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Want to Thrive with Gen Z? Look Beyond Purpose and Sustainability

As if the climate change epidemic has not been enough of a perennial concern, the world in 2020 has been forced to grapple with a global health pandemic which has caused economic hardship and widespread unemployment and death while racial tensions in the US boil over on an unprecedented level.

What else could possibly be in store for 2020? And what does the future hold, especially for brands trying to navigate an uncertain year and a very uncertain business climate caused by world events?

The next best thing to trying to predict the future might be to listen to those who will shape it – Gen Z.

While there is no consensus on their exact demographic, Gen Z ranges in age from teens to early twenties. They are notoriously fickle and difficult to reach but well worth the investment given they’re next gen of voters, leaders and consumers.

This generation is keenly positioned to predict the future through their actions, and those marketing to them are in a unique position to support them as they help shape the future. What’s important to them has been the topic of countless news articles and studies. However, many brands make the mistake of not actually asking them what they think and care about, and importantly fail to listen to them, relying on others’ research instead.

Now more than ever consumers are questioning their own consumption habits — a shift that has been accelerated by Covid19 and Black Lives Matter. For example, many consumers are buying less and buying smarter, especially Gen Z. But there isn’t time to be perfect in their eyes. We are all vying to be the chosen brand by our audience, and we’re all moving fast right now. It’s time to be alert to and consultative with your consumer, especially if they are members of Gen Z who are forming the conversation of the future.

Whilst we all buy into the important notions of purpose, sustainability and proactive mission statements, those looking to really thrive with Gen Z moving forward need to be honest, realistic and consistent. Brands need to embrace imperfection and betterment – but they must also engage in a meaningful way.

Before and since the launch of 31st State, our mission has been to provide a sense of community for Gen Z and a platform for their views, not mine as a brand founder. Our platform showcases the insights from our 31st State Gen-Z network about global issues that impact them and most recently, the effect of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and climate change.

As the pandemic hit fever pitch earlier this year, we reached out to our global network of Gen Z contributors to take their temperatures, so to speak, about how the pandemic is impacting their lives. While we all heard from brands telling us what they were doing during the pandemic (some brands we didn’t even know we’d ever engaged with), we just wanted to know if they were ok. Over 100 blogs were submitted from around the world. The insights were illuminating and have taken on even more importance in the last month. The topics on which they consistently focused were well-being, education and career, activism and entrepreneurship. Their greatest concerns were climate change, race and wealth disparity, human rights and access to healthcare. We’ve learned so much by simply asking and listening.

They’ve got a lot to say, and business leaders would be mistaken not to directly ask, listen and then take action themselves. I think that’s where it’s easy to get it wrong as a brand – to assume what a group wants and stands for without actually going through the collaborative process to understand in a meaningful way through direct interaction. For us, the most compelling message that has come through in the past four months is that this generation feels they have a huge responsibility to correct the problems generations before them have created.

They’ve shared with us that part of the solution sits in the power of democracy – selecting leaders and ideas that fit with their values and rejecting those that do not. This is the power of their vote. Because they are the next generation of voters and leaders, they are in a unique position to be the change-makers the world so desperately needs. Making their voices heard starts at the ballot box. With their insights we will be highlighting and supporting organizations we think are doing a great job of encouraging guys and girls to register and then vote in their respective countries.

I think when you’re working with a brand for Gen Z, your products almost need to be secondary. You have to support them in a way that means something to them, otherwise you’ve lost them.

31st State is an award-winning original range of grooming products developed specifically for Gen-Z skin and hair. The entirely vegan product range contains powerful active natural ingredients that work and smell great. Inspired by her home state of California, Stephanie Capuano founded 31st State after being unable to find grooming products for her teenage sons that she felt were safe to use. 31st State offers 7 products from over-night clearing pads to body wash, available from, Ocado, Victoria Health and

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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