Confession. I totally fangirled today. Not over some A-list celebrity or big-time rock star. Or even over an iconic journalist (Dan Rather – I love that man!). Instead, the source was 17-year-old Connor Blakley, an entrepreneur, speaker and youth marketing strategist. Connor is brilliant, insightful, and no-nonsense about his generation. He knows Gen Z inside and out, and how to talk to brands about getting it right with his peer group. And I think that’s pretty cool. So yeah, I fangirled a little.

I had a chance this afternoon to talk to Connor about a project I’m working on; below is a sneak peek into that conversation.

Angie: How have major influences, like technology, social media, terrorism, and the recession impacted your generation? Have these things contributed to defining Gen Z?

Connor: To the Gen Z consumer, technology and social media are synonymous. If you asked us “what’s the latest technology?” we wouldn’t just talk about wearables, VR [virtual reality] or social media alone — it’s all the same to us. Then, I think the culmination of things like the recession, terrorism, war, the political situation — in combination with our access to technology — has given young people the ability to be logical. That sounds like a very simple thing, but I think it’s complex at the same time. Because we’ve taken all of our life experiences, and with access to technology, we’ve been able to look at these experiences through different lenses — other people’s feelings, opinions, perspectives. In the end, we’re able to look at things through the lens that makes the most sense to us. That’s why I say we’re a very logical generation.

Angie: So what advice would you give to marketers, or watch outs, when trying to reach this “logical” generation?

Connor: Marketers need to give young consumers the tools to do the work for you. For instance: experiences over product. Everyone talks about it, but no one really does it. Everyone is so focused on digital — because we are the first really digital native generation –so they try to get all these “touches” with young consumers through social. However, in reality, brand activations, events and in-person touch-and-feel is actually the way to go with Gen Z, because that’s what will resonate the most. There’s a reason that 60% of my generation would rather be face-to-face than through digital. We’re so fluent in digital, it’s such a part of our life, it’s almost easier and gives us a break from that fluidity to actually talk in person. Especially with a brand, when brands aren’t very humanized. Marketers should give Gen Z access to experiences because that kind of marketing acquires word of mouth.

Angie: How does Gen Z use social media differently than millennials or other generations?

Connor: With millennials, they adapted to technology as they got older, starting with laptops, then iPods and iPads, then the iPhone, whatever. Coming out of the womb, they weren’t able to have all this access to information through technology. But Gen Z is the first truly digital generation — the first generation who could Facetime their friends, text their mom and order a pizza, all at the same time. What that developed is this very good bullsh*t meter. A lot of researchers say “oh, they have an eight-second attention span.” I’m like, “no, we’ll spend a good 20 minutes on something if it’s actually hilarious, like a funny meme or something that resonates with us. So what we’ve developed through this digital intuitiveness, and not knowing a world without technology, is the ability to decipher what we want to look at at a ridiculously high pace that happens to be like five seconds.

Angie: Everyone talks about content marketing. Brands want to know what kind of content will capture Gen Z’s attention. Is there a secret sauce?

Connor: There’s totally a secret sauce, and it’s listening. Go through Twitter and see what people are saying about, let’s say, pancakes (if you’re Bob Evans). You literally type in “pancakes” and you go through and see who’s saying what about pancakes, and then you go and reply to them. That’s what that looks like. Then, look at the trending hashtags. After doing a little research, let’s authentically tie in our own brand, without being too salesy, and maybe make an actual meme or something that resonates. It’s an easy formula, and brands have opportunities every day, but they miss it because they’re ignorant to the marketplace.

A final thought from Connor: there’s a lot of truth to Gen Z loving edgy campaigns, I can promise you that.

What does “edgy” mean? Who’s being edgy, and who’s trying too hard?

More to come. I can’t give away the store. But I hope I’ve piqued your interest, both in my project and in learning more about Connor. Check out his website for more information or to read his blog.