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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Gen Z Wants Brands To Stop Talking About It and Be About It

Young People Teenagers Gen Z

Brands don’t get Gen Z, and it shows. That’s a big deal considering that the generation born after 1996 is expected to take over for millenials as the supposed killer of brands and industries. Now, anything that no longer serves their needs or values could be at risk.

Campaigns aimed at Gen Z appear to be missing the mark most when it comes to values. In a recent survey conducted by the Gen Z creative consultancy Adolescent Content, 75 percent of consumers in this age bracket want to leave the planet in a better state than how they got it. Naturally, they want the companies they give their hard-earned dollars to reflect this — just not in the same braggadocious manner that many brands use today. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z doesn’t want corporate America to talk about all the good it’s doing. They want corporate America to be about it.

Whether it is the environment or equity and inclusion, talk is cheap when it comes to Gen Z. They want to see action, and they don’t stop paying attention when the cameras quit rolling. An overwhelming majority — 82 percent of respondents to the Adolescent Content survey — will research a business before handing over any money. This is not surprising in light of the 78 percent who say they are suspicious of brand motivation and commitment to their ideals.

The fashion industry in particular stands to lose if marketers can’t turn things around and connect with younger buyers. The face of fashion itself is already changing thanks to Gen Z’s affinity for re-selling and buying used clothing. Add to that a very low tolerance for disappointing online shopping experiences that don’t live up to their standards, and brand loyalty could very well be facing a crisis.

In order for marketers to turn this trend around, they must see Gen Z as human beings with needs and values as opposed to just another brand in and of itself. One way to do this is by focusing on engagement. By providing spaces where brands can engage with their customers without actively trying to sell to them, they can demonstrate that their efforts go beyond pandering.

Engagement offers further opportunities for brands to show as opposed to tell — a strategy that Gen Z is telling us will work much better with them. Show them what matters to your brand. Listen to them instead of speaking at them. Demonstrate what your brand can do for them, humanity, and the planet — instead of simply telling them.

Gen Z doesn’t care about any meager funds thrown at environmental charities when a brand refuses to do anything about its own unsustainable practices. They aren’t impressed by token advertisements during Black History Month or Gay Pride followed by campaign donations to conservative politicians. They want to see brands give and do the right thing without expecting a financial return. Better yet, they want brands to do the right thing in silence, without seeking fanfare. 

That is quite a standard for those that are used to consumers taking them at their word, barring any scandals or exposure that suggested otherwise. Gen Z is changing the rules of the game and expecting accountability upfront. With just a few clicks, they know if a brand is living up to their values — and that has a big impact on whether they will make a purchase or not. 

Gen Z represents a formidable market share that will only increase in the coming years. Like millenials before them, this cohort of teens and young adults has the capacity to decide which brands will fade away and which will rise. Marketers who want their brands to survive and ride the wave of Gen Z purchasing power, as opposed to suffering the brunt of it, would be wise to pay attention and adjust their marketing accordingly.

Image credit: Adrienn/Pexels

Riya Anne Polcastro headshotRiya Anne Polcastro

Riya is a writer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She is interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North.

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