On a recent episode of CMO Convo, we were joined Aidan Tighe, CMO of MOSEA, on how he gets inside the minds of his target customers: the increasingly influential Gen-Z.
By 2026, Gen-Z will be the largest consumer base in the US. For many marketers, this is a worry, as they've spent their entire careers focused on millennials. As well as being the CMO of a company aimed squarely at college students, Aidan’s Gen-Z himself, which makes him the perfect person to share how he's building marketing strategies as a CMO aimed at these important youngsters.
You can listen to the full episode here, but read on for a full write up of what we discussed.
In this article, we cover:
- Aidan's background and approach to marketing
- University students as an audience
- What do Gen-Z audiences want?
- The importance of TikTok
- Looking to the future
- The Gen-Z golden rule
Aidan's background and approach to marketing
It's an interesting conversation we're having today and one that's very important to a lot of CMOs and a lot of marketers in general: understanding your audience, which is the only way you really can market at all, you have to understand your audience.
And we're going to touch a bit on Gen-Z, specifically, because that's what your product's targeted at. But before we get down to that, Aidan, maybe you want to introduce yourself, tell us a bit about your background, and your current CMO role.
My name is Aidan Tighe, I'm currently the CMO at MOSEA. We are a group payments and bill splitting platform, and we're based in Toronto, Canada.
So I guess a little bit about my background. Back when I was in high school, I started hosting events and hosting semi-formals for students at my school and students at surrounding schools. This was more of just something that I would do for fun.
It wasn't really about making money or starting a business. It was just something that I enjoyed doing, I enjoyed organizing, and I enjoyed hosting. So at these events, I would charge 25 bucks to come in and then the day of the event, I would charge $50 at the door. So I'd be walking away with some decent cash.
I did this throughout high school, I did this between grades nine to 12. I went to university in Kingston, Ontario, I went to Queens University and while I was there, I co-founded a company called Revel Entertainment. We were an events management company.
I was one of three co-founders and mainly I was in charge of marketing the events and handling all the ticket sales amongst our promoters, we had a team of about 35 promoters. And with Revel, we brought in acts like Shawn Frank, Loud Luxury, Adventure Club, and if you're not aware, they're all pretty famous DJs.
We were in business for about two years, and with Revel, we generated right around $90,000. So this was hugely successful for us at the time and again, similar to high school, it kind of started just out of a passion as opposed to the need to make some extra cash.
Obviously, that was nice, and it probably was needed but it really was just something that we were doing anyways, I was hosting parties at my house, I was hosting events at clubs, so I figured why not toss a name on it, why not brand it a little and make it a little bit more legit.
Did that give you the passion to get into marketing?
So that was definitely the stem and that's where I route it all back to because when I graduated from school, I graduated with a politics degree, and I started working a politics job here in Ontario.
I quickly realized that it wasn't really for me. I enjoyed it and I met a ton of great people. But it didn't bring me any type of spark. So after that summer, I started with MOSEA in September of 2019. Back when I started with MOSEA, it was only Luke, Colin, and I and we're the three co-founders.
Back then we had no app, no website, no name, no colors, no logo, all we really had was our idea. This idea was in the process of being built out overseas by developers over in Eastern Europe.
So over the year, we built out this platform and the idea definitely morphed a bit and we pivoted with our idea. But we released an app in March of 2020, which we ultimately had to take down because that was right when COVID was declared a national emergency in Canada and over the entire rest of the world.
At the time we were really bummed out about this, as I'm sure like many people were with their businesses having to fold at the time, but looking back now there was actually a silver lining in there because it gave us the opportunity to take our app down and over the past year and a half, we've now been building out a new app, which is exponentially better. We've really put a lot of work into our UI/UX.
We put a lot of work into finding out the features that our audience needs. So we're really excited to release that, we're actually approaching our launch now. It's going to be in mid-August [editor's note: episode recorded July 2021]. So that's sort of where we are now with MOSEA.
It gave you a chance to sort of soft launch the app, get your feet wet, see what needed to be done, and then you've got a clear road to launch this time around.
Yeah, no, it totally did, it definitely gave us a ton of perspective as well. When we first launched, we were still doing a ton of the practices that we were doing back then, mainly, what we were doing is handing out merch, giving people banners to hang on their university houses, because I'm not sure if I mentioned this yet, but our target demographic is university students.
So it's an interesting audience and if you can approach it correctly, I think it's an easy audience. I say easy, because you go to a university town, and there are 10,000 students who all live pretty close together, they all have generally similar interests.
So you can approach it in a way and you kind of go at them as a herd as opposed to having to go at them individually.
University students as an audience
And they tend to be early adopters, when it comes to this kind of thing as well. Split payment is huge in universities in the States with Venmo. Monzo is huge with the university students in the UK because it's so easy to make payments between them and split bills.
You've got to look at social media as well, university students were the first people to jump on social media. They were one of the biggest audiences for Netflix when they first started. It's a great launch position to go for university students and then spread out.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think definitely a factor that plays into that is that university students and I guess just younger people: they're digital natives. So they're more tech-savvy, they're definitely more willing to be early adopters when it comes to a new tech platform or a new social media platform.
Or even just purchasing items online and the rise of online shopping. So definitely they're a good target audience for us to go at. Most of our exec team as well, we're all relatively recent university graduates. And that's kind of where our whole idea stemmed from with this splitting payments.
When I was at university, I lived with seven guys. So as I'm sure you can imagine, we had a ton of different times where we needed to split payments, we paid rent every month, we paid our Wi-Fi bill, our utility bills every month, somebody would go out and buy groceries, somebody would buy a barbecue.
And then we were left with our hands in our pockets trying to figure out who owes what writing it all out on a sticky note. So that's kind of where this whole idea stemmed from: we lived the pain, I know I personally needed this platform.
All the practicalities. The first thing that crossed many people's minds about their time at university was like splitting pizzas, splitting the bar tab straight away, not rent and utilities...
Yeah, well we've definitely had some time to give it some thought. But yeah, the pizza bills and the bar tabs are definitely huge bills that always need to be split as well.
You mentioned you have the recent experience of being university students but in terms of getting inside the mindset of university students, what activities do you do to get inside the mind of your audience? What what do you do to get the insights of university students now, especially in light of COVID?
Not having the full awareness of what the restrictions are like in Canada at the moment, but even when they go back to school in September there are still going to be restrictions in place. Their university life is going to be very different from how you lived your university life, so how do you get into that mindset? How do you get those insights?
I know I just touched on this, but being a recent grad is huge for us. The reason being just to take it a step further is one thing that Luke our CEO and I would do last year is we would go up to all these campuses, and we would talk with students and I think that students were always really willing to speak with us because we were young and because we could relate to them.
So having graduated recently, we know what to talk about, we are Gen-Z's as well so we know how to relate and make our conversations attractive to them.
One thing that we're actually planning for next year is we've recently bought a huge cargo van and we're wrapping it in all our colors and wrapping it with a big MOSEA wrap, and we're planning to drive all the way across Canada, so we're going to start in Toronto, and then try to go to about 35 university campuses along the way and end off in Vancouver, BC.
The goal for this is, again, just to speak with students. We found that when we talk with students, 1. we can market and sell our platform to them. And 2. we can ask them to go on the platform, use the platform, and then tell us what they like, tell us what they don't like. That has also been a huge exercise: we've done a ton of user testing.
Last year, we had brand ambassadors, and they were a very successful marketing channel for us. We had 20 brand ambassadors across eight campuses in Canada and one thing we would do with our brand ambassadors is have bi-weekly phone calls with them or Zoom calls.
And on these Zoom calls, essentially, we would address "Okay, so what do you guys like about the platform? What do your housemates like? What don't your housemates like? What about your extended friend group? Do they like it? Do they not like it? What's something we can do that will make them like us more?" So just keeping an ongoing conversation with students has been super important for us and super successful for us.
Because we've been able to kind of take this into every facet of our business, we've been able to take this feedback and put it into our user interface on our app and address certain things that people don't like.
We've been able to say, "Okay, well, people like it when we sponsor parties and give them free merch, (obviously) so let's make some more merch. Let's find a way to get cheaper merch so that we can give out more and then that way people use our platform in return, they get some free shirts, we get users and everybody's happy".
Another huge marketing channel for us has been we've partnered with a bunch of local alcohol companies, as well as consumer brand companies across Canada. And what we do for them is they give us a bunch of products. So we have a storage locker where essentially, we keep all these cases of alcohol.
And when we sponsor a party, we say, "Okay, if you use our platform to collect tickets for your party we'll give you X amount of cases, and then all you have to do is take pictures of the cases and tag the company. So it's kind of a love triangle there in a way that we get the users on board, the alcohol brands get the pictures and the social media attention that they want.
And the people using our platform, get free alcohol for their party. Plus they get to collect ticket money from everybody coming. So that's been a super successful channel for us as well.
It's a good idea when it comes to pretty much any product that's marketing towards any kind of audience is to think about the broader implications, broader things that your target audience is interested in. So university students, of course, are interested in alcohol.
Any free stuff.
Free alcohol especially, and free stuff, just in general. So it's developing stuff that is going to be of interest to them in that respect. If you look at car brands, they'll sponsor things that are of interest to their target market, so you don't get Ferrari sponsoring soccer teams, for example, Ferrari sponsors an F1 team, which is more of their wealthy target market.
Whereas you get someone like Ford, someone with a more working class, middle-class audience, they sponsor football teams, as well. So it's just putting your product name in the places where your audience is actually gonna see it and appreciate it.
For sure. And one thing that we've actually realized is since we're still so young as a company, we've tried our best to avoid digital marketing, which I think would be an unpopular strategy right now, I think with the rise of social media and just the rise of the digital age, digital marketing seems like the most obvious channel to get your brand and your product in front of consumers.
But one thing we've really been trying to strive for is organic growth. And the reason for that is because since we're a platform that we require, so for example, Will, if you went on our platform, our platform would be useless to you unless you had a friend who was on it. So if we use digital ads and Instagram marketing, and we put it in front and you download our app, that doesn't mean that now your friend's going to download it.
The best way for us to get you on and your friend would be to go talk to you, or attain you as a user in a more organic way, and in a way that you actually like our platform, and you love our platform, and you become a superuser, because then those superusers are gonna say, "Hey, guys, Hey, girls, I'm using this new platform called MOSEA. I send money on it, we can split bills on it, I think you should all get on it. It's super convenient."
I think that's the best way to actually attain users. Because it's useless for us... we could get a million downloads in a night but if only 1,000 people are using it every day, then those downloads are useless, right?
You've got the advantage that you know exactly where your target audience is geographically, you literally have a map of universities saying "this is where we need to go, this is where we can speak to people".
What do Gen-Z audiences want?
There are big advantages in direct marketing in that respect, especially when it comes to university students, and it's a big thing with Gen-Z: authenticity behind the brand.
So the fact that they actually get to speak to you as the founders is probably a big advantage. Do you think that is something that you took into account when you were developing these strategies?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that authenticity amongst Gen-Z is huge. It's actually like a common trend that's been studied and been proven that they really value authenticity. So I think as founders, one thing that we do is we try to speak at as many University classes as possible, so we try to go into business classes or speak at university conferences. because that way, you're still being authentic, but you're speaking to 300 of them at once.
So it's kind of a few birds with one stone. And when speaking in those settings, you can say, "Hey, like, I'm going to give you guys all a sticker, or I'll give you all a wristband", something small, it's cheap and it's not too much of a hit for us.
But I think that the students value that and they leave with something, physically and I guess they leave with the idea of our product. But yeah, I think the authenticity is huge. And honestly, it's a huge part of our business model is striving to have the best customer service possible.
Because we're a young company, and to be real, there are other companies who can do similar things to us who have millions, hundreds of millions more dollars than we do. But we try to give our users the best experience on our platform possible, we try to be as helpful as founders as we possibly can, we try to just add value in any way that we can.
Because at the end of the day, as a startup, you can't offer money, it's something that we can't do is say, "Hey, if you sign up or refer a friend, we'll give you $10" simply and financially, we just cannot do that.
So we have to find other ways to add value and that way has been going speaking with people and just making people laugh, making people smile, laughing ourselves, just being raw and being a person as opposed to just a company.
Do you think that's the nature of good brands that appeal to Gen-Z, that kind of human face to it? If you think about the brands that are doing well with Gen Z, are they ones that have authenticity to them? They have a human face to them?
I think to some extent, yes. I think that companies that Gen-Z's seem to value a ton are authentic companies and companies that stand for a social issue. And I guess that kind of speaks on the authenticity and the trueness of a company.
For example, clothing brands that say "if you buy a shirt we will plant 10 trees", those type of companies they're hugely successful and they're popular.
Because obviously with the rise of social media and Gen-Z social issues are at the forefront of all of media, so to stand behind a social issue and just be authentic and a true company as opposed to being fake and just in it for the dollars, I think that's kind of on its way out.
Fakeness is a good point as well when it comes to this because Gen-Z is savvy enough when it comes to media and social media that they notice when people are just pretending they have social values.
You can't get away with just putting a rainbow sticker on your logo during Pride Month, they want to see you actually practice what you preach when it comes to these messages that you're putting out.
It's not something you can just do just in Black History Month or Pride Month, it's something you've got to do all year round and support these kinds of values.
For sure. And so, last March, I guess, to almost rewind here a bit, when we had our app and COVID had struck, and even though the cases weren't as high as they were this year, there was so much fear. So one thing that we did, we still had our web platform live and we did some tweets to it.
And right away, within the first month of COVID, we launched a fundraiser that was raising money for a local food bank here in Toronto, we had been doing some research, it's called the Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank and they were really struggling throughout COVID because they couldn't find volunteers.
Millions of people in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) were out of jobs, so many more people had to start resorting to these food banks and they just didn't have the resources to be able to meet this rising need.
So we started a fundraiser and of course, as a small company, we did our best we ended up raising $15,000. But on top of that, three members of our team, we went and we volunteered for, I think, in total, it was about 80 hours at the food bank.
We went and we did that and that was really good for us because one we helped at the food bank, we were able to use our platform that we just spent the past year building, it was either we let it collect dust on the shelf, or we use it for a good cause. And so we were able to do that.
We've actually throughout the past year and throughout 2020, we did a couple of other fundraisers, we organized a virtual five-kilometer run for breast cancer research and that was very successful as well. The food bank fundraiser we kind of raised from more millennials and an older crowd, whereas the run was fully students.
So for that we got our brand ambassadors on board, all our brand ambassadors got a ton of their friends, their houses, and then we partnered with a ton of school clubs and fraternities and sororities. So in partnering with these frats, and these sororities, we were able to get 85 people on per house.
So that was great for us, we raised a ton of money for that as well. So those are some of the ways that we've been able to use our platform, rather than just letting it sit over COVID and collect dust while we built out our new platform, we were able to actually use our website that we have now for good.
When you get right down to it, they are marketing activities, but they're marketing activities that are benefiting people, as well. So it's philanthropy that makes business sense at the same time. Is that what Gen-Z is looking for?
They're looking for companies that are authentic and give to charity - is that it? Is there anything else in your experience? What else do people need to do, brands need to do, what do CMOs need to think when they're targeting Gen-Z?
It's definitely not all, I think that it does play a part. But it's not all. I think for a large span of time, businesses seemed to almost ignore Gen-Z's.
Maybe it's because they're scared of them. They don't understand them.
Right, I think that Gen Z's are very strongly opinionated and they're critical. And I think that businesses often didn't know how to market to Gen Z's. Even though, I was reading an article recently, and Gen Z's in 2018 before COVID, made up for almost 40% of all consumer spending in the US.
And they had a buying power of $143 billion, which is insane. And among Gen Z's, parents who have kids who are Gen Z's, they'll often consult them before making a typical household purchase. Businesses have started to realize this and you have seen businesses start to market towards Gen Z's a little bit more.
I think that in the digital age, social media, I know I was kind of being mean to social media earlier, I was more talking about digital paid marketing. Having a presence on social media, I think is extremely important. Especially TikTok and Instagram. So as a company we're late to TikTok, we only recently got on TikTok. But the power that TikTok has is incredible.
The number of people that you can reach, even just by luck with one video - it's insane. And it's unmatched anywhere. There's no platform like it, you can post one video talking about your product, and overnight you can get 100 million views if you're lucky and everything seems to work out for you. We haven't had that but it is possible.
The importance of TikTok
It's crazy, the rise of TikTok. In the past year it seems to have gone from just being this platform for teenagers to dance on, to Ad Age naming it "2020s best marketer". It's a huge opportunity for brands, particularly when it comes to influencer marketing.
There's a lot of big influencers on there, people have huge followings. Is that something brands should be looking at? Should they be speaking to TikTok ambassadors rather than trying to build their own TikTok presence?
I think that doing both is useful. But I think speaking to different influencers and creators, I think it has to be done in a very particular way. And this is some stuff that I've done a lot of research on for our company because we've considered paying influencers to talk about our brand, and then post a video.
One thing that seems to be a common trend is that influencers, depending on the size, if you're going for a huge influencer, when they talk about your brand, it comes off as ingenuine.
They'll talk about it, they'll post it on the same day as they post 10 other videos, maybe talking about some other brands as well. And then oftentimes they end up deleting your video, so it doesn't even last, it kind of just turns into a video that you have that can't be found anywhere else.
But on the other hand, there's creator marketing, and that's going for more of the market, around 2,000 to 50,000 followers, which is a lot smaller, and these creators come off as a lot more genuine, they'll use your product, and they typically will keep your videos up.
And you can actually talk with them as opposed to these influencers with 3 million followers, they won't respond to you, you're kind of going through an influencer agency who talks to the influencers agent who talks to them and there's no conversation, you can't really express the vision that you're trying to go for. Something that we've done, we've hired on a social media manager, he's come on, he's a photographer/videographer so he has all the necessary gear.
And pretty much his job is to just manage our social media, to keep constant posts on our Instagram, to be responding to DMs, to comments on our TikTok, to be filming TikToks. As an exec team and since we're still relatively small, we try to be the face of our TikTok so we cut out a day or like a day and a half out of our week and we allocate that to just filming content.
If somebody comments on one of our Instagram to filming a response to that comment, and I think that will pay off, because people appreciate that, you're not just some random guy that the company's hired, you're actually the founder or the founders, and you take the time to go on social media to talk to people.
And so I do think, I guess to bring this full circle here, for other CMOs, and I guess it depends what sector of business you're in but looking at social media and really considering getting on especially if you're marketing to Gen Z's, I think it's massively important. I think that if you're not on TikTok or Instagram yet, you're already behind the ball.
Not too late because as I said, overnight, you can gain a huge following, but I think it's definitely a very important channel of marketing. Honestly, even with the rise of online shopping, TikTok and Instagram have shifted towards being able to purchase through them. So, I think it's the future.
It's even a potential platform for certain B2B brands as well. We think of it just being consumers because people still have in their head that Gen-Z are teenagers, but they're not. You're Gen-Z, you're a CMO, you're in a position of power to be purchasing, to be buying in a B2B way.
There's a recent stat that something like over 60% of Gen-Zs aspire to entrepreneurship, they want to run their own business, they want to do basically what you've done. It just makes sense for brands to get involved with TikTok in a way that shows the authenticity of the brand as well.
Because as you said, TikTok, it's not these big, fancy filter videos, people want to see genuine people on screen. Maybe that's why CMOs and older marketers are scared of it, because it would mean they'd have to actually put themselves in front of the camera. And also they don't understand the challenges.
Is it just a case of "we just need to get on it and learn how things work"? Or should we just be hiring Gen-Z people to manage our TikToks for us?
I don't know. I think that's a tricky question. Even myself, for the longest time as I mentioned, we put off TikTok and a huge reason was that I wasn't a fan of getting in front of the camera either. I've recently been pushing that to the side, and I've been doing it. And I'm living my best life now.
But I think for older companies, and I guess it's easier for us because, again, we are Gen-Z's, I mean, we're right on the cut-off year of Gen-Z so it's probably easier for us. I do think for companies that have older execs hiring a Gen-Z probably is your best option. The power of a Gen-Z, they understand exactly what Gen-Z's want.
I mentioned this earlier when I was talking about marketing to university students, and I was a recent university student so I understand exactly what they want.
I think that hiring a Gen Z, it's very easy for them to understand the ongoing trends. On TikTok trends come and go like no tomorrow, so one trend that could be popular on Monday could be unheard of by Thursday. So you've really got to hop on those trends quickly.
And I think that it's probably the best bet to get a Gen Z to do this, just because they understand it the best.
And missing those trends, coming to those trends too late on TikTok can be detrimental to the brand, not just because you're not hitting the market but you look silly, you look foolish for being outdated. Even if it's just a week late, you can look completely ridiculous.
Yeah, and I think even just society as a whole, things are starting to come and go a lot quicker. I think it's just the rise of the digital age. People's attention span, it's seeming to go a little bit, and I think, mainly Gen Z's probably and I think TikTok is a huge factor in that.
But yeah, you don't want to be late on the trends, because they probably just won't gain any traction.
That's probably why it's been such a good method for you to go down the direct marketing route because it means you can just circumnavigate all that completely, you can actually hold people's attention by having a conversation with them directly.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that there are tons of pros in going and actually speaking with people, but yeah, being able to speak with somebody and then hear how they respond is super important for us.
So if we bring up one thing, we ask somebody if they like one feature, and one person doesn't and then we ask someone else and they do then we start to weigh what features we like, what colors we should use, what style of logo we can use, we use it in 10 different ways. But yeah, just speaking with people in person, pays huge dividends.
Looking to the future
Let's talk a bit about the future because you've got the launch coming up and good luck with it because it's an absolute mammoth task launching a product, especially a product like this. Will you still be able to be that authentic face of the company?
Say five years from now and you've grown huge and you're in every single campus in Canada, will you still be able to go out and speak to your audience in this direct way? Or do you think you are just gonna have to take a step back as the company grows?
This is something that we've actually spoken about. And one thing that we do want to try is to remain the face of the brand and give off that authenticity we spoke about as we grow and as we expand to different campuses, and you know, you may be into the States, and who knows, maybe to the UK one day.
We would like to allocate some time to be able to go and almost do a university tour similar to what we're doing in September, where you take a month, you take two months, and we just go to all these different schools, and we talk to people.
Maybe we won't be able to go to every single campus that we're on. But eventually, we would like to, just because of the importance that we've put on it.
It gives you a chance to refresh the insights that you're getting as well on a constant basis. Eventually, it's not going to be Gen-Z, have they named the next generation yet?
Yeah, I don't know.
But whatever it may be, let's call it Gen Alpha, we'll get into Greek letters.
I honestly think you're right, I think it is Alpha actually.
Gen Alpha, they could be on a completely different platform, they could have completely different needs, they could have completely different priorities. And the only way you're gonna get to know that is by getting out and speaking to them.
You've got to keep refreshing those insights on a constant basis. And that's an important duty of a CMO. Is that something that attracted you to the role, getting those insights, getting to understand people?
Yeah, and I think this all kind of ties back to what I talked about earlier with hosting events in high school and university, I enjoyed the process of selling tickets to people, talking with people, discussing with people, what themes should we do for this party? Or what DJ should we get it? I enjoy the process of the whole thing. So it definitely did attract me.
I think that as I grow older, though, I realized that I don't know everything, and even now that's a huge pillar of my role is that I know I don't know everything and I'm always willing to learn and I appreciate criticism.
Right now, one thing that I pride myself on is understanding Gen Z's, as I grow older... and I did actually just look it up, it is Gen Alpha, and as they're the new university students I want to be willing to understand that I might not understand them as well as maybe a Gen Alpha might.
So bringing on somebody in that generation to come on and I can consult with them to best understand the practices and the trends and the exercises that will attract this generation the most.
The Gen-Z golden rule
Just one last thing, what is the absolute golden rule for marketing to Gen-Z? We've covered a few things but what is the absolute golden rule and how can CMOs approach that rule?
I don't want to say to be authentic because I feel like we've talked about that a lot. I think that maybe to hold yourself accountable if you mess up to address it and try to move on as best as possible. The reason I say that is just because as I mentioned earlier, Gen Z's are critical, and they hold social values very high.
So I think that for CMOs, if your company does make a mistake ever, trying to ignore it amongst the Gen-Z population might not sit well. I think that it's important to hold yourself accountable and to just move on as best as you can from there.
Because even if they've got shorter attention spans as you said, they can have long memories because they're digital savvy, they can just pull up all the facts, all of the history of your company straight away and hold that against you.
Yeah, that's totally right. With technology, nothing really seems to die these days.
So own your mistakes, be accountable, and be honest. That's a great way to go. Thank you very much, Aidan.
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