The Gen Z Reckoning: Brand relevance, respect and the rise of a new generation

by | Jun 3, 2019 | Public Relations

Gen Z is coming of age in a much different world than previous generations, defined by instant access to information, polarized politics and a social media-powered desire for validation, identity and belonging. Like in other disruptive moments in history, these young people are navigating profound social, political and environmental transformations.

In the context of so much change, Gen Z is taking a stand on issues, speaking out and harnessing their claim to a future they want, according to new research from brand and social innovation consultancy BBMG.

Along with cultural trends research and qualitative interviews, the firm’s report, The Gen Z Reckoning, in partnership with GlobeScan, explores the attitudes, beliefs, desires and behaviors of the leading edge of Gen Z (ages 18-22), revealing compelling distinctions that represent important opportunities for brands to win their trust, loyalty and participation:

A trust gap

By a 5-to-1 margin, Gen Z does not trust business to act in the best interests of society. Nearly one-in-four cannot name a single brand they consider to be purposeful.

Brand purpose is service to society

Gen Z is 3X more likely to say that the purpose of business should be to “serve communities and society” rather than simply to “make good products and services.”

Silence is complacency, taking a stand breaks through

Gen Z wants brands to harness their voice and influence for three key reasons: “because it’s the right thing to do” (56 percent), “when they see a public outcry or demand for change” (19 percent) and “when it goes against the company’s values” (18 percent).

“For Gen Z, silence is complacency. This generation isn’t afraid to take a stand on issues and they expect the same from brands. Gen Z expects brands to bring an honest perspective on today’s challenging topics, and they recognize that if you are going to say something meaningful, not everyone will agree.”

Equality matters

Gen Z is 2x more likely than all other generations (28 percent vs. 11 percent) to care more about issues of equality, including social equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and racial equality. “Gen Z is the most diverse generation in our history and also the most inclusive. They want a world that welcomes all people no matter their race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Voice means validation

Compared to all others, Gen Z is most likely to say they can make a difference on the issues that matter through their “voice online and in social media” (43 percent Gen Z vs 30 percent all others).

“Gen Z wants their voices to be heard, respected, shared and validated. It’s no longer just about selling products, it’s about creating space for authentic conversations and creating platforms that amplify their impact.”

Meaningful work on my terms

Compared to others, Gen Z is most likely to say they can make a difference by “doing meaningful work through their career” (32 percent vs. 17 percent all others). When asked what drives brand loyalty, the second highest response among Gen Z is brands that help me “feel in control and do things on my terms.”

“Gen Z has a new perspective on wealth, well-being and the workforce and they’re seeking brands and communities to help them challenge the status quo. For Gen Z, a job is not just about paying the bills, it’s about designing life’s work in a way that fulfills their individual purpose and gives them freedom to define their destiny.”

Honesty and accountability, not perfection

Gen Z is most likely to trust that large companies are operating in the best interests of society when they “prove it by action” and demonstrate “clear intentions through business strategy and goals.” And, they are more likely to trust large companies when their “employees verify positive impact” (37 percent vs. 28 percent all others) and by “speaking out on society’s most pressing issues” (30 percent vs. 23 percent all others).

“For Gen Z, there’s a disconnect between the ‘do goodery’ proclaimed in superficial marketing campaigns and the significant economic, social justice and environmental challenges that shape their lives. Across industries and product categories, we see brands gaining credibility among Gen Z by taking ownership and accountability of the challenges they have helped to create—while offering real plans and strategies to do better,” said Briana Quindazzi, head of strategy at BBMG, in a news release.

Five strategies to win the trust, loyalty and participation of Gen Z

BBMG’s research has led to five strategies for brands to appear more authentic in Gen Z’s eyes, more relevant in their lives, and to create more impact in their world together.

  • Be Brave: Stand up for Gen Z’s authentic values and beliefs—don’t just chase what’s easy or popular—and use brand influence to transform the issues of our day.
  • Hold Space: Reimagine the role of Gen Z from passive consumers to active co-creators who help shape conversations, shift culture and fuel authentic connection.
  • Welcome All: Stand up for, design for and celebrate those in our society who have been overlooked, marginalized or left out.
  • Fuel Passion: Act as platforms for individual growth, passionate pursuits and networks of support as Gen Z consumers define their personal journeys — as consumers, workers and citizens.
  • Own It: Speak openly and honestly about the challenges brands face and declare clear strategies for action, improvement and impact.

Branding for Gen Z: Meeting the moment of reckoning

“While trust in companies has never been lower, expectations for the role of brands in society have never been higher. Gen Z is yearning to support companies that stand for more than the products or services they sell. They want brands that create meaningful solutions to meet the needs of society and leverage their influence to move humanity forward,” said Raphael Bemporad, founding partner at BBMG, in the release.

Consider this three-step process to win the trust, respect and evangelism of Gen Z:

  1. Start with empathy: Reveal the human truth that unites your brand’s reason for being with Gen Z’s authentic needs, hopes and aspirations.
  2. Live your purpose: Define your brand’s north star purpose and the values and ideals you’ll fight for no matter what.
  3. Rally the people: Design brand experiences that invite and inspire all of us to join forces and shape a future we can believe in.

A future we all want

“From their personal passions to their career aspirations and brand preferences, Gen Z is ready to join with peers, brands and community to create change. To win their trust, loyalty and evangelism, brands must prove their purpose by speaking out on society’s most pressing issues, standing up for those previously ignored by our society and take more accountability for the challenges we all face,’ said Bemporad.

Like no other generation and no other moment, now is the time to join forces with Gen Z and design a future we all want.

Read the full report here.

In October 2018, BBMG and GlobeScan fielded a national survey of 2,058 US consumers to better understand Gen Z’s changing relationship with brands and the underlying dynamics of brand engagement.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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