Shavonne Reed is a world-traveled marketing and communications executive with more than 20 years of multi-media, marketing, and communications expertise deeply rooted in a crossover of traditional and native digital prowess; she is poised to lead the next generation to health.
She has been instrumental in designing successful global product launches, employee wellness, and engagement programs and executing million-dollar marketing and advertising budgets.
She is a multi-talented leader with a passion for advancing economic prosperity for all. Shavonne is the ‘21 Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber Chair. She runs a marketing firm specializing in health communications for multi-cultural audiences and supports mobilizing communities for positive behavioral change to improve the health of all communities. She studied mass communications at the University of West Georgia, completed post-bachelor studies in marketing at Georgia State, and received her MBA from Georgia Southern University.
Compared with older generations, members of Gen Z (those ages 13-24) are feeling emotionally distressed by the pandemic but are less likely to seek help for their behavioral health challenges. They also get and process healthcare information differently than any other generation. How do you walk the tightrope and get the messaging right? Shavonne Reed, a healthcare communications expert focused on Gen Z sheds light on how to change your messaging and get it right for this new consumer generation.
[00:00:00] The future really depends on it. Our younger generation is going to have to take care of us in the future. We want to make sure that we're setting ourselves up for a good trajectory as well.
[00:00:08] Intro: Welcome to The Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar.
[00:00:26] Kristina Podnar, host: Shavonne Reed is with me today. She's a digital communications guru on a mission to transform how people feel to understand their health and act positively to sustain future happiness. I've enjoyed learning from Shavonne about digital communications. I invited her to speak with us today, not just about digital, social, and mobile media, which obviously she knows inside and out, but also about targeted strategies to reach gen Z, strategic marketing programs across the public sector, as well as the private sector and nonprofit accounts and a slew of unique insights that will enable not just you and your digital team, but everybody across the enterprise. Shavonne, thanks so much for sharing your time with us.
[00:01:06] Shavonne Reed, guest: Absolutely. I'm so happy to be here.
[00:01:08] Kristina: I'm really excited not just because I think that you are a communications expert, but you're also a specialist around gen Z, but what's interesting to me is when I say gen Z, it's a younger audience, but it's also a blob of a term, help us break down what it means to speak to a younger audience. What does gen Z really mean?
[00:01:29] Shavonne: Yes. No, I'm glad you asked that question. Gen Z is like the next generation that's going to dominate the world. Right? So, they'll become the largest consumer base, the largest workforce. And they are individuals born between 1997 and 2012. So roughly around nine to 24 years of age right now. So that's a wide spectrum; there are almost like 70 million of them in the US alone. And it's, it's a very diverse group, so they have a wide varying worldview as well, and they have different access to. Consider these digital natives because that's all they know; they were born with an iPhone in their hand pretty much. And so, they have a different approach to just life and thinking. And it's, it's really interesting because within that whole generation, of course, you have these various personas, and you have the ones that are a part of the special population. And that's really where I am able to really level up anyone who is looking to understand and really jive with this audience, right? Because it's who I am. It's how I grew up. It's my family. And I really, really understand it. And then also, having two Gen Zs years in my home that I've been raised in for the past 16 years has been very insightful and informative as well. Based on where they are in their lives, It's gonna really depend on the approach to the integrated strategy in order to resonate and get with them. So, you would approach a nine-year old very differently than you would say, someone just going to college or even someone who's about to graduate college. So that's really, kind of the full spectrum.
[00:03:12] Kristina: Most organizations, when I speak with their digital teams, have a really hard time, and it doesn't matter if they're in the private or public sector, but they do struggle to engage these younger audiences. And like you said, it's a very diverse audience; it's not just one type of person, not one type of interest, but what is your advice? How do they overcome the root of these challenges? What approach should these teams be looking to take?
[00:03:35] Shavonne: Well, I think they really should think about how to insert the conversation about health in a non-traditional sense. So not necessarily something that's set up just for health communications, but really in the everyday lives of these individuals because the time you have to capture their interest and to keep them engaged has shrunk. We used to get like 60 seconds or 30 seconds. Now it's like it's dwindling down to maybe about 10 seconds. So, you got to get it all in there within 10 seconds that trust, that engagement, that creativity that's going to capture their attention. And I think that we have such traditional ideas of what media and marketing is. It's hard for us to kind of transition at times because they're like, oh, well, that's just a waste of time. Oh, that's not effective, but really, and truly, you have to think about how they're living their lives, how they're showing up. Getting and processing information and there's this whole phenomenon around influence our health. And I have leaned into, Amelia Garza, who's done a lot of research in that area and she's been very insightful and just kind of helped me to understand all the different paradigms that goes into communicating in a very organic, and authentic voice when you're trying to reach this audience. And I think that is really critical when you want to affect change, right? If you want them to really take action and gravitate and understand what the information is that you're giving to them so that they can do something with it. I mean, all of us are more aware now of like the health concerns and things that are not good for us. But if you think about gen Z. Only about 21% of them. I have said that health is the most important thing that they think about when they're thinking about their future. So that says a lot. So, it takes a little bit of creative engagement and strategy to get through to them so that they can get this information and process it so that it can help hopefully help them have better future health outcomes.
[00:05:37] Kristina: So Shavonne, I think of health as trying to get my 14-year-old to eat his vegetables. I know the pediatrician, who's no longer a pediatrician because I think we've outgrown them, has said to me, it's no longer your job. You were influential. And that way, maybe the first, like seven years now, you're just sort of a noise factor. But how do you define health for the younger audiences? What does that really mean? Both, I guess, from our perspective, when we're communicating with them, but also from their perspective, how do they see health? How did they define health for themself?
[00:06:06] Shavonne: That's a really interesting question. And if you had asked me a couple of weeks ago, prior to having a few conversations with some gen Z ears, I probably would have had a slightly different response, but I think what has been very new and insight for me is that when they think of health, they think of just physical activity a lot of times. And because there's this whole craze, and it's everywhere and Instagram, especially where we have these fitness influencers. So that's a huge piece of it. But when it all boils down, it's really all about wellness just as a whole being. And I don't know that we're actually connecting all those dots for the younger populations, especially when I look at my girls, I think that when I say, your health, they don't immediately think, oh, well, how am I doing mentally? It's all physical. And it's a lot to do with health. And so there's a lot of stigma around that. And I think that's where I really want to show up and be present and to be able to help elevate the awareness that it's not just about how much fat you have on your bones. It's more about, like, how are you processing information? How are you dealing with adverse childhood experiences that you've had over time? How are you conditioning your heart so that it's healthy for the long term? I read an article earlier today, and a young lady was 45 years old. And she was like, got a prognosis that her heart was like running at the rate of a 65-year-old. And it was a shocker for her. And so I think that we just kind of take for granted that all of our body is just going to do everything that it does, and it's going to stay good. And start thinking about it later on in life. But I think that there are so many little things that we can do along the way. And if we can change that mindset of our younger population to begin to start thinking about ways they can affect and influence their future health earlier on, they'll have. Oh my gosh, better health outcomes, and it would just be phenomenal for everyone.
[00:08:08] Kristina: What do you see as the biggest opportunity either for the public sector, private sector companies that are looking to communicate with this population? How should they be positioning those conversations ideally?
[00:08:20] Shavonne: I would say, instead of speaking at this population, cultivating a conversation with this group because they want to feel heard. They want to have value. They want to be able to have trust in those who are communicating the information with them. And especially as special populations, they have this just overall general mistrust of authorities, and that includes the public sector when it comes to communicating health information. And I think that if we're able to genuinely try to connect with them in a manner that builds trust and really authentically hears them and approaches things from their cultural values and how they process information and see things. I think we would get a lot more results because it's really all about perceived risk and how they perceive the risks. And that is shaped a lot by their worldview.
[00:09:16] Kristina: Generation Z is known for its multicultural component. How does this impact communication?
[00:09:21] Shavonne: I think that the fact that we are such a multicultural environment these days, it's really interesting how a lot of people are more sensitive to topics and the way they process the information is quite different. And so I think given that it is really important to be intentional about the conversations that you're having and how you approach individuals when you want them to change their behaviors. I mean, you can't just go at them and go, well, Hey, you don't need to do XYZ. You can't; you don't need to vape. Okay. Well, why, like it's supposed to be better for you than using tobacco. So what's the problem with that. Right. So I think it's really all about just trying to understand the dynamics of each individual culture and just being able to play into how they value the system and things that they feel are important.
[00:10:16] Kristina: Does that extend then to channels? Like where should organizations be with regards to younger audiences in terms of channels?
[00:10:24] Shavonne: Well, it's no secret that social has really dominated. I believe that it's really important for organizations to have a social strategy that incorporates Tik Tok and Instagram, especially for the younger population. And when I say the younger, I would talk about middle school and younger. So that would be like the 14 to a nine-year-old group. And as they continue to mature and they go off to college, they tend to have a little bit less time to be focused on the social channels. And so it's a little bit more challenging to get to them there. But when I just recently spoke with a couple of guys who are in college, they actually told me they hadn't seen any health communications around campus. And I was just thinking, wow, there's like a huge opportunity for us to communicate health messages on college campuses when those students are there and they're always moving around and about to go to classes and access the resources. So I think that it's really important that we get those messages out in the areas where they're commonly showing presence.
[00:11:31] Kristina: So really meet them where they are is what I hear from you.
[00:11:34] Shavonne: Yes, absolutely meet them where they are; in the interview, it was interesting because the two guys, one said he lean it into his mom and his grandma for all of his health information. And then his brother was like, well, I actually go to trusted medical publications. And it's just that, the difference in how people have perceived and the experience and exposure that they had.
[00:11:56] Kristina: You just mentioned grandparents and parents, sort of the tried and tested and proven medical sources. What role do parents play or grandparents or any sort of role of authority? What role is there for them today in speaking to Gen Z?
[00:12:13] Shavonne: I love that question. And it's very, it's very challenging for me, especially being a parent because we tend to think we have more influence than we do. And the fact that the times have changed so drastically, I mean, if you just think about how I heard it on the radio today, it was so funny, the term "reefa" and it's like, that's so dated, and the context that comes around that versus nowadays, medical marijuana, or even the term weed is different. So I think that those generational gaps in differences, have to evolve. And it's really difficult to do that because you're, you have these things that are ingrained in your head and, and your belief systems, and then as things kind of evolve, it's kind of hard to figure out like, okay, well, Oh, how do I adjust and amend and, kind of fit into this new framework and way of thinking. And it was really interesting because the guys called me on the carpet for it. And they were like, well, I want to ask you a question. And that was the one question that they asked me and I was like, wow, that's so true because. I mean, even just thinking of and reflecting on my beliefs about it, I feel like, well, it's not something that you're supposed to do. And then I have to reprogram my mind to say; you know what, there is a place for it. And we have to kind of adjust that and adapt and see how this can actually benefit our people. But before, it was like, oh no, you better not get caught smoking marijuana. And now it's like, uh, it's culturally accepted, and it's just different. So...
[00:13:53] Kristina: …lots of adjustments.
[00:13:55] Shavonne: Yes, for sure.
[00:13:56] Kristina: We're trying to adjust culturally, as parents, as individuals, we're trying to hopefully take this younger audience on a health journey, but these younger individuals are also going to be entering the workplace at some point. What role do you see organizations and businesses having, if any, towards these individuals? Is there a commitment that they need to be making to these individuals who are future employees?
[00:14:23] Shavonne: Absolutely, Kristina is going to be imperative as I've been scrolling through LinkedIn. It's very evident that the way employers are approaching their human capital is really crucial because they have choices, and it's not that same; okay, get a job, and you stay there for your entire life, and you try to retire. It's more commonplace where people are going after gigs and not even committing to organizations. And so it's hard. So once you are able to bring some talent in, you're going to have to really be committed to the values and things and perceptions that, and the needs and wants that they have. And I think that's really important for organizations to build a culture and community of wellness because just given everything that we've been through, it's really important to make sure that you have this psychological safety in the work environment. As I reflect on my corporate career, there've been so many times where I just really felt like I needed to crawl under the desk and hide. But as I've emerged and evolved over time, I've come out a different woman, and it's like, I'm no longer going to stand for certain things and allow certain things to happen. And so, with that being the case, I think organizations have to really have a deliberate and intentional strategy around it. And I've seen a lot of chief people officers showing up an organization, and I'm like, It's good for you because you get it you have to have this community, and it's gotta be welcoming. And it has to be a culture of wellness in order to be able to continue to breed that talent and to retain that talent.
[00:16:07] Kristina: A lot of that has been happening in the private sector and the nonprofit sector, but you also deal a lot with the public sector. Are you also starting to see that shift in the public sector in terms of how they are catering to this younger audience who are future employees?
[00:16:21] Shavonne: I will say I haven't seen it as much just because in the public sector, it seems like they're, the employees are a little bit more veteran. I do think that there is a place for it. I've noticed that there are different programs cropping up here and there, there was one in particular that I saw recently, and I thought, yes, this is awesome because it's giving that younger group an appetite to insert themselves into that environment and to really be able to be productive and to offer the benefit of their forward-thinking to the organizations. And I think that that's going to be very critical as we try to stand up for more progressive programs within the public sector. That's going to have a huge and an, a very strong impact on the future health of this generation.
[00:17:09] Kristina: I'm always so excited. Shavonne, when I get to chance to talk to you because I feel like I learned so much from you every time. Let me do a little bit of a put you on the spot here a moment. Let me ask you if I'm listening to this podcast, and I'm actually somebody who works at a multinational corporation, head and marketing; perhaps I'm actually guiding other marketers to get the messages right. What is the one thing you want me to know about gen Z. What is the thing that you want me to carry forward to all the marketers in my organization? And you want me to emphasize with them as we take up campaigns around health?
[00:17:44] Shavonne: Will say, hyper-focus, you've heard the term niche, and it seems kind of cliche. Instead of trying to throw spaghetti at the wall and come up with a campaign that's going to hit everyone, it is very critical to really niche, niche, niche, niche, niche, that message down to the audience that is really intended for, because that's where you're going to have the most results. You're going to have the most change. You're going to have the most connection, and then make sure that you're leveraging the channels to be a part of the natural conversation. It doesn't have to be, you know, something that's outside of the day today. You want it to be more of a natural conversation to this audience, and you want to weave that health messaging in there, and you want it to come from trusted voices. So when you think about leveraging influencers is actually not a bad idea. And in Amelia's book, she actually has a list of who would be ideal influencers for various health topics. And it's very insightful because you just don't really think about it, but it's really important that you have the right message to the right audience. There's an agency called the Rescue agency—a really big on producing vaping campaigns. And I saw one recently where they were targeting rural communities. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is just genius because it actually speaks to the population of gen Z that is in a rural community. And their view is going to be totally different than from a big city. And so I think that just really identifying and being intentional around that strategy of engagement and just trying to show up as authentic. And within that natural context as possible is really where you're going to see the results that you're going. You're striving for.
[00:19:37] Kristina: That sounds like good advice, whether you're in a multinational or a nonprofit or in the government.
[00:19:44] Shavonne: Yes. I agree.
[00:19:47] Kristina: Any additional advice that you have for communicating with younger audiences, things that people should know or take away, things that you maybe have learned in the last year or two that have been sort of brilliant moments that you wish everybody knew?
[00:20:01] Shavonne: Man. I wish everybody knew that we all have something to learn. It's not very sexy and attractive to be healthy, especially for this generation. It's more about fitting into the cultural things. And I think if we can just figure out a way to make healthy, more desirable, more accessible, and obtainable through awareness and education, then we will be able to have the best chance to affect change with our generational health overall because the future really depends on it. Our younger generation is going to have to take care of us in the future. We want to make sure that we're setting ourselves up for a good trajectory as well. The one thing that I hold near and dear to my heart, and I hope to be able to do as a change agent through my marketing agency.
[00:20:50] Kristina: Shavonne, that strikes me as a wonderful parting gift. And, I just want to say thank you because I want that thought to sit with me and everybody listening for a moment. I think that that's really good advice, but also something that's worth just taking a moment to think about and to ingest. So thank you for that. That's very generous, and we appreciate you being with us today, giving us a lot of your time and insights. And I'll leave everybody with that note because I think that's really powerful, not just from a generational perspective, in terms of what's happening with gen Z, but also how our future will look in their context.
[00:21:32] Shavonne: Absolutely, Kristina; thank you so much for having me. This was just awesome.
[00:21:37] Outro: Thank you for joining the Power of Digital Policy; to sign up for our newsletter, get access to policy checklists, detailed information on policies, and other helpful resources, head over to the power of digital policy.com. If you get a moment, please leave a review on iTunes to help your digital colleagues find out about the podcast.