Companies driven by the mantra of “doing well by doing good,” a bandwagon many jumped on in recent years, seem poised to be sweetly rewarded by connecting more successfully and emotionally with Gen Zs (post-Millennials, born after 1995) than with prior generations.
Without doubt, they are far ahead of brands focused primarily on social media with brand messages and rote reworks of traditional advertising stories as the golden pathway to this group. Why? Because Gen Zs demonstrate a highly developed sense of individual and collective responsibility. While not the resurrection of the “counter-culture” of the 1960s to drive change outside the social norms, they are a “conscious-culture,” a generation hyper-aware of issues and trends facing our world and the roles they themselves must play to address them.
Gen Z blends a personal can-do attitude with the power of community. They believe small actions combined together make a difference. A recent Fluent survey of more than 1,000 college juniors and seniors found that despite significant pessimism about the economy and their own finances over the next two years, 93% felt optimistic about their ability to make their way in the job market. And in the face of pessimism about the direction of national politics, they feel buoyed by strong relationships with family and friends.
Yet how Gen Z connects – via social media – is less relevant than understanding why: what they care about and what prompts them to take action. Gen Zs, like Millennials who experienced “once in a lifetime events,” are experiencing significant events of their own already: legalization of gay marriage, transgender rights, the possibility of our first female President, the rise of multiculturalism, and the constant news cycles of gun violence and terrorist activity. Constant exposure to these events and public reactions have shaped their outlook on life.
What then sets the youngest Millennials and Gen Zs apart from previous generations are conscientious attitudes and optimistic outlooks. Where Gen Ys often pointed the finger to demand change, Gen Zs stand up and make things happen. They are mindful of the future and anxious to play a part. For example, with the groundswell of the Black Lives Matter movement, students on campuses nationwide have pushed for more diversity acceptance as well as bias assessment response teams. Others are taking steps to combat pollution and climate change by asking administrators to sell off endowment holdings in fossil fuel companies.
Brands that offer Gen Zs opportunities for self-determination, community and positive solutions to practical issues will appeal most to this demographic. Brands that are aware of the depth of today’s challenges and are educated and play an authentic role within social movements will be rewarded. Empowered team structures will lure Gen Zs to them as potential employees while opportunities to volunteer or play a part in larger issues will keep them there.
And when it comes to retail, where Millennials are focused on bargains and savings, Gen Zs are concerned with value. They look beyond price, to what is the ‘value’ to me? What need does this purchase fill? What functionality does this solve? And that includes looking at the ethical values of the brands Gen Zs are willing to consider, to be associated with, because their lives as well as brand values are so public today.
The good news is, there are plenty of these companies Gen Z has discovered already and more they will gravitate toward naturally. How do you know whether your company is one of these?
Like Gen Z, your brand can’t wait for the future to come to you. You have to make it your business, now.