Young consumers are more committed to social good than any other demographic. And in order to connect with them in authentic ways, brands can’t rely on performative activism, but must rise to the challenge of real changemaking, writes Brent Farrell, chief operating officer at branding agency Soldier Unlimited.
As marketers and communicators, we habitually group shoppers into generational segments for easy targeting. Gen X grew up with minimal adult supervision and pushed the boundaries of work-life balance. Gen Y are viewed as pampered, avocado-toast eating, digital overachievers. And now the conversation has evolved towards gen Z.
Gen Z encompasses individuals between the ages of six to 21, born into the peak of access to information with a deep focus on personal and mental health. But I believe that gen Z isn’t a demographic cohort at all, but a representation of a much larger psychographic sea change of consumer expectations and focus that I refer to as ‘Generation Change’, or gen C.
The members of this generation have earned this moniker because they are conscious consumers looking far past the products. They pay attention to social causes that companies stand behind and, by default, are changing the way brands market to consumers.
The consumer habits of gen C
Overall, consumer demand has shifted toward ethical brands with strong moral commitments outside of the products they sell. And today’s consumers are choosing with their wallets and voices. A recent Corporate Knights report identified that companies practicing real sustainability or true corporate social responsibility enjoyed over 40% longer lifespans than those that did not. Now more than ever, consumers believe brands should play a part in making positive change.
In the eyes of generation C, how brands behave and what they stand for is critical. Companies that authentically prioritize people and purpose are more likely to resonate deeply with these consumers, who want to see real commitment to causes. Equality, diversity, inclusion, regenerative processes and sustainability are just a few of the things that they look for when deciding who to support.
How brands can align with today’s conscious consumers
It may be easy for brands to ‘participate’ in social movements through social media or one-time statements, but to experience positive reception with gen C audiences, brands will need to fully commit to the social causes they align with. There are several brands who have set the precedent for success in this arena.
Going far beyond performative action, Ben & Jerry’s authentically directed its longstanding corporate activism toward support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd. While other brands tried to align with the movement by posting black tiles on social media, the ice cream brand issued a powerful statement calling for Americans to ‘dismantle white supremacy’ with actionable steps on how to join the effort. The brand understands that performative activism falls flat in the eyes of gen C.
Meanwhile, brands like Patagonia have committed to environmental causes. Patagonia consistently ranks among the top of the Axios Harris Poll list of 100 corporations by way of reputation. The outdoor company is widely regarded as a leader in the cause of environmental responsibility. It makes corporate donations to defend our air, land and water globally and has even implemented a self-imposed ‘Earth tax’, which commits the brand to donating 1% of all sales to grassroots environmental organizations.
Ultimately, companies that will lead the charge post-pandemic are not just signing up for the ‘cause of the month’ to attract consumers, but are making concerted commitments to these important causes that foster a growing community. Gen C is more interested in what brands are going to do about diversity and inclusion year-round instead of what brands are doing during Pride month. They’re fearless in making their voices heard and dedicated to bringing justice to brands acting unethically. In today’s consumer world, it’s crucial for brands to look deeper than the products they offer and truly examine if their values measure up.
Brent Farrell is chief operating officer at Soldier Unlimited.