Brands shouldn't underestimate the truly disruptive force of Gen Z
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Every generation disrupts cultural norms, but Gen Z's power is different from those that came before it.

Brands shouldn't underestimate the truly disruptive force of Gen Z

Every generation disrupts cultural norms, but Gen Z's power is different from those that came before it.
  • Every generation dictates new cultural trends and behaviors, but Gen Z is different.
  • The influence of Gen Z will not fade, it is driving long-lasting changes to the culture.

Behind every new marketing trend resides naysaying skeptics.

The metaverse, AI, and Gen Z have all induced their share of dialogue and discourse. Normally, we would indulge the skeptics because they often make any idea stronger.

But when it comes to Gen Z we believe there's danger in undercutting their influence. While every passing generation has dictated cultural trends and consumer behavior, the culture has inevitably moved on to the next thing.

We believe, however, that the behavior dictated by Gen Z will not be outgrown. Their impact is permanent. This generation has been shaped by dire circumstances, a global pandemic not quite receded, an economic decline still declining, and now with AI, another 21st century industrial transformation.

One would have been enough to shape any generation for a lifetime, but Gen Z has experienced all three before they've turned 26. In speaking with Gen Z, they have a morose sense of pride in this. Their circumstances are anxiety-inducing, but also propel their desire for change.

This is the uniquely Gen Z perspective that the skeptics need to embrace and understand – this is a generation that sees extremes in equal measure. With each bit of dark, there is a contrasting light.

Just look at the #artofnoticing trend on TikTok, in which Gen Z is posting vignette-style snapshots capturing beautiful, but rarely-emphasized, day-to-day moments.

On the surface it might seem light and even romantic, but the underlying resonance with Gen Z is rooted in a deeper, more ominous message - a reminder to appreciate the little things.

Here are three more examples of the Gen Z mindset:

1. Their adaptability is a burden.

Gen Z takes pride in their ability to synthesize and share information. This is a generation of diligent fact checkers - seven in 10 will fact check what they see online. But being the most informed generation takes its toll. Adapting to the information ecosystem and policing misinformation is a burden. Their desire to take action leaves Gen Z feeling responsible for what should be a shared effort.

Lesson: Help Gen Z in their battle against misinformation. Gen Z is 3.5x more likely to buy from brands that commit to this issue. Meet them halfway and help guide them to the truth. Provide factual information, cite your claims, and educate your audience.

2. They find (tech) advancement horrifying.

Gen Z has grown up with technology as an extension of themselves. Smart screens, content creation, TikTok, and now they face (or embrace) AI. When we asked Edelman's Gen Z Lab about AI, a surprising majority admitted to being totally scared by it. Advancement, especially technological advancement, is often perceived to come at the expense of humanity. While technologically advanced, this is still a deeply empathetic and human-natured generation.

Lesson: Last year, 70% of Gen Zers worldwide said they wanted safety and security in their lives more than anything else. A lot has changed in the past year - it's not merely enough for Gen Z to feel safe and secure in the real world, we need to make Gen Z feel safe in the digital world too.

Globally, this desire is shared by other generations. Year over year, there was a 9-point jump in desire for brands that increase one's sense of safety and security. When embarking on new briefs, try starting with what consumer vulnerability you're addressing.

3. When they care, it comes at a cost.

Perhaps the most important perspective Gen-Z brings to the table is their ability to care deeply. Despite the micro and macro circumstances at play, Gen Z strives to combat inequality, climate change, and more. They embody a counterbalancing mix of cynicism and idealism, but still maintain a driving need for action.

Lesson: Apathy will get you nowhere. Our research learnings support that if you do nothing, or even if you don't communicate what you are doing, it's assumed you are hiding something. 62% of Gen Z shares this belief. Apathy is no longer just doing nothing, it's harmful.

There is a lot at stake in our world and there is a lot to lose if we get things wrong. But we also have so much to gain together – and it starts with believing in the power of Gen Z.

Jackie Cooper is Edelman's global chief brand officer, and Gabe Gomez is ambassador, Edelman's Gen Z Lab