If there exists a list ranking how deeply a crisis inspires people to reexamine their lives, a global pandemic has got to be in the top 5. The effects of COVID-19 and the restrictions it has placed on life as we know it have been staggering. My life looks a lot different now than it did just 4+ months ago, I’m sure yours does, too. And young as they may be, Gen Z offers no exception to this truth.
The reality of 2020 is far from anything that anyone could have predicted. In addition to COVID-19, recent conversations about racism, inspired by powerful protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, have also motivated society to take a closer look at itself in the mirror, reexamine the status quo, and demand change.
In an effort to gather data on how the pandemic has impacted Gen Z, we conducted two surveys with our youth panel, Generation Wattpad, in late April, to help us paint a vivid picture of how the cohort is responding to the recent shifts in the world.
The results show that the pandemic has shifted Gen Z’s perspective immensely, triggering a cascade of modifications to their outlook that are guaranteed to affect the way brands communicate with them going forward.
I believe it’s imperative that brands like yours think deeply about Gen Z and take note of the following shifts in perspective in order to secure their loyalty once we’re on the other side of this moment in time:
With skepticism on the rise, your brand is in the spotlight
Gen Z can spot a lie from a mile away, and their B.S. detectors have only strengthened over the past couple of months. As of late, Gen Z’s trust in sources has dropped significantly, which can only mean one thing – skepticism is on the rise.
For a generation that was born to question news as fake, I’m not surprised to find Gen Z suspicious of news and media publications. As it happens, Generation Wattpad reported feeling 43% less trustful of news and media publications compared to before COVID-19, with only 11% feeling more trustful.
The sole relationship that appears to have strengthened this year is between Gen Z and their inner circle, with 37% reporting that they trust their friends more, 26% claiming to be more trustful of older family members, and 24% reporting to be more trustful of younger ones.
And while the relationship between brands and their customers can feel akin to a friendship at times, this is ultimately not the case. Disconcertingly, 32% of Generation Wattpad report feeling decreased trust in brands, compared to 10% who are more trustful. Why?
Gen Z’s most trusted brands focus on societal impact
Gen Z exhibits a strong disapproval of brands that are not treating their employees fairly, and in an age where mistreated employees are ignoring NDAs and speaking out on social media or elsewhere, Gen Z’s favourite brands steer clear of any allegations of wrongdoing by exemplifying great behaviour.
Given the challenging circumstances that workers have been facing since the start of the pandemic, Gen Z is deeply inspired by brands who rise to the occasion by putting their people first and striving for societal impact.
Speaking of societal impact, in a recent interview with Bloomberg, Unilever CEO Alan Jope spoke of the value of running a purpose-led business that positions its brands as doing societal good, having a sustainable supply chain, and acting as a responsible employer. Jope believes that a trade off between purpose and profits doesn’t exist, and that brands with purpose grow, companies with purpose last, and people with purpose thrive.
To the socially and environmentally conscious generation, the way a company operates is just as important as how fantastic their products are. With everything we know about Gen Z in mind, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that after the grip COVID-19 has on our society has eased, the relevant brands will be the ones that focused their efforts on truly helping employees, customers and communities during this period. Marketers should look to conduct their own research to understand whether their brand’s trust has eroded or not.
Re-evaluations are in order, but Gen Z is optimistic about the future
An undeniable reality of the pandemic is that after we have moved on from it, the world will be a very different place. Our “normal” will be a hybrid of what we once knew, and what has evolved as a result of COVID-19.
In fact, the majority of Gen Z plan to change their behaviour compared to how they acted pre-pandemic, with many re-thinking their hobbies, and only 20% reporting that they don’t intend to do anything differently. This indicates that new habits are forming, providing a chance for marketers to help Gen Z shape these new routines.
For instance, 52% plan to save more money, which means financial institutions should heed the call by providing resources to help them save. Overall, successful brands will need to pivot in tandem alongside Gen Z’s new normal, because the pandemic may just be the fork in the road that alters their paths.
No matter what you throw at them, nothing can take away from the fact that Gen Z are an inherently optimistic bunch. Forty-three percent of Generation Wattpad believe that after all of this is said and done, society will unite to rebuild a better world than before COVID-19, compared to only 15% who believe society will be worse off for a long period of time. How will your brand tap into their positive-mindset and be a part of this shift?
Moving forward, earning (or keeping) Gen Z’s trust might not be a walk in the park, but it will be a noble cause with great rewards. To get Gen Z on their side, brands must act with compassion for not only their customers, but their employees too.
So tune into Gen Z. Listen to their demands. Provide them with support during one of the most challenging periods they have ever lived through. This time has caused them to question everything around them, and if you heed their call, when it’s over you will have demonstrated that when the going gets tough, they can always count on you.
Download the full report, How Gen Z is navigating their new normal, to gain access to even more insights on how Gen Z is responding to COVID-19.