How brands can win the trust of Gen Z

Say hello to Attest Investigates! A series where I use the Attest platform to test popular hypotheses and answer your burning questions. As a trained scientist, I am obsessed with experimentation, empiricism and using data to make decisions. We’ll delve into all things consumer research, using a scientific analysis style to lift the lid on the most important unknowns for brands, as requested by you!

Introduction and hypothesis

A lot is written and said about Generation Z. As with every previous up-and-coming generation or emerging group of consumers, Gen Zers are subject to a heady mixture of semi-substantiated analysis, criticism, kudos and extrapolation. 

We’re here to add some light to the often heated debate around Gen Z!

Becoming a trusted brand is an ongoing challenge for businesses of all sizes. And for Gen Z, who’ve grown up in a particularly polarised time of rapid social change, making sure your brand’s purpose and values are attractive to them is key to winning their trust, and their business. 

Here’s our Attest Investigates hypothesis: Gen Z would stop buying from brands that don’t meet their personal values.

Method

We surveyed 500 people aged 16-24 in the UK for this research.

Head over to the Attest dashboard to see the full results, and don’t forget to do some digging of your own using the filters!

Results

Just how important is brand purpose to Gen Z?

To establish the lay of the land, we first asked where a brand’s purpose that’s wider than their business ranks in Gen Z’s overall buying behaviour. Overall it ranked 6th out of 8. This matches with a lot of other research that we’ve run recently: ‘purpose’ sounds important – and it is – it’s just less important than the more fundamental (and classical) drivers of consumer behaviour.

Across generations we see consumers placing a higher importance on things like value for money, product quality and customer service – in fact, these were the top 3 options for our Gen Zers. 

Affordability reigns supreme

When asked which specific traits of a purpose-driven brand people deem most important, money matters. 

Affordability (here meaning product accessibility through pricing) came way out in front, with 44% of Gen Zers placing this in 1st spot. Notably, a fairly consistent percentage – between 11-16% – ranked it 2nd through 5th, a pattern we don’t see for any other factor.

In a comfortable 2nd spot is the environment. Overall, 52% of people placed environmental issues in 1st or 2nd place, and of all the issues listed, it was placed last by the lowest number of Zers – just 9% ranked this last.

Majority would stop buying from a brand because of its values

More than three fifths of Gen Z say they’re likely to stop buying from a brand that doesn’t meet their personal values – 42% say ‘likely’ and 20% say ‘very likely’.

Here’s where it gets interesting. While ‘good’ purpose/values evidently aren’t especially important to Gen Z, ‘bad’ purpose/values alignment with Gen Z can cause brands to lose out.

62% is a really sizable chunk of Gen Z consumers whose buying behaviours are influenced by brands’ purpose and values. It’s definitely something brands should always remember – imagine suffering a potential 62% drop in volume or brand value, just by getting this wrong!

Just under a third (29%) say they’re neither likely or unlikely to stop buying based on a brand’s values. This level of apathy is somewhat encouraging for brands; less so for the planet at large. 

We also see little difference between females’ and males’ approaches here. The biggest gender difference is in the ‘neither likely or unlikely’ group – 31% of females chose that, compared with 28% of males.

So, brands beware: don’t get on the wrong side of Gen Z. You can use Attest to discover what this looks like for you, and how Gen Z perceives you, to avoid making this mistake.

Most Gen Zers want to hear about brands’ purpose-driven work

More than half (54%) overall say they’re happy for brands to communicate their purpose-driven work with them, in what must be welcome news to brands. 

Don’t take this willingness for granted though. A still-significant 34% say they’d rather find out about brands’ work on their own terms. This means brands must exercise discretion when promoting their purpose-driven work. Gen Z prefers to ‘discover’, rather than be ‘force-fed’ (as we’ve seen in ads/propositions focused on older generations).

Overall I think the picture is positive – 88% are happy to hear about brands’ purpose-driven work, even if some would rather find that for themselves. Just 12% say they explicitly don’t want to hear about the good work brands do (potentially an interesting follow-up there – why don’t they care? Is there anything brands can do to be ‘good’?). 

Owned media is Gen Z’s medium of choice

Of those who are happy for brands to communicate their purpose-driven work with them, most told us social media and a brand’s website are the platforms through which they want to hear it. More than half (53%) selected brands’ social media accounts, and 46% selected brands’ websites. 

Adverts takes a surprising 3rd place in the list – 39% said they’re happy to hear about brands’ purpose-driven work through advertising. This surprised me – my ingoing hypothesis had been that more Gen Zers would deem ads as spammy, and a less-than-ideal way to convey key messages.

The message here for brands is that reaching consumers in the places they actually want to be reached is vital. Understanding how to communicate different messages with your audience is a key part in formulating an effective marketing, communications and sales strategy.

Future scope

Cross-generational comparison would be super interesting here. We targeted this survey at just Gen Z, but it’d be fascinating to find out whether we see similarities in older generations, or tensions between generations that brands need to overcome.

Conclusion

What’s absolutely clear from this research is that brand purpose and values really are important factors when Gen Zers are choosing who to buy with. And our hypothesis turns out to be largely true: people will desert brands whose values don’t align with theirs – and it’s an ‘away’ thing (Gen Z consumers rejecting brands that fail to align on purpose and values, not moving towards brands that try hard and promote themselves).

An encouraging surprise from this research is to learn that so many people are happy to hear about brands’ purpose-driven work. What mustn’t be forgotten though are the nuances between how people want to hear about it. 

It’s vital for brands to stay on top of what consumers expect from them and how they want to be communicated with. 

How can you reach your ideal customers? Read our annual Media Consumption Reports, in which we analyse the types of content consumers are using and guide brands on how to reach them. 

Find out what Americans are watching, streaming, reading and playing in 2021 in our US Media Consumption Report.

And get the latest media insights from Brits in our UK Media Consumption Report for 2021.

Jeremy King

CEO 

Jeremy founded Attest in mid-2015, following 9 years leading global teams across industries at McKinsey & Company. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, originally trained as a scientist with a focus on genetics, ecology and animal behaviour, and also helps to improve state primary schools with his charity work.

See all articles by Jeremy