At DoSomething Strategic, we recently surveyed 2,461 13- to 25-year-olds to discover what motivates their decisions to purchase—or not purchase—a product and what they really expect from brands. Seventy-six percent of these Gen Z respondents told us they have purchased or would consider purchasing a brand or product to show support for the issues the brand supported. But perhaps even more importantly, 67% have stopped purchasing or would consider doing so if the company stood for something or behaved in a way that didn’t align with their values.
Why does this matter? Because Gen Z will comprise more than 40% of all shoppers by 2020.
Brands need to evolve and grow with the expectations and demands of this important young consumer base, but they can’t do so opportunistically or sloppily. To help, here’s an outline showing five levels of how a brand can (and should) integrate purpose into its ethos in a meaningful and effective way, starting with the basic and rising to the stellar.
Level 1: Be Inclusive
At the most basic level, a brand must be seen as inclusive or face instant and very public backlash. This doesn’t mean you can’t target your product and marketing to certain groups. But that targeting can’t insult, exclude, or degrade others—even if unintentionally.
Who’s doing it well? According to our survey respondents, Fenty, which changed the game with beauty products created for every skin color and all undertones.
Level 2: Show You Care
Brands must exercise good corporate citizenship. This includes corporate sponsorship of social causes and events, corporate donations to nonprofits, and the like.
Such behind-the-scenes support is great and absolutely vital, but checkbook philanthropy alone won’t do a brand any favors when it comes to Gen Z and their desire to support brands that are actively working for the common good. They are saying: “Of course you donate some profits to charity. What else ya got?”
Level 3: Invest In Purpose-Driven Marketing
More and more, we’re seeing brands use above-the-line marketing dollars to communicate their commitment to causes, which is great because Gen Z expects brands to do good.
Yet this kind of marketing can also be fraught with peril. Young people’s authenticity detectors are especially fine-tuned, and adopting a cause that has no logical connection to the brand or its history of action can appear disingenuous or opportunistic.
Ask yourself: Why does your company care about (the environment, health care, etc)? If it’s only to appeal to young people, don’t bother. Our survey respondents pointed to Dawn dish soap as a strong environmental steward for highlighting how wildlife rescue workers use its product to clean up birds after oil spills. Dawn has succeeded in telling a story that logically connects to its brand and underscores its underlying proficiencies.
Level 4: Engage Your Consumers In Your Mission
Gen Z is among the most socially engaged, and they want to be involved and make a difference. But only 34% of those surveyed responded that their purchases alone “make an impact when the brand supports a cause” they believe in.
Nearly half of our respondents say it’s important for a brand to have a social change initiative that consumers can be a part of. This rare opportunity to tie your brand with your consumer in a meaningful way is where innovation and ingenuity can really shine.
For instance, Patagonia, a top brand among our survey respondents, has encouraged customers to actually not buy their clothing—and suggests sending what they own in for repairs instead. The company has created a marketplace for customers to resell their used apparel. Even more boldly, in February the brand officially launched Patagonia Action Works, a digital platform designed to connect customers to causes.
Level 5: Your Company Lives Purpose
At the top of this ethos hierarchy is where brands live purpose from the inside out. These are the brands built on the passions of their founders or the ones driven by the personal beliefs of their leaders.
Survey respondents pointed to emerging brand United By Blue as a great example. The founders of United by Blue started the durable goods company to have a bigger impact in the environmental space. For every product sold, the brand removes one pound of trash from the oceans and other waterways. But this isn’t just a look-at-how-great-we-are branding exercise; it’s both a commitment and a cultivation tool.
United by Blue invites its customers to be a part of the hands-on work it does. By doing so, the people—called the Blue Movement—become active participants in the company’s mission, engendering a more meaningful brand relationship. Celebrating its 10,000th volunteer, embarking on a 21-state cleanup road trip this summer, and on track in 2018 to sell 1 million products—double last year’s sales—United by Blue prides itself on campaigning with its customers to bring to light important topics, and it gives its consumers ways to turn their passions into action.
For Gen Z, a brand is an extension of themselves, a reflection of who they are or aspire to be. As hyper-aware and involved social citizens, they’re forcing brands to ask not just “what do we stand for?” but “how do we live that every day at every touch point with our employees and customers?”
Brands need to consider the answer and remain consistent. Because young people are watching and buying—or not.