The tragic events of last year forced many brands to face the music: replace platitudes with meaningful action against racism or say goodbye to the 80 percent of consumers globally who expect brands to consistently display a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in advertising.
To understand what emotional factors motivate young consumers, Fuse Media, a Latino-owned entertainment company, conducted a study among 1,700 Gen Z, millennials and Gen X. The key takeaway from “Establishing an Emotional Connection Through Empowerment,” which the company sent to AList, is that brands must successfully empower young consumers if they want them to spend, advocate and engage with their brand.
According to Fuse Media, 76 percent of Gen Z and millennials somewhat or strongly agree that brands should be empowering—38 percent more than their Gen X counterparts. A brand requisite for empowering young consumers is aligning your values with theirs via your brand image, message and actions.
“In order for brands to overcome their wariness and to gain this generation’s trust, they need to be transparent and inclusive in every way. Their image, messages and actions need to align. A brand can’t act like they care about the welfare of humankind but then use sweatshops to produce their products. This would show that there is a disconnect between what the brand says and how they really feel,” Fuse Media’s head of research Michelle Auguste told AList.
Fuse Media reports that 83 percent of Gen Z and millennials believe that a brand is empowering when it does good for the world. Another 80 percent feel that a brand is empowering only when it has values its consumers agree with.
Empty promises won’t suffice though as these consumers expect brands to invest in diverse talent and increase diversity in advertising. For example, 78 percent of Gen Z and millennial respondents told Fuse Media that they see a brand as empowering when they provide a platform for marginalized groups to tell their authentic story. Nearly the same amount (76 percent) said a brand is empowering when it features people from marginalized groups in a positive light in their ads.
For a brand to truly make inclusivity part of their DNA, Auguste says brands should give individuals from marginalized groups a platform to share their authentic stories and put people of color in management so they can help make decisions.
“Having a team that resembles their audience would only be beneficial since they would know how to build trust with their consumers by communicating to them in an authentic and genuine way. Millennials and Gen Z’s feel empowered by brands when they think that the brands truly know and understand them,” said Auguste.
When asked how being empowered by a brand makes them feel, Gen Z and millennial respondents had several responses, including confident, happy, strong and inspired. As Fuse Media observed, these cohorts see empowerment as both a societal and personal need whereas older members of Gen X perceive empowerment as a personal need — such as having accessibility, authority and strength to make a personal change. For Gen Z, the feeling of empowerment is associated with the freedom and power to change the world.
The positive emotions that respondents associated with empowerment from brands results in greater revenue and trust. For example, 88 percent said they’ll purchase a product and 79 percent said they’d pay more for the product when a brand is empowering.
Also when empowered by a brand, 87 percent said they’ll tell a friend or family member about the brand and 84 percent will feel more connected to it. The benefit translates to social media too, with 74 percent reporting that if a brand is empowering they’ll engage with their social media accounts.
Not only must brands consider what they stand for and how they’re conveying it but also where they’re communicating their message. Sixty-eight percent of millennials and Gen Z said they’re more likely to buy a brand’s products if it advertises on empowering networks. The same number of respondents said they’re more likely to purchase products from brands that feature ads that reflect them or their culture, according to Fuse Media.
“There is definitely a risk that some brands will come off as being inauthentic. When that happens, this generation will turn their back on those brands and it will be hard to ever get back their trust. To be able to communicate in an authentic way, brands must exhibit transparency, know their audience well and understand that the right language, words and tone have the power to make any consumer feel included,” Auguste told AList.
The study also revealed young consumers’ preferences on the types of brands they’re more likely to support. As per Fuse Media, given that Gen Z and millennials express their identity via physical objects, the industries they expect to be empowering are fitness (82 percent), clothing (76 percent) and cosmetics (73 percent).
In addition, 81 percent of respondents said they prefer small businesses or independent brands while another 80 percent prefer businesses owned by women, people of color or members of the LGBTQ community.
For 72 percent of consumers, supporting these kinds of businesses makes them feel accepted. These emotions are stronger for people of color, which Fuse Media found are 7 percent more likely to feel understood and 14 percent more likely to experience relief.
Before taking a stand on a social or political issue, Auguste says brands should do their research and fully understand the complexity of the issue. This, she notes, involves avoiding three key actions—cultural appropriation, tone deafness and pandering.
According to Auguste, some ways brands can avoid cultural appropriation include celebrating or appreciating cultures by giving them credit where credit is due, recognizing their history and roots, donating money to that culture, partnering with individuals from that culture and featuring people and their specific culture in the ads.
Lastly, Auguste says that to avoid tone deafness, which she says is “corporate suicide in the eyes of this generation,” brands should ask the right questions and speak to individuals who are involved in the matter. Should they decide to take a stand on the matter, choosing the right advocates to speak on behalf of the brand will be extremely important.
“Millennials and Gen Zs are smart and sophisticated and they will be able to see right through the insincerity behind the brand’s message and will automatically feel that the brand is trying to capitalize off of that specific issue. Brands should also know when it makes sense for them to jump into a larger cultural conversation and when to sit one out.”