even more than they were pre-pandemic. However, knowledge of this spending power is only the beginning for marketers. The next hurdle is learning how to grab a share of this wealth from what has been described as the most elusive and difficult to engage generation of all time. One company has been doing this for over a decade – UNiDAYS. Founded in Nottingham, in 2011, UNiDAYS is now active in 114 countries. They’re the biggest student benefits platform in the world and at the heart of its business model is an intimate understanding of how digital identity can be used to create better student experiences – essential when dealing with a generation of true digital natives. 

According to CEO and founder of UNiDAYS, Josh Rathour, understanding the power and influence of Gen Z is essential for brands and marketers everywhere. Not only are this demographic set to soon outnumber millennials, they’re also shaping culture all around them, in real time. “Brands must urgently connect with this unfamiliar, digital-native consumer who is defining social commerce. They live and breathe social media, instant messaging, video games and live-streaming – often all at the same time. Gen Z are the ultimate early adopters, and we see their habits now influencing the behaviours of Millennials and Generation X too, and even the younger generations following them. They are the most influential but elusive consumers in history. Many marketers find this new world order daunting, but it represents great possibility,” explains Josh. “Brands and marketers must then understand and adapt to this generation’s shopping and online habits; 85% Gen Z research online before purchasing, 92% use a discount code regularly, 82% are loyal to brands who offer codes.” 

CEO and founder of UNiDAYS, Josh Rathour

The UNiDAYS user community is 17 million strong and growing year on year, giving the brand access to unique market insights and data that other brands can only dream of. This makes the brand a true leader in the space and many companies are keen for a chance to “understand, access and enable opportunities for this hard-to-reach audience.” Josh adds: “Through our unique proprietary technology, behavioural data and real-time insights we can predict our members patterns of retail behaviour and connect them to benefits, brands and products that they may never have known about. Our community approach enables us to rapidly test and learn new propositions to support their personal development.”

What kind of success can brands reap by tapping into this generation? In Germany, one campaign for the fashion brand NA-KD drove more sales in 24 hours than their entire Black Friday sales; Josh says that similar successes happen in the UK, France, and the USA thanks to understanding the “intricacies and nuances of Gen Z’s behaviour country by country. Ultimately, Gen Z transcends geography.”

“They are savvy, cash conscious, politically and culturally aware,” says UNiDAYS founder and CEO Josh Rathour “but it’s not just capturing their attention, it’s about keeping it, Gen Z have an 8 second attention span versus 12 seconds of a Millennial.” The brands and marketers who are able to instinctively understand this and make it a central part of the strategy are the ones who will ultimately reap the rewards.


How to capture and keep Gen Z’s attention 

The genius of UNiDAYS lies in its meticulous approach to understanding, targeting, and re-targeting the app’s users at different stages of the purchasing process and different stages of life. In many ways, UNiDAYS has become an integral part of the student experience, making itself synonymous with the perks and fun that the student stage of life brings – at least that’s what it looks like on the surface, while the app itself is powered by a strategic, goal-oriented, and data-driven mission. “We focus on building an authentic member community, with the mission to deliver ‘wow’ factor benefits, discounts and opportunities, above and beyond anything anyone else can provide. More Gen Z are joining UNiDAYS for more reasons than at any time in our history. UNiDAYS is now much more than a student benefits platform, although retail lies at our heart. We work across multiple platforms and leverage macro and mid-tier influencers with super targeted campaigns to impact students at each stage of the marketing funnel. We collaborate with top Gen Z creatives to demonstrate products and services and bring partner campaigns to life. Our app is the key,” explains Josh. 

Brands and marketers can take advantage of the existing customer base that UNiDAYS has so carefully built, and start reaping the rewards of accessing this elusive demographic. “Organisations of any size, anywhere, can join our platform and using our tools can begin building their own student community and find more students who might be interested in their services. To support this, our discovery capabilities and in-app marketing activity generates huge awareness, hitting students at the point of discovery but also identifying high intent purchasers for feature reveals and discount messaging to drive conversion,” Josh says. 

It’s not all about the incoming cohorts of students, but about capturing the demographic at a certain point and retaining their attention and affinity for years to come. With this in mind, Josh launched GRADLiFE, an extension of UNiDAYS for graduates, to continue a relationship with those students beyond their primary years of education. “We decided to develop a new platform, GRADLiFE, which is an enduring and authentic way we can support the tens of millions of global graduates in their earning, learning and shopping needs. Many of our partners share our ambition, and we now offer benefits to over four million graduates who are already part of GRADLiFE.” 

What makes grabbing and retaining the attention of an ever shifting and now highly influential generation are the principles and people at the heart of the UNiDAYS mission. Josh stresses that his “team are Gen Z experts. Having supported tens of millions of students across the world over the last 10 years, we know everything there is to know about this hard-to-understand audience.” With 17 million student users worldwide, he clearly knows a great deal about this demographic.

Josh stresses that rather than fearing this generation or seeing them as the great unknown, brands need to create new strategies to build a relationship with them and to do it today, before they slip through the cracks. He adds: “By working with UNiDAYS brands can shape their Gen Z strategy to accelerate their ability to support, enable and inspire this influential audience.” For UNiDAYS, it goes beyond ads as the team looks to collaborations and projects that resonate with the Gen Z audience, inspiring and motivating all at once.

“Recently we launched a series of brand collaborations, we joined forces with top global fashion retailer Missguided, to offer a student fashion designer a dream break into the industry. The budding designer won the opportunity to have mentoring with a top Missguided designer, their design created and sold as a limited edition on the fashion platform, receiving 8% share of the net profits, plus a cash grant. We have done similar career defining partnerships with Converse and shall be announcing other global brand opportunities soon. Our relationships with Gen Z go beyond the mere transactional.”

The holistic approach to the student experiences clearly demonstrates how UNiDAYS, under Josh’s considered leadership, is prepared for the evolution of Gen Z and the generations after. Standing still and getting complacent aren’t for Josh, who’s already looking to the next ten years. His outlook is confidently positive, saying the company will continue “to listen, learn and adapt.” Looking to the future and keeping abreast of trends is essential when dealing with students. “As a tech business you have to keep evolving by being laser focussed on your customer. My expectations for the next 10 years is widespread disruption in how young people earn, learn and spend, enabled by a self-sovereign digital identity that augments the world around them. UNiDAYS is well placed to be at the centre of that disruption. My vision is that UNiDAYS will actively support, enable and inspire hundreds of millions of young people to become their best selves,” Josh concludes.

With all this in mind, Josh stresses that Gen Z are the generation that brands and marketers need to start understanding now if they’re to capture their hearts and minds in an authentic, long term manner, which will form the backbone of the exclusive new interview series on LBB. The series will explore how brand marketers can assess what matters to Gen Z, how to speak their language, and the best way to capture and keep this elusive generation’s attention for years to come by prioritising a student-centric strategy.

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UNiDAYS, Tue, 13 Jul 2021 15:12:00 GMT