31/05/18

Why brands should put Gen Z’s emotional wellbeing first

Riddled with stress, anxiety and mental health problems, Gen Z looks like becoming one of the unhappiest generations. Brands that address the root causes would be making far more than simply a charitable gesture, says global brand experience agency Sense’s Sally O’Brien.

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It seems that rarely a week goes by without a new statistic showing just how low consumer confidence has dropped thanks to Brexit. This isn’t great for brands, but this issue seems fleetingly short term compared to the almost equally prevalent statistics about the fragility of young people. The latest report from the annual UK Youth Index calls 16 to 25-year-olds the unhappiest generation for a decade, revealing that almost two-thirds (61%) regularly feel stressed, and more than a quarter (27%) “hopeless”, while around half (47%) have experienced a mental health problem – symptoms of depression and anxiety are way up among this generation, as are reports of self-harm.

Rather than panicking about how to boost post-Brexit sales among quite understandably thrifty consumers, it would seem to make more sense to come up with a strategy to support the next generation of customers who potentially face a much longer term crisis of confidence.

By addressing the stress and anxiety prevalent among young people in the right way, brands will make a valuable contribution to society (purpose box ticked!), while also gaining the trust of the next ‘power generation’. The two possible approaches involve launching a wellbeing product or service, or weaving wellbeing authentically into your brand.   

Dealing with the second point first, a survey by Edelman showed it would be very much in the interest of brands to address consumers’ wellbeing. Some 85% of respondents indicated they would be likely to buy products and services from brands that they felt supported their wellbeing, with 84% saying they’d also recommend those brands that did.

As for launching a wellbeing product, well this market is currently exploding. Growing consumer fears over health, coupled with increasing interest in nutrition and sustainability has resulted in the launch of a host of new FMCG categories, including low-GI, Paleo, high-protein, gluten-free and other ‘free-from’ foods, beauty and household products, according to a recent report by Nielsen. It has also driven new products like avocado oil, kale crisps, protein snacks and paraben-free skincare.

The key here, though, is how brands approach young people. To make a positive difference to any group, you need to engage with them. The aim should be to encourage people to re-evaluate their lives and achieve long-term change. Sport England has shown with its ‘This Girl Can’ campaign that using advertising and marketing to push the right emotional triggers can actually drive a change in behaviour. It identified that the fear of being judged was stopping women from doing exercise. It went on to liberate women by celebrating the barriers, such as sweating, jiggling and falling over, making heroines out of those prepared to really go for it.

Although the brand has lost its way a little recently, Dove did a similarly great job by building female body confidence, inspiring people to have positive relationships with their own appearance through thought leadership, research and the representation of diverse beauty.

For those FMCG brands striving to build new ‘long term change’ health categories, authentic frontline connections will be paramount. Understanding the mindset of young people and the barriers they envisage is therefore key. Growing up during the recession, closely followed by Trump in the White House and Brexit, Gen Z feel the world they inhabit is one of constant struggle, where inequality reigns. Only 6% trust corporations to do the right thing, so authenticity and transparency is key when marketing to this group. As a result, while green issues inspired Millennials, social equality is the driving force behind Gen Z. So brands need to recognise this and reflect it in their values and messaging.

The good news is that young people are open to relationships with brands, but through experiences they can control, that surprise and delight, according to Kantar Millward Brown’s AdReaction – Engaging Gen X,Y and Z study. Brands also need to inspire their confidence, be relevant, honest and real. After all, they have grown up on the unfiltered, reality of YouTube.

They respond to emotional narratives. They are also used to two-way communications thanks to the interactivity of social media, so they want to take part and be hands on. Consequently, brands need to allow for co-creation. They need to give young people an opportunity not just to try things, but re-create them. They need to be invited to participate in new, fresh experiences to earn trust. A lack of community lies at the heart of their unhappiness, so brands that help them make social connections, both online and especially face to face, will be rewarded with their loyalty. And it’s vital that any experiences are built on equality, inclusion and acceptance.

Gen Z is still drawn to labels and influenced by brand messages – in fact, just like Millennials, they too suffer from FOMO – the fear of missing out. They love bucket lists, secret cinema, immersive dining, making memories – experiences that linger. They are very in touch with reality, but it’s a harsh one, so helping them escape once in a while and creating a sense of adventure will also resonate. A brand that supports them emotionally in the right way will connect deeply – and welcome on board a new generation of advocates. 

Sally O’Brien is a Director at Sense.

This article appeared in Marcomms News.

31/05/18

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