Gen Zers and millennials may have their differences, but when it comes to pushing for social change, these generations are closely aligned. They care deeply about issues of the times, such as climate change and racism, and are often actively engaged in pushing for change. In fact, 55% of Gen Z and millennial consumers say they have participated in recent #BlackLivesMatter protests or awareness.
But they also don’t believe that the buck stops only with them. They expect brands to support their causes and align with their values. This means that to build Gen Zers’ and millennials’ trust and loyalty, brands will need to think beyond aspirational imagery and use authenticity and transparency to prove they are community-minded and socially responsible.
Here are four ways brands can show they are committed to the causes these young generations care most about:
1. Show up on social responsibility
Environment and sustainability are focal points for Gen Z and millennial consumers when considering their engagement with a brand. The majority of millennials (75%) have altered their buying habits to align with the environment, and most say they would spend more for sustainable products. Gen Zers are also using their wallets to promote social responsibility, with 63% of Gen Z consumers saying they are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to a social cause.
Combating waste is one of the biggest issues for young consumers. And brands that do what they can to combat waste pollution are ultimately the ones that will get the majority of Gen Zers’ and millennials’ dollars.
“Already, we’re seeing fashion and beauty retailers begin to embrace circular economy waste practices by partnering with rental or secondhand brands, such as Urban Outfitters’ new rental offering, Nuuly, or Macy’s working with ThredUp,” said Nick Molnar, co-founder of Afterpay, a buy-now, pay-later digital-payment platform. He noted that thrift and resell apps, such as Depop, were also gaining popularity because Gen Z could get unique pieces without contributing to fast-fashion practices.
2. Be authentic, not aspirational
Gen Zers, in particular, are pragmatic. They were raised during the 2008 recession and are, so far, the most affected generation by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those under 25 were 2.5 times more likely to have been working in a sector adversely affected by lockdown, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
As a result, Gen Zers value brands that have a direct, emotional relationship with them. They often look to buy direct from brands or small businesses. They also aren’t interested in the glossy depictions of unattainable lifestyles used in traditional advertising. Instead, they want brands to represent real and diverse people in a relatable way.
“We have seen the success of this with many of our brand partners — like Aerie, Outdoor Voices, Girlfriend Collective and many more — who use models and influencers of different backgrounds and sizes in their ads and marketing materials,” Molnar said. “Gen Z can see right through an edited, retouched and fake advertisement and chooses to buy from brands that have real and relatable imagery, so there is a level of trust there.”
3. Engage and innovate more with young consumers
Gen Zers and millennials are both consumers of the digital age. They both expect a more personalized experience, but Gen Zers go a step further, desiring a more active role in the product and buying experiences with brands.
“We are living in the age of curation. Whereas millennials embraced the concept store — where someone else curated your wardrobe or lifestyle for you — Gen Z rejects that idea as it seems odd because they are so adept at curating all the aspects of their lifestyle themselves. Because they’ve got the tools and language to do it themselves,” said Olivia Yallop of the Digital Fairy.
Beyond curation, even simple personalization, such as their name in an email or product recommendations, helps Gen Zers know brands are paying attention and invested in them. Deeper personalization that lets them customize and tailor their experience with a brand, such as creating an online profile and rewards program to “clubs” with special perks, can go even further to heighten engagement.
4. Embrace decentralized commerce
Gen Zers and millennials are more likely to spend their time and money on experiences over things. Raised during the height of social media and on digital tools, the lines between e-commerce, entertainment and socializing are also more blurred for both millennials and Gen Zers, but particularly for Gen Zers.
From mobile-first to a new wave of decentralized retail concepts, e-commerce is starting to transform into a mix of community, entertainment and shopping. Although still in development, brands and retailers need to take notice of these decentralized channels, especially as Gen Z consumers look increasingly for alternative ways to access and exchange products and services online.
“Retailers will be successful if they can identify ways to merge retail with other aspects of young consumers’ lifestyle, such as entertainment, social engagement and social consciousness,” Molnar said. He also noted that different channels had different identities, and brands and retailers should engage with people differently through each.
In summary, Gen Zers and millennials don’t want the status quo retail experience of their parents’ generation. They want brands to engage with them as consumers — with their lifestyle, with the channels they prefer and, most important, with the causes they care about. They prioritize experiences and emotional and physical health over financial success, so brands need to continually demonstrate that they understand these young consumers’ life values and priorities if they want to win their trust and loyalty.