Gregg L. Witt

10 Proven Ways to Win the Gen Z Conversation from Complex Media.

As Gen Z ages up and Gen Alpha takes over the teen market, brands face the challenge of keeping up and connecting with younger demographics. This includes navigating complex cultural shifts and technologies while maintaining an authentic brand narrative and adapting marketing strategies to remain relevant.

Complex Networks shows: Hot Ones, Everyday Struggle and Sneaker Shopping

To overcome this obstacle, marketers with expertise in youth culture, the creator economy, and modern engagement practices become essential. By understanding youth culture and utilizing relevant social and digital technologies, marketing professionals can create content that resonates with Gen Z and Gen Alpha.

If you’re curious how leading brands are capturing their share of the Gen Z conversation, look no further than Complex Media. As a trailblazer in bringing niche interests to the mainstream, their video programming, including Hot Ones, Sneaker Shopping, and Everyday Struggle, has not only captured the attention of their competitors but also provided valuable content pillars for the Complex brand to iterate off while staying true to each niche audience.

Co-founder & CEO of COMPLEX Networks

According to Rich Antoniello, co-founder and former CEO of Complex Networks, the role of a brand is to stimulate and niche culture grounded, yet constant iteration within the way brands are built in the future. With a permanent cultural shift towards fragmentation and segmentation in all sectors, brands must embrace this including advertising, syndication, licensing, e-commerce, and events.

So, let Complex’s success inspire you as you delve into our analysis of 10 proven brand marketing strategies and tactics that have proven to win the Gen Z conversation.


1. Start and own the conversation.

To be successful, you need to be the one leading the conversation and setting the tone for your industry. Be a thought leader and build a community around your brand in ways that people want to engage with.

2. Focus on building niche culture vertical audiences.

Rather than trying to appeal to everyone, focus on building vertical communities around passion points that align with your brand. This will help you establish a strong brand identity and create a more targeted and engaged audience. Leverage the power of each niche with a cross-cultural voice that resonates. That is how mass appeal is authentically engineered by smart companies like Complex, Fenty, Vans, Supreme, RVCA, Nike SB, Liquid Death, and more.

A vertical community is a group of people who share a common interest or passion point that aligns with a specific industry or niche. In other words, it is a community that is focused on a particular topic or area of expertise, rather than being broad and generalized. For example, a vertical community could be a group of people who are passionate about streetwear fashion or a group of gamers who are interested in a specific type of video game. Building a vertical community can help brands establish a strong brand identity and create a more targeted and engaged audience.

3. Build a cohesive brand across verticals.

Developing a cohesive brand across multiple verticals can create a premium environment and increase revenue potential in terms of product sales, user acquisition, ads, or sponsored content.

4. Don’t just tell a story, build a reality.

Crafting a brand involves more than simply telling a story; it requires creating a reality that resonates with and captivates people. Determine which aspects of your reality are compelling to your audience, and then build upon those themes to generate captivating narratives and product concepts.

While authenticity is important, it’s not enough to merely proclaim “be authentic.” First, identify what aspects of your brand are truly meaningful to your audience, and then refine and iterate on those themes to foster a deeper connection.

5. Be guided by data and driven by culture

Data can guide your marketing strategy, but it’s not enough on its own. Creativity and culture are key to creating brands and experiences that resonate with your audience. By being guided by data and driven by culture, you can create something meaningful and make a lasting impact.

6. Be focused on strengthening brand credibility with collaborative partnerships

By building trust, brands can reach and engage with their audience. Collaborating with other brands creates something unique and expands your reach. Marketing dollars are magnified and each brand benefits from access to the other’s following. A collaborative offering attracts a broader audience and inspires new ideas, bringing innovation to both sides.

7. Be unique. Unleash your inner weirdo. Get interesting or go home.

Don’t just aim for a unique brand identity, but also focus on creating unique communications, experiences, and products that truly stand out. It’s easier said than done, but the effort is worth it in building a passionate and engaged audience.

8. Be aware that reach = vanity, engagement = sanity. Strike the balance.

Building a loyal community of engaged fans is key to success. Don’t just focus on pushing for views or reach; it’s about depth and quality. Assemble a large enough group of fans and creators to act as ambassadors for your brand, and nurture those relationships. Engagement is more important than simply reaching a large number of people.

9. Be consistent, duh.

Consistency is not only important, but it’s also essential in building a strong brand identity and maintaining trust with your audience. Don’t rely on one-off campaigns to “leverage” a genre, as they are largely ineffective. Instead, commit to your segments and nurture those relationships. Don’t be a fair-weather friend when a genre isn’t the hottest trend.

10. Be willing to continually invest in your brand.

Building a successful brand requires an investment of time, resources, and a willingness to prioritize long-term growth over short-term gains. To truly stand out, make the necessary sacrifices to establish a strong foundation. Remember, investing in your brand is crucial for lasting success. Sounds basic, right? But it’s where most of your competitors fail.

ComplexCon Closing Ceremony 2019

Take action & earn your share of the youth culture conversation

To successfully engage with niche genres or cultural audiences, brands must become genuine contributors and find their unique voices within these communities.

This requires creating culturally verticalized content by genre, carefully iterating and refining the approach, and cutting across like-minded communities to foster meaningful connections with the target audience.

By adopting these strategies, brands targeting youth culture can start and own their share of the conversation now and in the future, ultimately driving growth and brand loyalty.


Self-Audit: Are you positioned to be part of the Gen Z conversation?


Give each question a “NO”, “YEAH” or “HELL YEAH” and write it down. NO = 0 points, YEAH = 5 points, and HELL YEAH = 10 points. It will take you less than 5 minutes 😉

  1. Have you identified the aspects of your reality that are truly compelling to Gen Z audience segments, and built upon those themes to generate captivating narratives and product concepts?
  2. Are you building niche communities around passion points that align with your brand?
  3. Are you prioritizing building trust with each audience segment through collaborative partnerships with other brands?
  4. Do you regularly unleash your inner weirdo to create unique and interesting communications, experiences, and products?
  5. Are you being guided by data and driven by culture to create meaningful brands and experiences that make a lasting impact?

And you have made it to the end! Fantastic job, take a deep breath and go to the next step to see how you did!

If you scored 25 points or more you are well on your way to capturing your share of the youth culture conversation.

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