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Why ESG is the future of marketing: a Gen Z perspective

by Tom Davies

August 9, 2021

In 1991, Regis McKenna proposed the idea that “marketing is everything and everything is marketing”, highlighting the importance of technology, company character, and serving consumers’ real needs as the keys to the future of marketing.

Thirty years on, these words are more important than McKenna (ironically vocal for a member of the Silent Generation) could ever have imagined, and it’s largely down to the people who hate advertising the most - Gen Z.

Read on to find out why McKenna was right, what that means for you, and how the solution could lie in ESG.

Summary:

  • Gen Z have more market influence than you might think
  • With such a vast array of touchpoints and such a picky audience, everything really is marketing
  • Using ESG as a lens through which to build out your marketing strategy could well be the solution

1. Why everything is marketing to Gen Z:

But wait! You signed up for an article on ESG, why should you care about Gen Z?! Most of them are still kids, right?

Well, with the risk of sounding arrogant, the simple answer is that we (with maybe just a little help from the internet) have so much knowledge - and people are prepared to listen to us as a result.

You see, unlike Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, the transition to digital played a fundamental role in our formative years: we’re digital natives - the internet generation - glued to our phones and with access to pretty much any information we want, whenever and wherever we want it.

This has had two effects:

The first of these points is crucial to understanding why marketers should have input in all business areas. Gen Z’s scrutiny of every single business action means that each and every area of a business’ activity should be considered a marketing touchpoint: everything is marketing.

The second point compounds this problem. Having influence over the older generations’ decision-making means that our market influence is growing invisibly beyond just our own purchasing power.

And, at least to me, anything that’s growing invisibly is definitely worth being scared of - especially when it’s being spearheaded by a bunch of angry anti-advertising children who are soon to control 27% of global income. In essence, how you market to this future generation is key to survival: marketing is everything.

2. What this means for you:

Firstly, although this might seem scary, the benefit is that if you do get this right, it’s highly likely that Gen Z will stick around - dramatically increasing your prospects for long-term success. Again - marketing is everything and everything is marketing.

However, you must also be wary that with so much information available and so many business options to choose from, Gen Z’s tolerance for mistakes is paper-thin - if any area of your business doesn’t meet our standards, we’re gone, and we won’t be back any time soon.

With this in mind, it would be highly sensible to consider risk management as one of the core aims of good marketing practice - minimising the possibility of negative attention from Gen Z should be a top priority for the future.

The place to start is understanding how we want to interact with your business. Perhaps the most important part of this is to recognise that in order to buy our loyalty, you can’t just sell us a product: our money goes to those things which we feel will add value, both to ourselves and society as a whole.

So, to stay ahead of the game, marketers need to focus on appealing to (or at least not annoying) Gen Z at every possible touchpoint.

This means you need to go beyond simply telling us that your product is the best, instead showing us why both your product and your business are worth our investment. What value do you add, not only to us, but to society as a whole?

In other words, what non-financial value does your company generate?

This brings us nicely onto the answer to all this, which I believe lies in three all-important letters: ESG.

3. Why ESG is everything:

Now, I’d be willing to take a punt that many of you haven’t heard of ESG before, but, to be honest, you really should have. ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, and is a framework used by investors to measure the non-financial value creation and sustainability of businesses - two things Gen Z adore.

McKenna alludes to marketers tapping into a “new energy source . . . to recoalesce the young, affluent market”. If we consider Gen Z to be the young, affluent market, ESG could well be that energy source - at least from a strategic point of view.

The beauty of using ESG as a marketing framework is twofold:

  • It’s essentially a simplification of the lens through which Gen Z assess businesses when making purchasing decisions, and
  • It’s intrinsically designed to examine your business holistically through that lens - which, as we’ve already discussed, is what marketers need to do in order to ensure future success.

The combination of these factors is what makes ESG so powerful in a marketing context: when we take the view that marketing is everything and everything is marketing, having a tool which acts as a lens from both customer and marketer perspectives is invaluable.

Using ESG to develop your marketing strategy will ensure that every conceivable touchpoint between your business and the consumers of tomorrow - all of which are a marketer’s responsibility - is taken into consideration. In some sense - everything is ESG and ESG is everything.

4. Enacting an ESG marketing strategy:

Realistically, Gen Z aren’t going to stop hating advertising - sorry, it’s mostly just annoying.

Therefore, it follows that the future of the industry will revolve heavily around risk management. ESG conveniently provides a framework for this, but where should you start?

The first step towards building out your ESG marketing strategy is to learn about the framework itself and the business areas covered - start with this article from the Corporate Finance Institute, and then move onto more in-depth resources such as this guide from the UN’s PRI.

Once you have a better understanding of the business areas considered by ESG analysis, work out which of these are consumer touchpoints - especially those which you might not normally consider to be under the remit of marketing (everything is marketing, remember).

Then, assess how you present these touchpoints - can they be improved to ensure Gen Z’s (and by proxy the preceding generations’) satisfaction?

The final step is to implement - get creative! We love it when brands engage with us in the right ways - and, as mentioned above, will reward your efforts with our loyalty - just see Tesco’s top performing ad from May.

Be warned, though, if there are flaws in your business’s operational touchpoints, you can’t simply put a marketing veil over them: it’s far better to openly acknowledge your flaws and detail how you plan to address them than to avoid them - otherwise, Gen Z will see straight through you - and you definitely don’t want that all over social media.

Summary

To summarise, with marketing at odds with Gen Z’s ever-growing market influence and scrutiny, using the ESG lens when building out your marketing strategy will likely be the key to success.

ESG allows you to view your business as they do, ensuring that every conceivable touchpoint works to build and develop the reputation of your business, thereby maximising your chances of survival: marketing is everything, everything is marketing, and ESG marketing is the future.

Tags

marketing
consumer behaviour
touch point
advertising
gen z
consumer
consumer behavior
gen z insight
ESG