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America’s New Voters — How Gen Z are the next force of change in politics and culture

The most powerful force of change in this years election is not the candidates or policies, rather the preferences of millions of young voters. Young voters are a third of the total electorate. They drove the second highest turnout during the primaries. And they are certain to have an impact in November. But their influence doesn’t stop there. America’s newest voters are Generation Z, 75 million Americans born after 1996. They are as large and as influential as Millennials, already controlling $200 billion in spending. As they come of age, Gen Z will be most powerful force of change in American culture and business.

Understanding emerging generations of consumers is an important element to building multi-dimensional brands. So, MMB’s insight and intelligence team engaged young voters across the country in an effort to understand not only their political leanings but also how their experience and worldview will shape the future. Much of what we learned is consistent with Gen Z research to date. But a few things surprised us.

They are a generation fraught with anxiety.
A defining characteristic of Generation Z is their coming of age during a time of instability. But we are struck by how anxious Generation Z is about the basics at such a young age. They are concerned for their employment prospects, having watched their parents struggle through the great recession. They are concerned for their happiness, indicating they are willing to sacrifice their passions for security. They are concerned for their ability to pay rent, buy food, and manage ballooning school debt. This comes from Gen Z’s experiencing the economic recession at a formative age and watching their Millennial peers encounter similar obstacles. When asked to sum up their feelings about the world and their future, their motto is “Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.”

They do not accept inequality.
For Generation Z, equality is not something to be strived for. It is a must. Most Gen Z voters we spoke with characterize themselves as progressive, supporting same-sex marriage, equal rights for LGBT Americans, and religious tolerance. “Religion is personally not for me but would never be upset if someone is religious,” reported a Gen Z voter. But they recognize that lack of healthcare, minimum wage, racism and women rights (to names a few) are very real issue for many Americans. Gen Z cite social inequality as far and away the largest problem America faces, when compared to issues like gun control, foreign policy, education or the economy. They have grown up in the most tolerant time of the most tolerant of nations. Yet, Gen Z tell us they are alarmed by the extent of social inequality in America today and are believe it to be the number one issue to correct.

They are skeptical of connected technology.
We often stereotype digital natives as technology-obsessed. Gen Z, however, are technology weary. While they appreciate the benefits of connected technology Generation Z feel trapped by the necessity of constant connectedness. There is an underlying awareness, at least among older members, of the pit falls of constant connection, shortened attention spans, invasions of privacy, the security of data and the permanence of their social media footprints. Some resent their devices, at times. Many expressed their desire to switch off but acknowledge FOMO and convenience keep them tethered.

Gen Z appears to have their eyes on the big picture but their feet fixed firmly to the ground, pairing awareness of global issues and diversity with frugality and practicality. But most importantly, they have the willingness to tackle big problems that, while not of their making, have fallen on them to solve. The question organizations should be asking themselves is, “How can we partner with Generation Z to help reconcile their problems?” At MMB we often council organizations looking to connect with younger consumers to consider a shared purpose strategy. While not new, a shared purpose gives those who make decisions with their beliefs a way to engage with your brand.

A simple way to create a purpose your organization can credibly address is to align your organization’s competency to an obstacle or issue Generation Z believes it must address.

Your Competency + Their Obstacle = Shared Purpose

Credibility and competency cannot be stressed enough. Without them a shared purpose feels disingenuous. For example, in 2015 Starbucks was bold enough to take on racial tension in America with its “Race Together” initiative, but suspended it due to backlash. Critics say “Race Together” was a superficial gesture. It is certainly a worthwhile purpose to address, but perhaps not one that people believe credible for a coffee/ café brand? This is why Tom’s Shoes giving away a pair of shoes for every pair sold, or Google setting up free Internet access to Third world nations can authentically embrace the potential of shared purpose by leveraging what they do best.

A share purpose approach is possible for most organizations. Imagine Citibank using its financial savvy to tackle the burden of student debt? Or CVS Health using its wellness platform to provide regular, preventive healthcare to the uninsured or underinsured? What’s more share purpose is profitable. Research from Harvard Business school shows a huge upside for organizations retaining employees, customers and growing profits by embracing shared purpose. It’s only a matter of rising to the challenge.

— Jay Pattisall, Jess Wallace and Brendan Cue