How can brands effectively communicate to Gen Z audiences? Courtney Miller, Executive Vice President of U.S. Strategy and Brand, Edelman U.S., shares insights from the agency’s study on the issues that Gen Z audiences care about the most and the implications for communicators. Courtney also shares how brands can attract Gen Z talent by prioritizing basic safety and security needs.
Download The Power of Gen Z: Trust & The Future Consumer report here.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
HOST: LYNSEY STANICKI
GUEST: COURTNEY MILLER
DOUG: Courtney, why did Edelman decide to do a Gen Z survey?
COURTNEY: I think it was about the 6th or 7th CMO that started asking us questions about who this generation was that really center flags raising. Many of our day-to-day marketing leads and CMOs were asking us questions that basically insinuated to us that this was an important generation, one that they needed to get to know, but were swirling in a lot of misinformation, lack of understanding, and information. This was such a large group of individuals, and it was clear that many CMOs and marketers recognize that this group of people could fuel growth for their brands and their companies or quite frankly, limit it. So, it became very important for them to really understand who they were.
DOUG: Right, now, I tried to convince my team that I could pass for being a Gen Zer when conducting this, but I got outvoted by my entire company to 1. So, I thought at this point I’d hand it over to one of our own Gen Zers, Lynsey Stanicki, who also produces the PR’s Top Pros Talk program as her day job. So, Lynsey go for it.
LYNSEY: Thank you so much, Doug. One of the key findings that I found was super interesting is that Gen Z values safety and security, not just in one area, but in all aspects of their lives. What are the implications of companies knowing that safety and security are truly important to Gen Z?
COURTNEY: Yeah, we were fairly gobsmacked by just how pervasive safety was to this audience. We kind of joked a little bit that this is a generation that’s very Maslow. They sort of start at the very bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and it’s no surprise given sort of the cultural tumultuousness that they’ve been living through, that they’re really craving safety and security. I think the stat that really stuck out to me is that they prioritize feeling safe over building strong friendships, that just goes to show just how strong of a pull needing to feel safe and insecure are. And I think for marketers and brands, companies alike, this is such an interesting finding and has so many implications in terms of the kinds of claims you can make, how you back it up, the order in which you communicate, where you communicate, knowing that’s a priority for them.
LYNSEY: Yes, that’s so interesting. And can you explain some of the other key findings that you found during this report?
COURTNEY: Yes. So, it’s interesting. I have a child, a 14-year-old at home, squarely in Gen Z, and so I thought I knew everything there was know about them because I have one living under my roof, but there is a whole generation. We tend to think of them as a monolith but they are not. And so, the things that really stuck out to us are that they are highly sensible, whip-smart, and they’re globally unified, which I don’t think is the new finding. But what was interesting to us is just how united they were in their findings, regardless of country. They were actually more similar than dissimilar, and they trust differently. We talked a little bit about safety, but they’re also very moved by taking care of people, and the world, and uniting for change. Activism was something that we really wanted to dig into with this group because we know how important it is to them. And we actually found that for them, activism, they really define it as unity. Unity is their superpower, so it’s not so negatively charged. This is about unifying for the greater good. So, I would say that they trust differently with safety, care, and unity being the 3 things that really underpin that trust.
LYNSEY: And speaking of activism, I know that Gen Z wants brands to speak up about political or social causes. How do you think this changes brand’s marketing approaches going forward and how can they navigate Gen Z’s various beliefs?
COURTNEY: It’s a good question because, at Edelman, we really like to look at every brand as having a very unique role to play. And so, we really start with the equities that our unique to specific brands, and what we’ve started to learn is that this is a generation that’s empowered by so many causes and social issues, but they recognize that they’re young and they don’t always have all the resources that their means to do it, and so they truly are looking to brands to help partner with him. So, our study actually pinpointed some of the common issues that this generation unites around, things like climate change, COVID, living in a with COVID world, not a post-COVID world, and social justice issues. And these are the areas that I would recommend brands start with and use their unique equities to figure out how they can lean into some, or one, or more of these causes and really partner with Gen Z, getting together with them and making them part of the solution, I think is critically important.
LYNSEY: Many members of Gen Z are looking for jobs, and even some of them are changing career paths. What can employers learn from this report about how to attract Gen Z talent?
COURTNEY: It’s a great question, because when we started this often it was through the lens of how do we market to them? How do we communicate with them in a way that’s going to pull them in? But you’re absolutely right to ask the question because the oldest Gen Z kids are entering the workforce now. And so, companies, HR, various organizations need to figure out how they pull them in and make them part of their organization, their culture, and their fold. And what we found is very similar to the safety and security needs that they have. They are very Maslow, as we talked about. They are first and foremost interested in safeguarding their future. So, the things that they want to know is, is this work personally fulfilling to me, but is it going to pay well? Is it going to help me take care of myself or my family in the future, pay my bills? And often what we see is that many companies will start with the opposite, the perks, the fun stuff, work-life balance things that they think will appeal to Gen Z when in fact, those basic safety security needs are the ones that will attract them the most.
LYNSEY: Right, and that’s so important. I’m going to pass it off to Doug, who has one final question.
DOUG: Great and thanks, Lynsey. And I think one of the advice pieces you probably have is just like we did here, don’t have non-Gen Z people trying to do everything about what’s going to be good for Gen Z. You have to engage the Gen Z talent in the discussions when you’re making a plan, but for communicators like myself who aren’t Gen Z or can’t pass for being Gen Z, no matter how hard they try, do you have advice for them on some of the best things they should be doing when they’re advising brands, seeking talent, etc? You’ve touched on a number of these things, but we’d love to get your advice for the Gen Z or is out there who want to communicate effectively.
COURTNEY: Yeah, I’m glad that you brought up making sure that you have Gen Z as a seat at the table. That was important to us. In fact, we had an entire advisory board of Gen Z are sitting with us and we got invaluable advice from them. And oftentimes a reality check on how we were speaking, what we were saying. But I think along the lines of what we talked about, the three things that really underpin trust: safety, unity, and care. I would send your advice on those three things. First and foremost, make them feel safe. This is why transparency is so key to this audience, and they like to discover things. So, give them the breadcrumbs so they can collect the information and discover for themselves. Show that you’re taking care of people. It’s important that businesses, brands, companies do more than just sell products. I think a lot have been talking about the need for purpose, but decide the cause, how do you want to take care of people and invite Gen Z to be part of that story with you? And then lastly, unite for change. Understand that activism doesn’t have to be a loaded word. It doesn’t have to be negative. This is a generation that’s more about we than me. And so, figuring out how you can unite, certainly in this climate where there’s more dividing happening, uniting for change and being a brand that stands for that in whatever capacity that might be the best fit for your brand and your company. do so.
DOUG: Great, well, I think you’ve given our viewers a three-course meal, not just crumbs, to figure things out. Courtney, thank you for participating. Great stuff.
COURTNEY: Thank you. Thank you for having me.