What Brands Can Do To Prepare for Gen Z by Connor Blakley @FortuneMagazine October 25, 2016, 10:27 AM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Linkedin Share icons Generation Z, the post-millennial generation that was born in the late ‘90s or early 2000s, has grown up in a digital world far different from any other: they’ve never known a time without the Internet or smartphones. In that way, they represent a huge opportunity for companies, many of whom will seek new ways of courting this super savvy audience. And it’s a big audience: these consumers already represent over $44 billion in spending power, a number expected to increase over the next few years as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce and gain autonomy. The challenge of reaching Gen Z makes for both good and bad news — the bad being that brands will need to make some significant investments to prepare for Gen Z. The good news is that there lies an incredible opportunity and a first-mover’s advantage for companies to form long-lasting relationships with this group of consumers. There’s a lot to learn before you should start forming your strategy, but perhaps the best way to begin is by talking to Gen Z-ers themselves. Luckily, I’m still in high school and a member of this cohort, so I’ve had the opportunity to grow up and see my generation evolve as consumers. Here’s how brands can prepare for Gen Z: Understand that the virtual world is their reality If millennials were the pioneers of the Internet, then Gen Z-ers are the ones who will rule it. For every generation that came before Gen Z, there existed a pre-Internet world. There were no smartphones or chatbots or self-driving cars. Do you remember those days? Gen Z does not. For Gen Z, the Internet is not merely an addition to life — it is a fundamental part of it. There is no longer a significant separation between digital and reality, these consumers treat both as representations of their own personas. Yes, we live in a world where our Twitter follower count is just as, if not more, important than the amount of close connections we have in real life. For brands and companies, this means that online interactions can be just as valuable as ones that occur offline. In order to form a meaningful relationship with Gen Z consumers, brands must prioritize building an authentic online presence. A great way to do this effectively is by leveraging the power of influencers. Identify key Gen Z influencers Understanding the importance of online personalities is crucial to understanding the Gen Z puzzle. Youtube Stars, Viners, and Twitter celebrities have real relationships with their viewers. Fifty-seven percent of Gen Z consumers trust endorsements from these online media influencers, according to a study done by the Intercept Group. Companies that are able to leverage these delicate, yet influential bonds to deliver powerful branded messages will be able to position themselves as leaders and the first to break through the space. Tools like Famebit, that allow you to partner with influencers to deliver branded content, are a great way to utilize all the channels at your disposal and reach a larger portion of Gen Z.