Report: Gen Z wants companies to take a stand, but risks loom large

A new study suggests brand managers should be judicious about weighing in on hot topics. Consumers want brands to align with their values—yet might abandon those that misstep.

Consumers want their favorite brands to align with their strongest values.

Younger audiences, especially, want companies to take a lead on thorny political issues and stand up for their causes in the public sphere. They also prefer a strong stance to no stance at all.

However, there is a risk for marketers looking to align their organizations with controversial cultural movements—and for some brand managers, the risk warrants careful calculation.

A new study from WP Engine looks specifically at Generation Z consumers and how brands can reach them with cause marketing. The results show conclusively that the tactic can have a major upside, with 69 percent of Gen Z indicating they would be more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes.

However, giving to the wrong cause can put a big hurt on your bottom line. Thirty percent of every generation indicate they would stop buying from an organization that endorsed or donated to a cause they opposed. For Baby Boomers, the number climbs even higher.

For companies that want to build a relationship with Generation Z, or take a stand on social issues, the report suggests online marketing is essential.

As more consumers turn to the internet for solutions, brand managers will have to develop their approach to capturing their audience online. It is estimated that most people will spend an average of five years and four months of their life on social media. Savvy marketers should target that online presence.

Generation Z is using the internet in a different way from that of previous generations, according to the WP Engine report.

It writes:

Baby Boomers, for example, rely on the Internet for task-based activities such as gathering information or communicating rather than experiencing the Internet as an ongoing, cohesive part of their lives. When they’re online, they’re online for a reason, it’s functional. Once that reason has been satisfied, they’re perfectly happy to go offline again. They have a highly transactional relationship with the technology. It’s why, when asked what they associate the Internet with, Boomers overwhelmingly say email (91%) and search/informational tools (76%).

However, Generation Z uses the internet for entertainment and associates the internet with social media (85 percent) and entertainment and content websites (81 percent). That means brand managers should consider making online content entertaining as well as informative.

Most Americans still want branded content online to be informative first, but the study suggests Generation Z might have other preferences.

Its authors write:

One resounding message from the study is that Americans continue to overwhelmingly (81%) prefer information over entertainment when interacting with a company’s online content. An equally resounding point? Gen Z is reversing that trend, and 26% now prefer to be entertained rather than informed, compared to 8% of Baby Boomers. That can mean a lot of things when it comes to deciding what type of content will resonate the most with Gen Z. Taking cues from the different content types that populate social media is one way to experiment. Another safe bet is leaning heavily on video. The study found that a vast majority of Americans believe video content will grow to dominate the Internet within the next five years. That percentage increased from 71% in 2017 to 76% in 2018. It’s exactly this trend that has driven the rise of YouTube and made it the most popular social platform among Gen Z. Brand managers should also think about how to get more creative to reach online audiences. Though younger generations are fueling rapid changes in marketing and media, all generations expect to interact differently with brands and the internet in the near future.

The study also suggests marketers and PR pros should get creative about how they interact with online audiences. Though younger generations are fueling rapid changes in media consumption, every demographic expects to be using the internet in new ways in the near future.

The study asserts:

Just as Gen Z spends more time online than any other generation, they also continue to look for easier, more natural ways to interface with all of the devices they use. This includes accessing the Internet with their voice, using tools such as Siri or Alexa, but also with gestures, and hand and finger movements on a touchscreen. Gen Z is fueling the demand for many of these new forms of access, but they aren’t the only generation that has expectations surrounding them. Across all generations, only 14% of people are currently using their voice to access the Internet, but 30% expect to do so within the next five years. Similarly, 4% currently use gestures to access the Internet, while 19% expect to do so at some point over the next five years.

To learn more about how marketers can reach new audiences and about the risks of taking a stand on social issues, read the full report.

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