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As far back as 1999, marketers predicted that brands would need to embrace social responsibility to win new customers. That prediction has certainly been borne out, with seventy-five percent of Gen Z viewing sustainability as more important than brand names.
This young demographic is raising the bar for what it means to be a High Fidelity Brand. With reliability, efficiency, and quality now table stakes, Gen Z is looking beyond basic attributes and seeking brands that take action to mobilize these larger societal missions. Gen Z wants to leverage its money in meaningful ways by supporting brands focused on change.
This is true even during challenging economic circumstances. Consider that 86% of Gen Z interns surveyed in the summer of 2022 by Goldman Sachs said they believe a recession is imminent and are rethinking major milestones, like marriage or children. This cautious generation of savers doesn’t want to waste its money—or sacrifice its values. Brands hoping to succeed with this young generation need to develop customer experiences that speak to their unique needs, expectations, and contexts.
Material Fidelity™ aggregates a brand’s performance based on a distinct set of drivers—categorized under Useful, Proven, and Personal—as developed by our Behavioral Science & Customer Experience experts and validated by third-party data. The higher a brand scores across these drivers, the greater Fidelity the relationship between brand and consumer.
Material’s inaugural Fidelity Index reveals the attributes currently most important to Gen Z, charting a way forward for brands to take the long view on their category and consumers.
The Shark Tank Generation
High fidelity brands are resilient and less susceptible to disruption because they can adapt to changing times. These brands have proven their ability to weather marketplace changes while prioritizing customer needs and expectations — but that’s just one way they stand out to Gen Z.
Adaptability has become table stakes for this generation. Disruption is a way of life for Gen Z. After all, this group of young consumers grew up with start-ups and innovators that have reshaped countless industries. During this evolution, Gen Z has also sat front row to some of the behind-the-scenes processes that make businesses successful.
The popularity of Shark Tank perfectly captures the transparency this generation expects from brands. This group chooses to engage with new and existing brands alike through co-design and social media, and they aren’t shy about calling out brands that fall short of their expectations. This demographic is also media-savvy and cynical about flashy campaigns, able to easily get to the roots of a brand’s business practices, and less open to straight-forward emotional marketing. They want brands to live their values and deliver exceptional experiences, not just reflect their lifestyle back at them in marketing and creative activations. When brands don’t deliver, this generation of mini-Sharks says, “I’m out!”
Pragmatic, Pessimistic, and Highly Influential
Being a socially conscious consumer isn’t new—Millennials’ interest in corporate social responsibility is well documented. But the issue has taken on critical importance for Gen Z, which has experienced a barrage of crises in their short lifespans, including the pandemic, economic insecurity, climate change, and socio-political instability. In addition to buying green products and services, they are more likely to support social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter than generations before them, and more likely to expect brands to do the same.
Overall, this young demographic is deeply worried about its future: a recent Lancet survey revealed that more than half of 16-to-25-year-olds feel that humanity is doomed. This means that Gen Z is skeptical, distrusting, and more brand cynical than other age groups.
They’re looking for products, services, and experiences that reinforce identity and lifestyle, such as inclusion, shared values, and customization. They’re drawn to socially responsible, human-centric, and inclusive brands in part because they lack faith in the government, legal, and educational organizations that have exacerbated some of the current crises. And they’re highly influential: even when they are not making the buying decision themselves, Gen Z are a vocal cohort and often influence friends, colleagues, parents, and grandparents.
The New Table Stakes
Overall, Gen Z is setting the bar high for what it means to be a high fidelity brand. Older members of Gen Z have already entered the workforce—and even been elected to Congress—and their buying power and influence will only increase in the years to come.
Brands need to track cultural and social shifts that are important to Gen Z to successfully optimize the customer experience for this demographic, especially as only 37% of Gen Z considers themselves brand loyalists.
Ultimately, Gen Z is seeking out brands that reflect their values and make a positive impact on local and global communities. So, brands need to move beyond table stakes attributes and become customizable, amplify personal values, be socially responsible, and strive to serve people of all backgrounds and identities.
Customers are 2x as likely to buy and/or try new products, advocate for, and be loyal to High Fidelity brands. Companies that invest in their relationships with Gen Z now will benefit from a greater loyalty along with a share of Gen Z’s current $360 billion in purchasing power.
Find out your Fidelity score to get started on your journey to winning them over.