It was the 6th CMO that did it. The sixth time the apprehension had been expressed to me as to how to reach and engage Gen Z and get it right. How not to be cancelled. How not to trigger an activist reaction. How not to get it wrong. All these thoughts are negatives — how not to do it. Paralyzed often by indecision. Talking to colleagues across our network reinforced that our clients were fascinated by, but also cautious of, the world of Gen Z.

So we undertook a global study with nearly 10,000 Gen Z’ers across 6 markets to replace supposition with fact, and to understand how to harness and enjoy the power of Gen Z for our clients. In building this effort, we also recognized the significance of culture and outside perspective, culminating in the creation of a cultural advisory board with Gen Z savvy experts. We called out to our own Gen Z colleagues, now a team of 100 and growing, to keep us real and relevant.

Then the data came in — and we exhaled. This generation may be the biggest with over 2 billion globally, with an estimated $360 billion in spending power. They are the future consumer, full of opportunity for meaningful engagement… if you get it right. And to get it right, we must replace assumptions with the reality.

This isn't the influencer generation. This isn't the cancel generation. This isn’t the radical activism generation. This isn’t even the TikTok generation. These myths were challenged when our findings showed that only 12% want to be influencers, 66% believe that sharing is a form of activism, and YouTube is their most trusted platform with TikTok coming in fifth despite its overwhelming popularity.

This is the Generation of Sensibility, for whom the basics become the new aspiration.

We found three key pillars to keep us on track, earn trust, and engage with impact:

  1. Make me feel safe. Given the extraordinary global pressures we have all been subjected to this may not on first sight be surprising — especially for Gen Z who have grown up amongst them. So when 7 out of 10 want safety security in every aspect of their lives from the physical to the emotional, financial, social, and educational, it shows that this is a visceral need on an unprecedented level for this generation.
  2. Take care of people. People they trust the most are those that take care of others, which is an interesting and highly personal shift in influence. Doctors, scientists, therapists, teachers are all in the high 70’s – an expanded sphere beyond traditional celebrities, CEO’s, and Government leaders who barely nail a 50% rating. The relatable replaces the aspirational, with the people who represent real, tangible relationships holding the power to inspire and motivate action.
  3. Unite for change. Unity is the definition of activism for this generation. It’s not radical. It’s about coming together to create change for a common good. And they expand brands to stand with and support them, with 9 in 10 wanting brands to get involved. With 70% of Gen Z involved in a social or political cause, we see a clear signpost for business and brands to ensure they step up and use their commercial and communicative power to make a difference. This isn’t a nice to do… it’s expected.

Gen Z bucks the typical marketing profile, so marketing to them needs to be as unique as they are. There is power in their pragmatism, and business and brands have a clear remit to do what this generation is demanding to be trusted. So, let’s step up, get engaged, and unleash the full potential of Gen Z for today and for the business and people of tomorrow. Together, we have everything to play for.

Jackie Cooper is Global Chief Brand Officer.