By Margaret Molly, Global CMO of Siegel+Gale 

On Thursday, June 18th, I hosted a special Gen Z edition of our Future of Branding roundtable series, featuring a conversation with five teens of leading global marketing executives. Per our format, I handed the mic to my son Emmet to moderate the discussion.

Together with the kids and their parents, we explored how brands can excite (or alienate) young consumers, where Gen Z’ers seek out inspiration and which brands are getting it right. Our panelists shared their insights, personal interests and offered tips to marketers on what they would do if they were marketing leaders. 

In closing, I circled back to the CMOs and posed the questions, as a parent and a marketer, what surprised you most from what the kids shared today? And what commitment can you make, as a brand leader, to appeal to the next generation of customers? Here’s what the CMOs had to say.

There were three big takeaways for me. Firstly, for us as marketers, when we think about advertising in the future, it’s all about social media. Secondly, the panelists focused on a lot of similar brands, Nike, in particular, in part because it is a very purpose-driven organization. These kids recognize purpose and social causes when it comes to selecting brands. The final thing is relevance. I realized that when you think about how you sell to kids, they like vivid imagery; they want to see themselves reflected and are curious about products that interest them. It’s about telling a story that is going to resonate with them. I think that that’s something that we all strive to practice.

In terms of commitment, we need to fundamentally shift the channels and the messages that we deliver as marketers. When I listened to the kids and heard about social media, purpose, video games and celebrity influencers, these are significant changes from what we as marketers still refer to today as traditional marketing. Some of these traditional tactics remain a big part of our mix, but I think one of the questions I walk away with is, when we think about the future and when these kids enter the workforce, what is the role of print advertising, billboards, large scale events, and even PR? There are a lot of fundamental questions that we have to ask, but we’ve got to also listen because this generation is fundamentally different. And we’ve got to stay in touch. This panel is extraordinary because this is where it needs to start if we, as marketers, want to be building successful brands a decade from now.

—Alicia Tillman, Global Chief Marketing Officer, SAP

It was interesting to hear about the focus on customization. This idea of allowing these kids to customize their experiences and their products and giving other audiences that option to curate their own experiences. We learned that trust has become even more crucial with the shifting role of influencers and celebrities. Then there is the political cause, something that is emotionally connected for the brand, beyond the kind of attributes of the products themselves.

It’s not about slapping a label on this generation. We need to commit to listening and learning, having our finger on the pulse of how this generation, more as individuals, though, is feeling and wants to engage.

—Jamie Moldafsky, Chief Marketing Officer, Wells Fargo

We talk about authenticity all the time, but this panel is what authenticity looks like. Despite everything, we learned that retail is not dead–it is very much alive and kicking. This generation of consumers also cares more about data and privacy than we may have thought. We tend to assume this age group doesn’t care about privacy, but they debunked that. And finally, as business professionals, we need to spend more time thinking about social, especially Instagram and TikTok.

The biggest takeaway for me is do not assume. This panel has shattered my biases. And my commitment doesn’t need to be massive; I just need to reach out to the community that we have as marketers, as business leaders and just talk to humans. We spoke about humanizing the brand for a long time, but it’s time to talk to humans and understand what they stand for. I definitely had a lot of perceptions that were broken today, and that’s my commitment.

—Madhur Aggarwal, SVP, Digital Channels & Experience, Pearson

Sometimes we think kids are not going to care about quality when it comes to what they consume—what they eat, what they wear or what they watch. But this generation appreciates good quality. That was a standout for me. And I, too, was struck by the point that retail isn’t dead. These teens want the marketing to reach them via social media; that’s how they’re going to pick it up. However, they still crave that in-store experience: the touch and feel.

What I’ve heard in this conversation is that this generation is far more socially conscious than I could have imagined. And they want to see themselves represented and know that the causes that matter to them also matter to brands. This generation can detect inauthenticity, so my commitment is to be more purposeful and authentic.

—Arlene Amitirigala, Head of Engagement and Employee Communications, Diageo

Beyond cause marketing, it’s really about the purpose of a brand that’s intrinsically tied into the DNA of who they are, what they are and what they represent. As marketers, we need to balance that tightrope of creating relevant content and making that content available and reaching these Gen Z’s while respecting the privacy of their individual information. How do you create relevant content and make it available in a way that is going to be effective, but at the same time, not cross the line where it gets into anything near privacy issues? As a marketer, I would say that’s kind of where that tension is.

As a marketer, it’s imperative to look at the core of what a brand’s promise is. But beyond that, what is at the heart of what you really represent? Because that’s how we’re all going to be judged. My commitment to engaging the Gen Z population of future consumers is to create meaningful messaging that is authentic.

—Angela Pih, Chief Marketing Officer, Papa & Barkley

This is a biweekly series for brand-side senior marketers. To request an invitation, visit


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