Youth culture is complex and as Gen Z comes of age, the job of consumer engagement doesn’t get any easier than previous generations. In fact, youth, lifestyle and multicultural marketing is more nuanced than ever before. So, how can a “Total Market” approach be a viable marketing model to Gen Z?

Before going any further, first, let me define Total Market for those who may be unfamiliar with the term. Total market: is “a marketing approach followed by corporations with their trusted internal and external partners which proactively integrates diverse segment considerations. This is done from inception, through the entire strategic process and execution, with the goal of enhancing value and growth effectiveness. In marketing communications, this could lead to either one fully-integrated cross-cultural approach, individual segment approaches, or both in many cases, but always aligned under one overarching strategy.”  As defined by the Culture Marketing Council.

Is Total Market a viable youth marketing solution, with its intention of targeting various segments of Gen Z in relation to an overarching strategy? Theoretically, yes, but practically, no. What we and many other industry leaders learned in the field is that Total Marketing all too often ends up being a construct, filled with good multicultural intentions, but largely falling short of representing any segment accurately. This is ineffective for any multicultural segment looking to be represented, but is a particularly poor match with Gen Z’s world view. It does not foster alignment, and it often creates distance.

Rather than fitting cultural segments into a more appealing whole, we should be putting the emphasis on specific cultural segments, and then seeing how they inform the generational whole, a strategy where the authentic, vibrant culture is represented. Gen Z are embracing of diversity and cultures, and what might have passed as multicultural for past generations, will be called out as inauthentic by the individuality- and diversity-championing Gen Z.

Why youth market expertise pays off and a Total Market approach doesn’t:

  1. Youth market professionals are well-versed in the foundational youth marketing truths, including; brand identity-positioning, earning trust, cultivating relevance, delivery of authentic experience and creating possibilities to help young people reach farther. They know how to apply them to the nuanced groups within youth culture, Total Market does not enable the depth of expertise or resources to navigate them.
  1. Youth researchers and marketing professionals understand that valuable Gen Z insights are discovered through “always-on” research and collaboration utilizing youth-proven methodologies. Partnering with youth market insiders gives your research and analysis the context it needs to be effective with the target audience you seek to learn from.
  1. Youth market professionals are typically passionate about the demographics and cultural interests you are seeking to align and build credibility with. As a brand, that means you are getting more youth expertise and dedication for your investment. It’s not only the youth marketing professionals job, it’s their lifestyle. In a Total Market approach youth culture is all too often an afterthought.
  1. Youth marketing experts know the right media channels when it comes to reaching and engaging young audiences. Perhaps more importantly, they know where young people are not and the migration patterns towards what is coming next. Have you heard of the popular youth app, Discord? Neither have the agencies and brands managing a Total Market approach.
  1. Youth marketing teams specialize in finding and partnering with key youth cultural groups, influencers-creators, brands, and organizations that provide valuable access to powerful networks. Whereas a brand in the confines of a Total Market approach will largely be limited to transactional connections with youth culture and become increasingly susceptible to disruption.


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