Edelman has been following brand trust for the past six years. Our most important finding is the emergence of belief-driven buying, with nearly two-thirds of consumers today buying or advocating for brands based on their values. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: The New Cascade of Influence released today at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity finds a further trend to brand democracy in the form of gravitational force exerted by Gen Z consumers.
Gen Z has come of age amidst a crescendo of brand activism stemming from the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, racial inequities, the climate crisis, the U.S. epidemic of gun violence and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our study, conducted across 14 countries in May and June with more than 13,700 adults and more than 6,700 teens (age 14-17), indicates a new cascade of influence that upends the marketing funnel; brands that fail to act don’t even make the consideration set.
Gen Z is the catalyst for action because they say they’re fighting for their future. There is an exacerbated level of fear on personal security, health, financial security and the rapid pace of change. Fear is what powers, not paralyzes, Gen Z; 70 percent of Gen Z are involved in a social or political cause (2021 The Power of Gen Z). I love this comment from David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting, who said, “I am not powered by hope. I’m powered by the fact that I have no other choice.” We found in our recent 2022 Business and Racial Justice report in the U.S. that 70 percent of adult Gen Z (age 18-26) say they have advocated or acted against racism, more than double the level of those age 42+.
Adult Gen Z controls the information flow through Tik Tok and other social channels, with participation rates double those age 42+ (69 percent posting or sharing content online daily or weekly, versus 31 percent). Teens and college-aged people influence how the general population gets news (63 percent) and accesses movies or TV (60 percent). Among total Gen Z, there is strong belief in the credibility of experts (66 percent) and frequent users of the brand (63 percent) as brand spokespeople, and those who follow influencers say they trust them because they teach new skills (40 percent) or share recommendations based on experience (37 percent).
But activism on social media to drive change is no substitute for action; there was a 15-point drop in the past four years among adult Gen Z who regularly create and post online content saying they do so to change the world (from 74 percent to 59 percent).
Gen Z wants to work with brands to have shared action, not moments (a clever ad) but movements toward demonstrable change. Nearly two-thirds of those 14-17 and 62 percent of those 18-26 say that they want to collaborate with brands on addressing issues, including racism, climate change and gender inequality. A stunning 84 percent of young Gen Zers (14-17) say that they buy on beliefs, with a five-point jump in the past year among those 18-26 years old to 64 percent saying they’re activist via brand choice. By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, respondents want more ‘We than Me’—they prefer to have brands make the world a better place over brands making them a better person.
Gen Z has a broad remit for brands. Our first brand study in 2017 found that brands were expected to take a stand on behalf of consumers (50 percent). Today, the brand must take a stand on issues that affect its employees (60 percent), its customers (59 percent) and how the products are made (55 percent). As of May 2022, the brand’s stand must be reflected in what they do (63 percent, on average across items) including fair treatment of employees, where they do business, and their supply chain. The brand’s communications must also demonstrate their stand via advertising and on their website (62 percent, on average across items). The new responsibility is geopolitics, with 41 percent of consumers telling us that they have bought, or boycotted brands based on their response to the Russian invasion.
There is a tangible payoff for brands that heed the call for action. When brands take a stand on human rights, climate, gender equity or racial justice, there is a 4-to-1 higher likelihood of purchase. Over half of adult Gen Z respondents say they’re willing to pay a premium for brands that earn their trust and improve the world, more than their willingness to pay a premium for brands based on their image. Trusted brands get much higher loyalty and advocacy (67 percent) in the face of competition.
Those accusing marketers and brands of being too ‘woke’ have it wrong. Consumers want and expect brands to stand up on the issues of the day leading the fight for change and social betterment; to act first, then communicate. We believe that Action Earns Trust. Our latest study makes it clear that Gen Z is leading the charge, with a deep reliance on brands as their partners in change across the landscape of workplace, social interactions, and leisure. The smart company will market from the inside out, with brands shaped by employee advocates for your mission.
CMOs must understand that they are trust catalysts and that marketing is a horizontal function at the company, with deep connection to human resources, supply chain, and finance to influence policy. Relevance demands a point of view and tangible steps; bystanders in marketing will miss the moment and risk irrelevance.
Richard Edelman is CEO.