WORDS BY: CIARAN THAPAR
From The Network is a series of interviews that highlights some of the most exciting individuals within our network. Exploring the latest trends, insights and perspectives on the scene. In our first episode we sit down with Jenk Oz, one of the UK’s youngest CEO’s, to discuss what brands should be doing to engage with and access Gen Z
Tucked on a peaceful mews in central London, in a studio decorated from floor-to-ceiling with the paraphernalia of his colourful life, Jenk Oz has been working on something. The 14-year-old, who self-describes as “half average school boy, half CEO”, founded his company iCoolKid, an online platform for ‘generation Z’ (people born after the late-1990s), when he was just 8. The site now receives 5000 hits per-day from young audiences spread over 190+ different countries.
“Lots has changed since we started,” he says, sat near me on some sofas in his studio. “And lots will continue to change, within the next ten weeks. We’re doing a full repositioning and renaming of the brand. Ironically, the name ‘iCoolKid” isn’t actually that cool” he continues, smiling. “We’re transitioning into our new name, “Thred.”. It’s the same concept but we’re moving more towards being an online magazine. Before, the platform was targeted at 8-13-year-olds, but like me, the content is growing up. It’s increasingly targeted at 15-year-olds, and shifted towards youth culture and social change. There are so many topics that need attention and support like mental health, teen LBGT community, teen suicide, teen employment, environment, social change etc…Instagram images is just not enough to be effective and drive real change. The name iCoolKid was never going to allow me to do that so that’s why we changed the name. Thred conjures up the idea of continuity, dialogue, community, involvement, inclusion etc…and that is exactly what we are aiming for’ he continues.
Jenk has spent the morning shadowing Jack Parsons, the CEO of the Big Youth Group, a collective of youth-first companies, for which he is an ambassador. He says the most interesting thing he learned from the experience was that 85% of the jobs needed for the economy of 2030 have not been scaled yet. As someone who is spending more and more time providing consultancy to brands, and public speaking around the world — from a speech in Dubai about the next ten years of generation Z to one about young entrepreneurship at Brand Week in Istanbul — the young businessman carries himself with the intellectual confidence of someone who is constantly seeking a greater understanding of predictive trends like this.
Given that the dominance of social media platforms in particular are so fundamental the way people all over the world are interacting with brands, how would Jenk describe the way they are impacting young people’s social development?
“On the outside, it looks to other generations like generation Z are glued to their phones. From our perspective though, yes we are on our phones a lot, but that’s because social media is our main way of communicating” he explains. “Back in the day you would be able to catch up with one or two friends a week when you go home from school. Now you don’t have to go anywhere, and you can go on Instagram and catch up with 200 friends in an hour. That’s drastically changed things. And then there is this huge effect it has on marketing. If you’re catching up with 200 friends in an hour, and 2 of those friends are on holiday, and you see one is in Croatia and one is in Ibiza, that will influences where you and your family want to go. So then it’s about how social media influences how generation z spend money. A trillion dollars-per-year are generated by soft influence power, and you couldn’t achieve that without social media. Social media amplifies people’s opinions, and opinions are what drive people to go and buy something.”
How does this insightful understanding underpin the work he does?
“We know where to target and how to target people. For example, we know on Snapchat we have to be raw. Instagram is more curated and more thought through. Twitter is also raw, but it’s less photos, and more words. There is a quote I read somewhere: “Snapchat is the life you have, Instagram is the life you wish you had — the highlights reel — and Twitter is your voice.” So through different social media you know how to target your audience” he continues, adding that there is an underlying philosophy to the advice he offers brands to engage with younger audiences.
“It’s the concept of you needing to go to the audience, and not have the audience coming to you. You shouldn’t be expecting generation Z to walk into your shop with a credit card, pay for the t-shirt they want to buy, and then walk out again. If they wanted to do that they’d do it online. Now, people go to a shop not just to get something, but to have the whole experience of getting something. There is a small area in London with Palace, Supreme and Champion and all the shops there are just really cool shops to hang out at. Fiorucci is another great example: they have music playing the whole time, and even have a milkshake cafe in the shop. That’s where you want to be at, making your space into a social hub. People my age will say to each other: do you want to hang out at Fiorucci? It’s a clothing brand, but they’ve somehow managed to turn it into a place where young people want to spent their time. Then customers think, well, whilst we’re here, we might as well buy a t-shirt, hoodie, hat. They’re taking photos for Instagram, and tagging Fiorucci. They’re meeting young people where they want to be.”
Given that 40% of all consumers across American, UK and BRIC economies will belong to generation Z by 2020, and will represent over $5 trillion dollars of spending worldwide, Jenk says, brands who don’t bother to figure out how to market to younger audiences in innovative ways are going to lose out. Most of the time, he adds, if you nail marketing to young people, you automatically do so for older generations, too: younger audiences set the trends; they get their parents to buy them stuff, which grows a brand automatically across age groups.
“Some companies recognise that they aren’t doing well with generation Z and make sure they collaborate with brands who do have credibility. You know Rimowa? The luggage company? It’s not obvious what brand they are to anyone who doesn’t already know them. Then Supreme did a red Rimowa suitcase and young people started clocking it. So now Supreme fans are able to recognise Rimowa bags as the bags with the ridges” he says.
Another phenomenon that has risen out of the central position of social media in marketing and brand engagement strategies is the utilisation of influencers. A commonly held intuition is that the larger an individual’s social media following, the larger their capacity to sell a product. But there is growing evidence that having a relatively low number of followers, but a high proportion of whom are organic and properly engaged, is more important for converting content into proper engagement and sales impact than sheer numbers alone. In other words, Jenk says, it’s about “quality, not quantity”, and that honouring this insight is invaluable for any company wanting to use social media influencers to sell their products.
“Once you get to that amount of 2 million followers or over, people will start thinking: how many of these are actually fans?” he explains. “And how many of these are following me for the sake of following me? ‘Nano-influencers’ are those people have between 5000-15000 followers. They have super high engagement. They have the highest engagement out of anyone on Instagram. They don’t have many followers but when they promote a t-shirt, hundreds of people buy that t-shirt, which is better than having 2 million followers where only a few people buy it because people aren’t really that influenced by you. Nano-influencers have organic audiences. And this ties into how to use influencers with marketing: say you’re a sneaker company and you’re not doing well with gen Z, you should get a nano-influencer who might have a skateboarding following, for example. You get them to post a photo of them wearing your sneakers, you don’t say people should buy them, just have the shoes as the main thing and tag them. That will create high organic engagement because the influencer clearly in support of your company, and any followers support the influencer, so they’ll easily move to supporting the company, too. Then it’s also about finding the right nano-influencer. If someone is famous for make-up, you shouldn’t get them to promote your sneaker brand, and vice versa. You have to market by hobby and passion; you can’t just market by age group any more. Because someone who likes Supreme is now anywhere between 5 years old and 80 years old. And when you have the right influencer,, you can use them for incredible results: they say the return of investment on a nano-influencer is about eleven times, which is the highest of all users. Some influencers with millions of followers are negative. Celebrity and royalty endorsements have gone down because the believability just isn’t there.”
Jenk’s got other meetings to go to and we’ve been chatting for a while. Before I leave, I ask him what’s in store for the future? What does he hope to achieve as iCoolKid transitions into Thred.; as he enters adolescence as a pioneer of the next generation of business leaders?
“I want Thred. not only to be about reaching maturing audiences, but I also want it to be global. We’re reaching over 200 countries but I want to reach bigger and bigger populations in those countries, and make sure that we close the gap. So that young people all round the world are receiving the same content as young people in London like me are” he says, before pausing. “With Thred. I’m hoping to launch a global community of young people who are keen to learn from and contribute towards a conversation.”