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How to make good with Gen Z by doing good

by Christina Germano
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    It’s probably not news to anyone that 2020 has been a tough year, perhaps especially for Generation Z. As the world’s youngest generation—in the throes of college, career building, and young adulthood—the pandemic has thrown a wrench in their lives. 

    A little while ago, before the car crash that is 2020 happened, we held a survey that asked UNiDAYS student members about their overall health and wellness. And it revealed, overwhelming, that Gen Z students were worried about finances, school, and the future—and this was before the pandemic hit.

    Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and social unrest, Gen Z’s concerns about the finances and their futures are even more prominent than before. It’s vital that brands pay attention to the concerns and challenges this generation is facing right now. It’s not marketing-as-usual anymore.

    Let’s dive in.

    What’s keeping Gen Z up at night?

    As Gen Z students gear up for a back-to-school season fraught with uncertainty and division, we wanted to check in with our UNiDAYS members to see how they’re feeling. Namely, what’s keeping them up at night these days?

    Here’s how over 13,000 verified student members responded:

    What’s keeping you up at night lately?

    • 24% money
    • 14% school
    • 4% COVID-19
    • 1% politics
    • 57% all of the above

    Even in the middle of a very unusual year, the usual day-to-day worries are still on Gen Z’s mind. Money and school continue to concern them the most—which makes sense, since Zs are mostly in college or young adults.

    But if you zoom out, you’ll see the bigger picture. Outside of their day-to-day priorities and concerns, Gen Zs are—to put it simply—stressed out about everything. The 57% of students who responded ‘all of the above’ proves exactly that. 

    If your brand *truly* wants to establish an emotional connection with Gen Zers in 2020, you’d be wise to pay attention to this particular answer: ‘all of the above’.

    What does the ‘all of the above’ mean to Gen Z?

    It’s not just a personal thing. Sure, it’s been a hard year for people personally, but ‘all of the above’ is much more than that. It’s about the current political climate, social unrest, environmental concerns, the future of school and career opportunities, and to add to all of that, there’s a global health crisis still affecting every area of our lives.

    Dialing down more specifically, here’s the top ten causes Generation Z is concerned and passionate about, according to YPulse’s most recent Causes, Charity & Activism survey:

    1. Global warming
    2. Gun control
    3. Human rights
    4. Gender equality
    5. Animal welfare
    6. Child labor/human trafficking
    7. Racial/ethnic discrimination
    8. Bullying
    9. LGBTQ rights
    10. Abortion/birth control

    It’s important to note that this survey was conducted in March 2020 (and so much has happened since then), so their answers might have shifted since. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. Nonetheless, it’s vital for brands to understand that Gen Zs care deeply about causes that they see as making the world a better place and ‘doing good’. 

    Why should you be interested in what Gen Z cares about?

    A recent UNiDAYS study on purchasing trends found that a little more than 3 out of 10 college students won’t buy a product— even at the very best price—if they don’t agree with that company’s stance on a particular issue. And while this may not seem like a huge number, read between the lines, and you’ll see what this really means: Roughly 30% of your customer base is paying very close attention to how your brand defines its role in shaping the world. And that number is only likely to grow as Zs grow up and earn and spend more.

    So, how do you get on their good side?

    Making good with Gen Z isn’t as easy as it sounds, even at the best of times. And post-pandemic, how your brand responds may define your relationship with the Gen Z demographic for years to come. 

    The thing is, doing good doesn’t have to be stressful or even invite politics. You can take small steps that matter in big ways, without alienating the masses. 

    Look after your people. A DoSomething Strategic survey from early in the pandemic found that 75% of Gen Zers said the #1 action they wanted to see from brands was that they ensure employee and consumer safety, with 73% wanting brands to protect their employees financially.,and%20pivoted%20to%20manufacturing%20PPE.

    Think of others. Perhaps your brand has a philanthropic arm or works with a charity. If so, make sure you let Gen Z know about it. One brand that’s become famous even before 2020 for its social and philanthropic nature is Nike, and during the lockdown, they’ve upped their game. They’ve encouraged people to stay in and exercise at home. They’ve donated $15 million to US relief charities. And they even began manufacturing PPE for frontline healthcare workers.

    Be inclusive. Instead of dropping $50,000 on a digital campaign, launch a scholarship competition to let them know they have your support. While the search for gender equality continues with a lot of brands, Adidas actually requires its suppliers to pay men and women equally. They verify the compliance status of their suppliers through internal and third-party audits, worker hotlines and grievance processes.

    Be social. Social schemes that allow people to ‘pay it forward’ have gained ground during the pandemic, like the buy-one-donate-one Allbirds promotion that provided shoes for frontline workers, have proven a great success.

    If you want to see which brands Gen Zers trust the most, here’s the top ten, according to Industry Week

    Brands: Find ways to 'do good' in the world and invest in the health of Gen Z’s collective future. And most importantly, don’t forget to invite Gen Z to help build that future with you, with their values in mind. It will pay off.

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      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.

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      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.