Generation Z will represent 82 million people by 2026 — which will be the largest consumer population in the U.S. Here’s what they value when looking for brands to purchase from.
“Youth culture is constantly evolving, and Gen Z in particular is disrupting industries.” ― Gregg L. Witt
Though Millennials have dominated popular culture and market research for a while now, there is a new crew in town, and it’s time that businesses stand up and take notice. Generation Z or “zoomers” are young adults born between the mid to late 1990s and early 2010s. By 2026, Generation Z will represent 82 million people, the largest consumer population ever in the United States.
Unlike Millennials who entered adulthood during a nationwide recession, Gen Z was set to inherit one of the strongest economies in decades. But as we know, the COVID-19 pandemic turned our economy upside down and shed light on the deep racial inequalities that lie within our society. This chaotic and uncertain future has motivated many zoomers to become politically active, voicing their opinions on social justice issues like LGBTQ+ rights, racial inequalities, and environmental concerns.
In a survey of 1,000 Gen Z-ers, about 18% listed racism or another form of discrimination as the main issue facing the world right now. Though this group of young people is concerned about other problems such as climate change, social justice appears to edge out the latter by a large margin.
Though Gen Z is entering adulthood on shaky ground, they are still set to become the most diverse, well-educated, and politically active generation we have ever seen. In that vein, they expect more of their leaders, their peers, their community, and their favorite brands. So, what does this mean for businesses? Keep reading below.
How businesses can appeal to Gen Z with social purpose
With 70% of Gen Z preferring brands they consider ethical, companies need to incorporate social justice into their initiatives and fast.
For the last year, we’ve seen young adults on the news taking over America’s streets, protesting George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s unjust deaths. In the heat, rain, snow, and sleet, Generation Z has remained committed to fighting against racial inequalities in America. As they continue to educate themselves and others about disparities, they expect the brands they love to follow suit. Brands can no longer afford to be silent on social justice issues; their words and actions matter. Companies, especially large corporations, have the power and the platform to erect change. With 70% of Gen Z preferring brands they consider ethical, companies need to incorporate social justice into their initiatives and fast.
Corporate social justice is a reframing of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and it’s the wave of the future, and brands that fail to hop on board will get left behind. Corporate social justice is more than simply tweeting out messages of support for racial equality; it involves brands taking apart their entire structure and evaluating each brick, including their policies, culture, and impact on the world. Organizations should analyze what inequalities currently exist within their business, create a plan to address them, implement the said plan, and continually reevaluate discrepancies. With 68% of Gen Z expecting brands to contribute to society, a CSR program isn’t just a nice thought; it’s essential to business growth.
In addition to CSR programs, Gen Z values authenticity when looking for brands to purchase from. They expect brands to take a stand on social justice issues publicly and with a human voice. To put it in context, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem, it rocked the world, exacerbating tensions between political groups, neighbors, and social media users. Instead of shying away from the controversy, Nike leaned in, partnering with Kaepernick for global advertising campaigns. Though many suspected that Nike’s sales would tank, they did the opposite, soaring to new levels — with Gen Z-ers stating they would be more likely to purchase from Nike after the ad.
Another brand that took a public stand against injustice shortly after Nike was vacation rental giant Airbnb. A week after former President Donald Trump signed an order to close America’s borders to refugees, Airbnb aired an ad during the Super Bowl called “We Accept,” which showed people of various ethnicities against a voiceover about acceptance.
Creating a marketing plan for Gen Z
The more human a brand can be, the better — and if they want Gen Z by their side, social purpose needs to be at the helm of their business model and their messaging.
When cultivating a marketing plan that will appeal to zoomers, brands must understand that social justice is simply an umbrella term for distinct systematic inequalities within our society, including racial injustice, police brutality, criminal justice reform, immigration, and economic injustice, to name a few. Brands that educate themselves on the deeper issues will have far more success at connecting with future shoppers. In essence, the more human a brand can be, the better — and if they want Gen Z by their side, social purpose needs to be at the helm of their business model and their messaging.
Generation Z is entering the real world during perhaps one of the most tumultuous seasons in history. Yet, they are optimistic, hopeful, and committed to changing the world for the better. With technology, education, and diversity to drive them, this generation will surely work toward ending social injustice. With 82 million Gen Z-ers becoming vocal consumers by 2026, organizations must commit to a CSR initiative, focusing on authenticity and decisiveness about the world issues, specifically racial justice, that genuinely matter to young adults everywhere.