Successfully marketing to the youth is about understanding the world they inhabit: it’s digital, technology oriented, instant gratification, narcissistic and all about culture, image and micro moments. The youth of today are very aware of who they are and where they come from, and are increasingly celebrating being African and South African.

These were just some of the insights revealed during a panel discussion on youth trends that help brands build sustainable relationships at the recent Sunday Times Generation Next Youth Marketing conference held in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Youth from HDI Youth Marketeers’ Junior Board of Directors reminded marketers that the youth should not be put into a box and wanted to be seen as individuals rather than as a collective. To reach them requires being authentic – stick to your DNA and be true to your brand, they advised.

They admitted they were not brand loyal unless the brand appealed to them from an aesthetic or functionality point of view, and occasionally, a value for money proposition. In essence, they will only support brands that are deemed to be edgy or ‘cool’ and that make them look good. They suggested creating campaigns that make them feel important, and that would become the voice of their generation.

They also urged marketers to stop using LSM measures. As one of the Junior Board of Directors pointed out, “Don’t assume that just because I live in Soweto I can’t afford an iPhone 8.”

In order to connect with the youth, the messaging needs to be concise, crystal clear and correctly placed on platforms where the youth are communicating, said Sapi Bachi, MD of HDI Zimbabwe, adding that it is acceptable to be both inspiring and aspiring because “even if the youth can’t afford the brand right now, they will eventually get to the point where they can afford it, aspiration is loyalty.”

Both research methods and data collection methods must evolve, said Brand South Africa Research Manager, Leigh-Gail Peterson, adding that already data is collected very differently compared to a decade ago. “Social media has become a pivotal tool that can’t be overlooked when collecting data in today’s research environment,” she said.

The big take-out: In youth marketing a brand’s fiercest competitor is the speed of culture.