By Janine Pollack
Director, Integrated Marketing
Consumers increasingly expect brands to speak on social issues, especially younger consumers.
Consumers want meaningful action from brands speaking about nationwide protests. Showing you care has long been a measure of brand affinity for Gen Z. This generation is “more likely than other [generations] to call on brands to make a difference,” and tree times more likely to say that the purpose of a business is to “service communities and society,” according to a May 2019 survey by BBMG and Globescan.
Depending on which measure you use, this generation, defined as being born between 1997-2010, has seen more than most in their formative years, including the fight for the environment, two recessions, a global pandemic, and race riots. In the context of so much change, Gen Z is standing up and demanding to be heard. More than being heard, they ask for a dialogue and action. Below is a simple primer pulled from our insightful white paper. It's full of information about what makes Gen Z unique, including an independent survey, and it seems particularly timely now. Brands that want to make a connection with this influential generation, but aren’t sure how, will find it very valuable.
Stay ahead of the curve with snapshots of Gen Z traits and priorities:
Gen Zs are Digital Natives
Gen Zs are digital natives, meaning they live and breathe social media in a way that no other generation does. Its importance in their lives is huge, as an influence and as a tool: some Gen Zs check their social media accounts up to 100 times per day, and 52% of Gen Zs have given out their social media handle instead of a phone number (Source: Mintel) and now, as a way to stay connected during the 2020 pandemic, they are giving it their all on TikTok.
Social distancing and self-quarantining have changed the world, and Gen Z is responding by doing what they do best: Expressing themselves. They are flocking to apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat to pass the time with friends and family. They are dancing it out and having their Andy Warhol moments (i.e., their 15 minutes of fame).
The way they use social media is also key. Gen Zs are not tweeting about what they had for lunch. Instead, they use social media platforms to cultivate identities and tell stories, often aimed at specific audiences. They know how to drive a narrative to the right people and create engagement. In other words, they’re natural marketers.
Social is where they make key decisions—including decisions about what to buy. And the people they look to are social media influencers. “Social media influencers really do have the power to convince Gen Z to make purchases,” says Jonah Stillman, a member of Gen Z, author, and speaker who co-founded GenZGuru.com with his father. “We are connecting with these influencers on a much deeper level than traditional ads.”
Gen Z is a Generation of Visualizers
Since we referenced Warhol, let’s go for another icon—Bob Dylan, poet and songwriter, who sang “The Times They Are a-Changin.” To get a better understanding of their habits, Brainly, the world’s largest peer-to-peer learning community, surveyed 1,700 Gen Zs and found that nearly 60% are watching more video content than pre-COVID. YouTube, at 40%, is the primary source, and the OTT sources of Netflix and Hulu follow at 24%. Perhaps interesting to note is that Facebook is losing its appeal with this generation (not to worry, it’s thriving elsewhere), and this demographic spends most of its time on Instagram (59%), Snapchat (50%), and YouTube (42%). For brands that have yet to embrace the growth and vitality of OTT and its targeting capabilities, it’s time to get on board.
Gen Z are Consumers with Conscience
Gen Z is more interested in purchasing a home than having a wedding. It is recognized as the most important purchase they’ll ever make, and it’s directly correlated to their financial stability. It’s an investment for themselves. Their home may be condo, apartment, or shared unit.
As consumers they’re stressed, with 39% ranking their financial situation as one of their top three stressors. That’s why, before they purchase, researching is key—38% agree it’s important to check reviews from multiple social media sources before going shopping. They are informed and judicious shoppers who will check multiple sources before purchase. Reviews will be checked to find out not just about price, but about the brand’s ethics and if they’re comfortable being associated with them. Whether or not a company is sustainable or inclusive is part of the purchase funnel.
Care is About Social Impact as a Brand
It’s never been more important for brands to have, and project through communications, a clear sense of purpose. Gen Z is proactive about making the world a better place, and their brand loyalties and buying choices reflect this value system. According to the independent MNI survey, more than half of Gen Zs say that a brand’s showing dedication to social impact by giving proceeds to charity, being environmentally conscious, having strong values, or projecting an impact-driven image are important factors when they make purchases.
They navigate toward companies that are good corporate citizens. So when a brand takes a strong stance, Gen Z will come out strong on social media to praise them, like Mattel supporting same-sex marriage or Dick’s Sporting Goods halting sales of assault rifles. Climate change is a priority.
“This generation understands that their voices are amplified by the social and digital media they use, and they use them to their advantage," says MNI's Vicki Brackl, SVP of Integrated Marketing. "Marketers and politicians who consistently provide value and relevancy in their messaging, and their corporate actions, will earn Gen Z's respect, dollars, and vote.”
More than 40% feel strongly about affordable education, affordable health care, gun rights/control, racial equality, and climate change. That's a lot to carry. As an ambitious, vocal, and cash-strapped group, associations with causes can be a helpful deciding factor. Sustainability is often an easy starting point for brands and is quickly becoming a baseline requirement for Gen Z.
Gen Zs expect a brand to take a position. To be respected for its values and demands, a brand must demonstrate to them in a concrete manner, and shift from words to actions. To achieve this, advertisers should consider four clear actions:
1. Talk to communities. Gen Zs have a strong desire to establish connections and find a space where they can feel close to like-minded people, to talk and think freely.
2. Move from telling a story to bringing a story to life. This is a generation of creators and inventors; they expect to make their voices heard and have a direct impact on products and services.
3. Be seen and heard. Gen Z prefers using content via screens. But its appreciation is also growing for audio solutions.
4. Play games. As part of the experiential promise, tap into gaming platforms like Fortnite.
Prizing individuality and self-expression, this demo is still finding its way. While earlier generations had clear life milestones that defined their identities, like marriage or buying a first home, Gen Zs see themselves as more fluid—they still have a strong sense of self, but they also know they can have more than one. In fact, it’s not unusual for Gen Zs to have one persona on Snapchat to share with friends, and another on Instagram for their parents to view—and they easily move from one to the other. It all depends on who they're reaching out to and when, but it’s still their authentic selves.
They Value Print
Gen Z may not distinguish between online and offline channels like other generations, but they do know there’s a difference between reading onscreen versus a printed page, and they pay attention longer when reading print. A recent survey found that 92% of college students would rather do their coursework in print rather than tablets, while a Student Monitor survey found that 87% of student textbooks (purchase or rental) are still for printed books. The same rules apply for media consumption: the MNI study found that Gen Zs spend more time reading newspapers and magazines without interruption than they do social media, websites, and blogs.
What Brands Need to Know
When connecting with Gen Z brands let their authentic voice be their guide. If you don’t have a social media or digital strategy in place, that’s okay. Start with the basics and build an Instagram or Twitter page. If you don’t know how to get going, tap into a friend or someone savvier on your staff. If you want to expand your reach, partner with a data supplier who can guide you. Make sure your data resource understands your values and has the ability to help you determine the best way to get brand messaging heard and seen by those who matter most to your brand. Make sure the data they use respects data privacy issues and has the tools to provide measurable results. Do this and you’re on your way to readying and deploying messaging that connects and resonates with Gen Z.