This well-educated and digitally connected generation has been shaping the way their parents, friends, neighbors and even their own their teachers view the world since they were old enough to talk. Let’s take for instance the Global Climate Strike. The movement, initiated by a Swedish 16-year-old environmental activist, reached more than 100 countries and thousands of people worldwide regardless of their age or nationality.
But what about the corporations? Many walk a fine line when it comes to taking a stand on social or political issues. It’s risky to support a social or political cause, but even more risky to stay silent. Companies cannot afford to hold their tongue, especially if they want to engage and build an emotional connection with Gen Zers. Let’s not forget something: these are the people who can also influence the way other generations consume and relate to brands.
Many companies have taken the plunge to support environmental causes. For example, Patagonia. This company not only believes in climate change, but is actively doing something, including supporting the Global Climate Strike through social media, their corporate website and closing brick-and-mortar stores on the day of the strike to allow their employees to participate. The cause fits well into the company’s mission statement. “We’re in business to save our home planet,” said Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s president and CEO on LinkedIn: “The plain truth is that capitalism needs to evolve if humanity is going to survive.”
It is no surprise that Patagonia is both, a popular socially conscious brand and a favorite among Gen Zs and Millennial parents.
Corporations like this that are looking to connect with Gen Zs need to speak out and take a social-first approach. But they should also be careful to not earn a woke-washing reputation. These kids might be young, but they cannot be easily fooled!
Here are five more useful lessons from companies that have made it to the top rankings of Gen Zs favorite brands:
- Coolness- Studies suggest that Gen Zs prefer cool products over experiences, and one living proof of it is Adidas. Ranked top three among teen’s favorite sportswear brands, Adidas’ strategy has been to continuously break new grounds with fresh looks and celebrity shoe partnerships. From the iconic Stan Smith’s sneakers in 2014, to the most recent, Kylie Jenner and British rapper, When it comes to food, Chick-fil-A is found to be the “coolest” fast-food company among teenagers. While on the sweeter side of things, M&M’s remains to be an “oldie but goodie” for everyone around it. The brand has managed to stay relevant to younger audiences by working with social influencers and by introducing catchy, trendy musical advertisements.
- Innovation– An innovator that has remained one of teens’ favorite brands isn’t some shiny new tech company. It’s been every kid’s favorite for over 100 years – Oreo. With its line of bizarre flavors, Oreo continues to capture young consumers’ imagination with their limited editions.
- Edgy campaigns – Gen Zers not only respond well to cool products, they also love edgy campaigns. The snack leader Doritos recently launched a “de-brand” campaign featuring no logo, brand or name, in an effort to reach a generation of people who are not fans of advertisements. It is too early to predict if such campaign will boost sales, but it’s clearly aimed at Gen Zers.
- Accessibility– Gen Zers’ top favorite brand is YouTube, closely followed by Google. Why? Accessibility. YouTube is teenagers’ go-to platform for entertainment because it can be accessed anywhere, anytime and it doesn’t require a subscription. Google boasts the same accessibility offering quick and reliable access to information anywhere and anytime. Just like YouTube and Google, brands need to remain accessible to their young audiences, or else, they risk being quickly forgotten.
- Differentiation– Sustained brand differentiation is critical for any product to reach any audience, but especially important when it comes to Gen Zers. They are a demanding generation of teenagers and young adults who will not sit idly by while a brand reinvents itself. On the contrary, what they like today might not be the same tomorrow. A hot and tasty pizza delivered to you is not a good enough differentiator considering the wide range of competitors. But expanding the pizza line to also offering beer, like Pizza Hut did, is a brilliant differentiator in a bid for a younger demographic.
Gen Z should matter to marketers now more than ever because they are already shaping the future. In the blink of an eye, and before we know it, they will enter the workforce and gain their own purchasing power. Don’t wait until then to get to know them.
Pamela Laguardia is a member of the #GenerationalGuru Team