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Conscious consumers: The issues young buyers care about, and why brands should pay attention

Jennifer Reid
President and Chief Methodologist

Note: This is the fifth article in a series of blog posts from our President and Chief Methodologist, Jennifer Reid, on how to engage Gen Zs and Millennials in the mobile age. To get notified of new content from this series and for more best practices for market research and insight professionals, subscribe to our blog.

They’ve been called the generation that can change the world. And if you ask a lot of young people today, they’re planning on doing exactly that.

While that may not seem like a new thing — after all, young people have been on the front lines of a range of social movements for generations now — today, technology enables youth in ways we’ve never seen before. With more information at their fingertips and a platform in their social channels that lets them activate and engage, they’re rallying around the issues they care about more than ever.

It’s no surprise, then, that Generation Z and Young Millennials aren’t afraid to let those issues influence the brands they interact with or the buying decisions they make. In fact, our sister company, Reach3 Insights, found that 76% of Gen Zs are more likely to buy a brand’s product or service if they’ve made statements on issues that matter to them.

Brands looking to engage with young consumers, then, need to keep those issues in mind. Starting with those that today’s generation of young people put front and center.

The issues that matter

As socially conscious as they are, there are a lot of issues young people care about, from gun violence to immigration. But two drive their purchasing decisions more than any. Let’s look at each in turn.

Climate change, the environment, and sustainability ♻️

Having been raised through escalating climate change predictions and the ongoing effects, Young Millennials in particular have made the environment and sustainability a significant part of their buying decisions.

Globally, 73% of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings. They actively search out companies that demonstrate sustainable or environmental practices — from those with repurposed packaging, to businesses like Rent the Runway, where they can rent the latest fashions while ensuring less waste. Even some of the biggest companies — from Disney and Starbucks to Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia — have stepped up to the plate, putting programs in place to reduce their environmental footprints.

Everything you need to know about Gen Z market research

Discrimination and injustice ✊

While the environment is important to Gen Zs too, their concerns are dominated by another issue: discrimination and injustice. And it’s no wonder: Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, with 48% belonging to communities of color. It’s not surprising, then, that 80% having taken action in the fight for racial equality, and that issues like Black Lives Matter, corporate activism, and inclusive representation were important to them long before the 2020 death of George Floyd brought these issues to the forefront of mainstream awareness.

As a diverse population, young people want to see themselves in the media they consume and the brands they buy from — and that extends beyond the color of their skin. They prize diversity and inclusion across gender, sexuality, and size as well. In fact, it’s one of the reasons user-generated content — as a place that highlights authentic diversity — is so popular among this generation.

What you can do (and what you shouldn’t)

For brands, part of engaging with young buyers is showing you care about the same things they do. To make that happen, start with the following:

Don’t keep your involvement a secret

If you already have practices in place that support the issues young people care about, don’t be afraid to let people know. If you do, young buyers will see more of a reason to engage with your brand.

Don’t give lip service

But don’t say anything without the proof to back it up. Honesty — as I mentioned in my last post  — is key, and young people will notice if you’re being dishonest. They’ll see through statements of diversity that have no weight behind them, and catch on to greenwashing efforts that make your products appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are. If you can’t speak authentically about an issue, put in the work to introduce programs that let you do so.

Do listen to a diverse set of voices

Here at Rival, only 50% of the participants we talked to in our chats during the first quarter of 2021 identified as Caucasian (compared to 76% who identified as white in the 2019 U.S. census) — 33% were Black, 15% Latinx, and 9% Asian. Speaking to such a diverse mix of buyers ensures you understand all of your customers and represent them in your marketing efforts.

Do consider amplifying some voices

If certain groups are under-represented in your customer base, consider amplifying their voices in your marketing and social media efforts. Doing so helps build a more equal playing field, and can expand both the depth and breadth of your customer base.

Making corporate activism count

There’s one last thing to keep in mind: budget. With more disposable income, young Gen Zs — from 14 to 18 years old — are quick to put their money where their mouth is. Young Millennials (25 to 35 years old) — having more income — can do the same. But even though 19 to 24 year olds care just as much, they may not be able to afford the additional costs often associated with buying ethically.

When choosing the programs you support, then, keep that in mind — matching your actions, issues, and price point with the cohort you’re looking to reach.

For more on authenticity, please read my previous article on authenticity.

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