Opinion: Why brand purpose is the way to our Gen Z hearts (and wallets)
Millennials have been criticized for only caring about themselves, with a famous 2013 Time magazine cover story even dubbing them the “Me Me Me Generation.” Those of us who came after, known as Gen Z, could be called the “We Generation.”
We’re purpose-driven. We care deeply about what we—and corporations—are doing to better our world.
We value being part of movements far bigger than ourselves, and we place great importance on doing work that improves our world. In fact, to attract Gen Z to work for you, it’s not just helpful to have brand purpose—it’s essential.
Indeed, 93 percent of us say that a company’s societal impact affects our decision to work there. And a big paycheck won’t change most of our minds—a full 74 percent of us rank purpose ahead of pay, more than any of the three generations that came before us.
Free food, coffee and massages are nice perks, but we care more about the cake than the icing on top. If a company doesn’t work to make the world a better place, we’d rather work elsewhere. That means smaller companies that help our world in an authentic way can attract top Gen Z talent—30 percent of us would take pay cut of up to 20 percent to work for a company with a mission we deeply care about.
We support purpose-driven corporations with our wallets, too. You wouldn’t think a generation of mostly teenagers has much money. But with up to $143 billion in buying power already, and projected to account for 40 percent of the consumer market by next year, our generation has tremendous clout in the market today.
How we wield our purchasing power is strikingly straightforward. If you help our world, we’ll help you. In fact, 69 percent of us are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes.
Take Patagonia, for example. The outdoor clothing company has made its brand purpose clear to the extent that it’s even the company's Twitter bio: “We’re in business to save our home planet.” Patagonia showed this by donating the $10 million it received from tax cuts in 2018 to organizations fighting climate change. That’s not just good for the planet, it’s good for business. “Any time that we do something good for the environment, we make more money,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said.
But it also works in the other direction. One in three of us has stopped buying from a company that contributes to a cause they don’t support. Even words can get a corporation into big trouble. In 2018, the now former Victoria’s Secret chief marketing officer said the company didn’t use plus-size or trans models in its fashion event “because the show is a fantasy.” This didn’t sit well with my generation, which passionately supports body positivity and inclusivity. The result: declining sales for Victoria’s Secret as customers flocked to more-progressive competitors.
Having a great product is as crucial as it’s always been, of course. But with Amazon now letting us choose between countless products of similar quality and price, the best way to separate yourself from the competition is by showing you’re legitimately committed to enriching our society.
In the past, getting people to work for you has always been about offering higher salaries and better perks. Similarly, getting people to buy from you has always been about offering better products at lower prices. Thanks to my generation, we’re quickly moving to a time when there will be one other major factor affecting both buying and applying decisions: Your company must be doing good for the world, too.
Forget the mousetrap; build a better world, and Gen Z will beat a path to your door.