Marketers must change their presumptions about Gen Z from bullish activists pushing cancel culture to a sensible generation valuing safety and substance. Trust building for brands in this generation depends on delivering on safety in every aspect of life, taking care of your employees and emphasizing “We over Me”. The findings of our Edelman special report The Power of Gen Z: Trust & The Future Consumer, out today, follow our prior studies, which discovered higher rates of belief-driven buying and values-driven employment among the youngest respondents. For this study we looked at nearly 10,000 Gen Z aged 14-24 across six countries (China, France, Germany, Mexico, UK, U.S.).

Here are the key findings from the study:

  1. The Need for Safety—Seven in 10 respondents make safety and security the top priority. The twin shocks of the Global Recession of 2008-09 and the Global Pandemic of 2020-21 have created a visceral need for safety and security in every aspect of their lives. That includes Physical (activities with low risk of getting sick or hurt, 75 percent), Emotional (feeling safe over strong friendships, 81 percent), Financial (top career goal is financial stability, 79 percent), Social (have changed social circles to feel safer, 69 percent), and Educational (safety is critical/important when thinking about school, 81 percent). Seventy eight percent said they are making more time for their mental health in the wake of COVID-19.
  2. They Will Get to the Truth—Seven in 10 respondents told us they will fact check what you say. They want links to legitimate sources and citations on data. The number one trusted media source is YouTube; TikTok trails in fifth place. They trust content on search engines significantly (58 percent), where they go to find their breadcrumbs to truth.
  3. They Trust Experts—Gen Z trusts experts including doctors (77 percent), scientists (75 percent), and educators (74 percent) above all, while trusting less the traditional authority figures of CEOs (50 percent), Government leaders (47 percent) and traditional celebrities (50 percent). Another possible interpretation of the data is higher trust for those who take care of them and others.
  4. They Also Trust Those Close to Them—Their top sources of inspiration are family members (88 percent) and friends (84 percent), in sharp contrast to politicians (42 percent) and religious leaders (44 percent) who represent more distant institutions
  5. The Real Test for Brand is Treatment of Employees and Communities—Eight in 10 respondents said that a brand’s treatment of employees was a critical or important purchase decision factor. Seven in 10 said they would consider a brand’s willingness to give back to those in need when deciding on whether to work for the company.
  6. Come Together to Make Change—Gen Z is not radical; the large majority (70 percent) are involved in a social or political cause, with unity as the new activism. The three top causes they unite around globally are Climate Change, COVID-19, and Social Justice, with climate the dominant theme for Europeans, social justice in the U.S., COVID-19 in China and Mexico.
  7. From Me to We—There are five attributes of trustworthy brands (ability, dependability, integrity, purpose and self). The lowest attribute for Gen Z is self (personal relevance), at 38 percent, trailing dependability and ability which are 23 and 19 points higher, respectively. This signifies a preference for attributes that benefit the many ahead of the individual. Comparatively, people 25+ attribute much more importance to self (51 percent).
  8. The Most Belief Driven Buyers—Sixty three percent of Gen Z say they will only buy brands which stand with them on issues, compared to 48 percent of the general population. Eighty five percent of Gen Z respondents say that trusting a brand is critical or important in purchase decisions. And 90 percent of them expect brands to be involved in causes that improve the world.

This is a big opportunity for brands to change marketing to reflect the sentiments of Gen Z consumers of caring, safety, community, and authenticity. That means making substance the new sizzle. Safety in all parts of life must be paramount. The brand lens must expand to encompass proper treatment of employees. The globally unified Gen Z consumer is requiring transparency that is discoverable. This is their new journey to earning trust, based on action that improves society and our new journey to realize the full potential of working with them and for them.

Richard Edelman is CEO.