We Need to Follow the Lead of Gen Z

Taking on today's issues like the Covid-19 crisis

Illustration of a young woman holding a smartphone
Listen to the youth and their innovative ways of storytelling and taking action. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images, Pixabay
Headshot of Artis Stevens

In today’s climate where brands are responding to a pandemic, social justice issues and other societal needs, there has been an abundance of messaging coming at consumers to maintain that connection. But in this new environment, how does a marketer uphold a brand’s position and purpose? And how do they stand out?

As a chief marketing officer for one of the largest youth organizations in the country, and as a dad of two young girls, I’m always inspired by the innovative ways young people find to tell stories and start movements. I’ve been particularly moved by the action and commitment they are taking on issues today like Covid-19 crisis, mental health and social justice.

With Generation Z making up more than 20% of the U.S. population and millennials now surpassing the baby boomer generation, young people are the leading influence for brands today—and they feel their moment to be heard and make change is now. According to a recent survey:

  • Some 72% of Gen Zers believe companies have more responsibility than ever before to address social justice issues.
  • 86% of teens say they are “proud that people are taking a stand protecting against racism,” and three out of four teens have taken an action against racism themselves.

Young people have the power to drive conversations and today, they feel even more empowered to take the lead.

All of this signals that young people are committed to becoming changemakers and influencers not of tomorrow, but of today. As marketers, we are constantly looking to identify insights that will reshape how brands deepen connections. And part of the solution is listening to and engaging young people on their insights and innovative ideas. Here are three guiding principles.

Listen to young people—their voices and connectivity speak volumes

People assume kids are wasting their time on social media or playing video games, but young people are using those mediums to stay connected and engaged in conversations during the pandemic and around the recent social unrest. They have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening and can create waves by the mere click of a tweet. During last year’s presidential primary, many candidates participated in a youth town hall putting them front and center with the next generation of voters. It allowed those candidates to gain insights to build their platforms and connect with this generation’s values.

Young people don’t see challenges as barriers, but opportunities to innovate

From the advent of Facebook, to flash mobs, to memes and TikTok videos, young people are masters at trying new things to fill voids or needs. Participating in the conversations that matter to them and partnering with them on new ideas will help your brand stand out as authentic rather than pandering.

Young people take action, be willing to follow their lead

As marketers, we must live up to our purpose. Young people are keenly aware of everything: when their parents fall back on promises, when leaders don’t show up as leaders and when brands aren’t authentically standing behind their commitments. Today, brands are being expected to take actionable steps to make the world a better place. Consider what we’ve seen in recent years with Greta Thunberg’s work on climate change, Malala Yousafzai’s efforts to make education accessible for girls or the March for Our Lives led by Parkland students. Young people have the power to drive conversations and today, they feel even more empowered to take the lead.

@artisnstevens Artis Stevens is svp and CMO of the National 4-H Council.