Brand activism and generation Z: How to make your brand resonate

By Bianca Gardella, Business Unit Director at Irvine Partners

The purchasing power of Generation Z is growing, and if your company isn’t paying attention, you could be missing out.  Engaging with this savvy generation, however, necessitates a different approach than when interacting with their elder peers.

This generation values corporate social responsibility and brand advocacy. They are a generation that is sceptical of business and is not hesitant to speak up in order to demand change. As a customer, they want brands to join them in speaking out, and those that do will earn their loyalty – and money.

Gen Zers feel they can make a difference, and they expect the companies they support to believe the same. This requires more than just words; it also requires action.

In this article, we speak with industry experts and ask them for their advice on how to best connect with the younger generation.

1. Ambassadors for change 

For Generation Z, activism is not a recreational pastime. They are who they are because they recognise the value of social justice in their lives. As a result, brands that ignore them will suffer.

‘Generation Z share similar values and interests,’ Zuko Mdwaba, Area Vice President at Salesforce South Africa says, ‘They understand the concept of a global society and are good at building connection, and communicating with clients where they live, which is online, especially on social media platforms, is critical.’

Giving helps young people cope with the suffering they experience as a result of global disasters. It enables them to connect with one another and with the issues that matter to them. ‘This is a smart audience,’ says Mdwaba, ‘who can detect insincerity or empty statements.’ Mdwaba explains, ‘They are hoping for change. Once you’ve built these relationships, they’ll become ambassadors for your message.’

2. Authentic connections 

‘Now, more than ever, we need to feel connected to one another. That feeling extends to our brands, and how they define our digital and real experiences. Gen Z has their finger on that pulse, knowing that what a brand does is more important than what they say they do,’ says Glenn Gillis, CEO of Sea Monster, a leading animation, gaming and augmented-reality company.

It used to be that customers had to prove their loyalty to companies. Now it’s the other way around. In fact, most loyalty schemes are only reward schemes, where your attention and spend is motivated by short-term, extrinsic motivation. That’s not a bad thing of course; we all love free stuff and, thankfully, these offers are now more data-driven, relevant and contextual.

But true loyalty comes when we are also intrinsically connected to a brand or organisation. Driven by creativity, self-expression and a sense of shared purpose, we seek out experiences that make us part of a community. We need to belong.

Our time and attention matters to us (it’s all we have really), and it should matter to our brands – not in a way that leads to exploitation, but one that leads to authentic connections. The kind of connections that Gen Z seem to want and respect from brands.

3. Conscious consumerism

According to Jonathan Hurvitz, CEO of Teljoy, the shift to more conscious consumerism is primarily driven by Generation Z. Hurvitz adds that research shows that this cohort of consumers desire a minimalist, low-impact lifestyle. As users rather than owners, they want to enjoy a product without having to worry about its environmental impact.

‘By subscribing to a product for as long (or as little) as it is needed, whether it is office furniture, while they are working from home or a seasonal appliance such as a gas heater, they feel as if they are doing their bit to minimise their carbon footprint and reduce waste.’ Hurvitz adds, ‘Companies that offer this flexible model that meets customers’ specific needs, will satiate Gen Zs’ desire for a more transient, experiential lifestyle while they do their best for the planet.’

4. Environmentally conscious

‘Gen Z are keenly aware of causes and hugely environmentally conscious,’ says Tshepo Matlou, Head of Marketing and Communications at Jurni, a local stay booking platform. ‘If you haven’t done so yet, implement smart eco-friendly initiatives at your establishment. There are so many brilliant green tourism ideas out there, like installing a water-bottle filling station at reception, using sustainable furnishings in your rooms, sourcing food from nearby suppliers, donating leftover food to charities, composting and water-wise gardening. As you improve your sustainability practices, get the word out. Share it on social media, using hashtags to appeal to eco-conscious consumers,’ he advises.

Aware of how tough the past few years have been for small businesses, Gen Z travellers will also be rallying to show their support by booking stays at locally owned guesthouses and B&B’s. ‘Businesses within the travel sector would do well to capitalise on this by highlighting the things that make them authentic and unique,’ says Matlou. ‘Play to your strengths in your marketing, showcasing any aspects that will connect them to the area they are visiting.’

5. Meet the Gen Zs where they are

Head of digitally-based motor insurer, MiWay Blink, Christiaan Steyn says business needs to meet the Gen Zs at the place of their comfort. ‘The Gen Zs don’t like barriers. They’ve been exposed to an influx of information – more than any other generation before them – and their approach to business reflects it.’

Because of the enormous inflow of information coming their way from the moment they opened their eyes, compared to their Millennial sisters and brothers, Gen Zs are used to having their world revolve around access to and processing of information. This generation is active in their quest for authentic services and customer experience when they spend and, as a result, they look up everything online.

‘This is a generation that goes digital every day. Most of their interactions with brands, and the outside world in general, is digital. To resonate with them, we meet them where they already are – at their place of comfort, digitally. This is a convenient space for us because we are a fully digital insurance provider,’ he explains.

6. Savings savvy

‘Gen Zs are the most savings-savvy generation,’ says Tony Mallam, managing director of microsavings platform upnup. ‘Not only are they looking for innovative ways to save, they are more likely to consider non-traditional investment options.’

‘In fact, cryptocurrency is the second most common investment for this generation, after stocks and ahead of mutual funds.’ Mallam adds, ‘Having grown up with digital technology, Gen Zs embrace fintech and they are not afraid to engage with platforms that offer varied opportunities to build their investment portfolios.’

A generation with influence

According to a recent Bloomberg survey, Gen Zs have a purchasing power of $360 million (R560 737 296.00), and businesses would be foolish not to incorporate this demographic into their marketing efforts. They are a generation with enormous influence, but for a business to reap the benefits, it is crucial to understand what resonates with this audience.

Image credit: Markus Spiske / Unsplash