Posted by Elena del Valle on March 11, 2019
By Jay Gronlund
President, The Pathfinder Group
Jay Gronlund, president, The Pathfinder Group
Photo: Jay Gronlund
We have heard a lot about Millennials (i.e., Generation Y), their impact on business, politics and society, and how different their values and practices are. Well, get ready for Generation Z. Their attitudes and actions are even more progressive and even more confounding to marketers. This Generation Z (born after 1996) is the best educated, most diverse and easily most open to emerging social trends of any prior generation. And their potential impact on commercial and political brands will be transformative.
All brands should be strategically positioned to not only appeal to their current customers, but to lay the foundation to capture the emotions that will cultivate a sense of loyalty of tomorrow’s consumers. More and more, younger people will choose brands with values that coincide with their own. This is why political parties, candidates and all businesses should start making a diligent effort to reach these emerging Generation Z and Millennial consumers today, to gain their trust and connect with their values in ways that will establish early brand loyalty preferences.
Millennials have already indicated a new direction for how political parties and businesses should re-position their brands to adjust to their more progressive values. January 17, 2019 The Pew Research Center released Generation Z Looks a Lot Like Millennials on Key Social and Political Issues, a study that provides a glimpse of how Generation Zers will move the needle further left on most controversial political and social issues.
• Role of Government – Younger Americans in both parties are challenging the long-held Republican position of less government. Responding to the question of whether “Government should be doing more to solve problems” versus the “Government is doing too many things which are better left to businesses:”
Gov’t. Do More Better Business/individuals
Gen Z (born after 1996) 70 percent 29 percent
Gen Y (Millennials b. 1981-96) 64 percent 34 percent
Gen X (born 1965-1980) 53 percent 48 percent
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) 49 percent 49 percent
Silent Generation (born 1928-45) 39 percent 60 percent
What’s particularly surprising is that more than half of Republican Generation Zers (52 percent think the government should be doing more, even much higher than Republican Millennials 38 percent), while the Silent Generation Republicans are at the bottom (12 percent).
Climate Change – Most Gen Z and Millennials believe the earth is getting warmer “due to human activity” (54/56 percent) versus Boomers and the Silent Generation (45 percent/38 percent). Furthermore, only 14 percent/16 percent of all Gen Z and Millennials believe climate change is “due to natural patterns.” Even Republican Gen Z and Millennials are less likely to say the earth is warming because of natural causes (18 percent/30 percent), versus Republican Boomers and the Silent Generation (42 percent/41 percent).
• Racial and Ethnic Diversity – The younger generations feel very differently than older people on racial issues. Gen Z (66 percent) and Millennials (62 percent) believe blacks are treated unfairly, compared to 49 percent of Boomers and 44 percent of the Silent Generation. Similarly 62 percent of Gen Z and 61 percent of Millennials say increased racial and ethnic diversity is a good thing for our society, but only 48 percent of Boomers and 42 percent of the Silent Generation feel the same way.
The implications (and risks) for the Republican Party brand, including its individual members, are quite ominous. There are 68 million Generation Z Americans, 22 percent of the nation’s population, and most will be voting soon. While all generations of Democrats consistently share the same positive views on these social issues, the risk to Republicans of not adapting to these two younger Generations’ preferences can be troublesome in the long run.
There are also noteworthy examples of well-established product brands taking controversial positions to capture the hearts of our youth. Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick (see Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign gets more yeas than nays from young people by Cindy Boren in The Washington Post September 13, 2018), the controversial National Football League quarterback, as a spokesman because his “doing it his own way” values appealed to young athletes (the majority of Nike’s consumers are under 35). This Pew Research study showed that 61 percent of Generation Z and 62 percent of the Millennials approved of National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem, as opposed to only 29 percent of the Silent Generation.
More recent is Gillette’s two minute ad (see Gillette’s Ad Proves the Definition of a Good Man Has Changed by Emily Dreyfuss in Wired magazine January 16, 2019) that advocates a higher standard of behavior and accountability for men in society. Gillette stated that it is committed to embracing a new era of masculinity that promotes “positive, attainable inclusive and healthy versions for what it means to be a man.” Although this ad created a mini-culture war, Gillette views this initiative as a way to strategically embrace the emerging social values of the next generation. Another example is Coca Cola with their ad showing “America the Beautiful” (youtube.com/watch?v=JchALYBVEGw) sung in different languages to show their commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusion, important values very relevant to Generation Z and Millennials.
Good branding requires identifying and engaging the values of your target audience. Since today’s marketplace is more dynamic than ever, it is essential to recognize trends and lay the foundation for proactively relating to emerging needs. While political parties and reputable brands may risk alienating some from their current base of customers, the strategic benefits of bonding with the younger generations and capturing their loyalty early on should outweigh these risks in the long term.
Jay Gronlund is founder of The Pathfinder Group, a business development firm specializing in emotional branding, ideation facilitation and international expansion. His background has included executive positions in marketing and new product development at reputable companies in the US and abroad. He is also vice president, managing director of Latin Pulse – USA, a marketing and research firm headquartered in Mexico City. Jay teaches branding at New York Universtity, and has a B.A. from Colby College and MBA from Tuck at Dartmouth.