Steve Robertson

How to Use Authenticity to Appeal to Generation Z Consumers

By: Steve Robertson | May 20, 2020 | 
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Generation Z consumers currently account for about 27% of the population, which makes them the largest generation in American history; it also is responsible for $44 billion in global consumer spending.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that Gen Z consumer trends are a hot topic. Every brand looks for ways to capture the attention of this formidable economic force.

The best way to do that?

Appeal to their values. 

Gen Zers—individuals born between 1997 and 2012 —have grown up in a world that places limitless information at their fingertips.

They know how to do in-depth research, especially when it comes to choosing which brands to support.

Purpose-Driven Generation Z Consumers

According to a BBMG and GlobeScan study, Generation Z consumers are three times more likely to say the purpose of business is to “serve communities and society.”

They are twice as likely to care about issues of equality than any other generation.

On top of that, they’re more inclined to believe corporations are working in society’s best interests only if the companies show it through their actions.

But that same study found that Generation Z consumers have a hard time believing businesses are acting in the best interest of society.

So how can marketers show Gen Z what their companies care about?

One word: authenticity.

Authenticity Is Key

Generation Z consumers are coming of age during a time when technology allows them to interact with people all around the world in a way their parents and grandparents never thought possible.

Technology gives them a voice. And if you pay attention to what’s happening in the news, you hear members of this demographic spotlighting the causes they value and things that matter to them.

As a result, Generation Z consumers give the most attention to businesses that have concrete values while being both cause-driven and profit-driven.

Let’s consider the clothing brand Aerie, for example.

In 2015, it banned photo retouching from all its ads.

In the first quarter of 2019, its sales surged by 14%.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret—which has not made any significant branding changes—had a 5% decrease in sales.

Gen Zers want to support businesses that showcase their values and authenticity through marketing practices.

In many ways, this generation supports brands that make a difference in the world.

Sustainability plays a big part in this.

A survey by CGS found that 68% of respondents listed sustainability as an important factor in their buying decisions.

Generation Z consumers are willing to pay 50-100% more for sustainable products. Focus on sustainability is one of the best ways to show consumers that you care about their values.

How to Drop the Facade

If you want to appeal to a Gen Z audience, you have to demonstrate you have shared values—and genuinely mean it.

Here are three ways you can authentically communicate your company’s values:

Open Yourself Up

Technology has increased young people’s awareness of what happens behind the scenes.

Add to that the fact that Gen Z values transparency and authenticity above all else, and it’s easy to see how issues can arise with less-than-transparent companies.

Gen Zers have no qualms about boycotting brands they don’t believe in or trust.

Generation Z consumers ask questions before they make purchasing decisions—and not just about how much something costs (although that’s still important).

Whether it’s how companies manage employees, how they pay them, or where they get their materials (think where Starbucks’ coffee beans come from or how Nike’s shoes are made), consumers want to know everything that goes on with a brand.

Marketers must ensure that information comes across in campaigns rather than just during quarterly earnings calls.

Be open about what goes into your company’s business processes.

After all, it’s much better to be honest upfront than to have something unsavory come out later.

Prioritize Giving Back

Regardless of whether Gen Z is cause-driven, you have to be aware of how your business comes across in every piece of content you create.

Customers are more discerning than ever—they can learn everything about a company from the get-go, and they make their buying decisions accordingly.

That’s not to say that previous generations didn’t care about corporate responsibility.

It’s just that there weren’t as many choices in decades past as there are now.

Because of that variety, more generations (think Millennials) are looking for brands that practice corporate responsibility.

If you need more reason to prioritize corporate responsibility, consider that a Harvard Business Review report found that companies with a higher purpose tend to outperform the market by 5-7% annually.

Generation Z consumers want to feel like they are part of something bigger and better for the planet, for society, and for local businesses—like they are doing good with each dollar spent.

Ensure that your marketing efforts showcase your company’s commitment to the betterment of society.

That could be through campaigns focused on sustainability efforts, fair-trade practices, and locally-sourced products.

Make your corporate responsibility efforts a vital part of your brand messaging, and Gen Z will make your story part of theirs.

Tell Customers What Makes You Unique

Remember that consumers criticize every step a brand takes.

If someone goes to Starbucks and gets a lukewarm cup of coffee, the whole world will know.

This might seem like a pessimistic viewpoint, but it just goes to show how important it is for brands to get out ahead by telling the true, transparent, and real story of their businesses.

If you haven’t nailed down that story, it’s worth taking some time to reflect. Every company has a story worth telling, and it will become an essential part of your marketing process, your ethos, your culture, and your brand identity.

Generation Z consumers look for these stories before they buy.

Think about it: when people want to find a maintenance specialist or a new pair of shoes, they look for validation, do research, and read reviews.

All of those things are part of your company’s narrative, which means they’re vital to your marketing strategy.

And a story isn’t just for external use.

As you’re crafting a narrative, you’re redefining and reinforcing your company’s culture.

When employees start to share your company’s story internally, it becomes even more apparent to your customers.

Companies that want to appeal to a Gen Z audience must focus their marketing efforts on their values.

Remember, this generation is discerning.

If you want to come across as authentic, you have to demonstrate authenticity in everything you do.

Show Generation Z consumers that you care about society and, in turn, this next generation of consumers will care about your company.