How to Use Purpose to Inspire Loyalty in Gen Z Consumers

While millennials may remember a time when dial-up was so slow that sending an email was barely faster than dropping a letter at the post office, Generation Z grew up with high-speed internet and mobile technology. These young digital natives are entering the workforce, spending money, and influencing family purchasing patterns. In fact, in the US alone, they make up more than 20 percent of the population and hold over $40 billion in purchase potential.

A new report funded by American Express found that digitally connected Gen Z is twice as likely as the millennial generation to stop using a product or service if it the brand is unresponsive on social media. What’s more, both Gen Z and millennials say that negative news or bad PR is one of the top reasons they would leave a brand. As a result, maintaining a strong digital presence and positive public image, which includes authentic commitment to purpose, is paramount for brands looking to attract and maintain customer relationships with young consumers.

Interestingly, Gen Z consumers tend to be less loyal to brands than baby boomers and millennials; however, demonstrating a clear commitment to social transformation can increase their loyalty. A recent study found that 84 percent believe every company should fund some sort of charitable work, 82 percent actively purchase from brands that contribute to causes they feel passionately about, and 82 percent say they feel better about spending money when they know it supports a good cause. The data shows us that being tech savvy, active, and responsive on social media and dedicated to building a better world are powerful ways to increase interest and purchases from young consumers.

Here are four ways brand purpose can scale intimacy and loyalty with Generation Z:

A company that’s done great work building brand recognition based on its commitment to contribution is TOMS. TOMS created its reputation by popularizing the one-for-one giving model in which every pair of shoes purchased funds a pair for someone in need. While the brand has since evolved to include other ways to give back, it’s held on to its purposeful roots and is well known for it. Ultimately, brands that put their mission first tap into consumers’ desire to be part of the solution and inspire people to share and defend their brand.

2. Keep fans updated on how your brand is building a better world: While using your business for environmental and social good is essential to strengthening bonds with consumers, the only way people are going to know about the amazing impact your company is having is if you tell them, and this is especially true for social media savvy Gen Z. Therefore, it is vital to share how you embody purpose through emotionally engaging and authentic digital storytelling.

A brand doing an amazing job of clearly communicating its commitment to a higher purpose is Dr. Bronner’s. The family-run soap company demonstrates its dedication to building a better world in everything it does, from product labels, to website and social media copy. Bronner’s often posts photos of its fairtrade suppliers, movements the business supports and inspirational quotes about improving people’s’ lives and the planet on social media.

The key takeaway here is that in order to inspire deeper emotional investment and scale earned media you must share your purpose and how you are contributing to the world with your stakeholders in a consistent and engaging fashion.

3. Inspire contributory consumption: People want to feel like they are actively participating in solutions that improve our planet. By coupling products and services with tangible benefits to society — effectively connecting the dots between living and giving — you can inspire contributory consumption. What’s more, if people feel like they supporting a cause they believe in — be it breast cancer research, homeless shelters, or preserving the rainforest — every time they buy something from you, they experience a deeper emotional connection with your brand and how it makes them feel good about helping build a better world.

A company doing an excellent job of connecting purchases with purpose is TenTree. In addition to operating environmentally and socially responsible supply chains, this apparel company works with nonprofit partners to plant 10 trees for every garment sold. Customers can track where trees have been planted with money from their purchases.

Essentially, by making clear connections between consumption and contribution you can invite consumers to be partners in building a better world and in return, increase loyalty, advocacy, word of mouth advertising, and build a culture around your brand that goes beyond the latest trends.

4. Encourage user-generated content: Just as contributory consumption includes consumers as active participants in positive social transformation, user generated content empowers fans and followers to tell your brand story. UGC taps into consumers’ desire to influence brand culture, and from a return on marketing investment perspective, can deepens trust and engagement as well as scale the organic reach of marketing campaigns.

A great example of a user generated content campaign is the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge. The Lou Gehrig’s Disease research, advocacy and care organization invited supporters to make a video of themselves pouring a bucket of ice over their head, then nominate a friend to either take on the ice bucket challenge or donate. This video campaign went viral and generated unprecedented contributions of over $115 million. Although the ALS Association is a nonprofit, this extremely successful UGC campaign offers valuable lessons for brands.

Essentially, inviting consumers to create original stories that relate to your brand and encouraging them to tap into their own social networks to scale the reach of your communication strategies is an amazing way to build relationships with consumers.

Generation Z is constantly connected to technology and passionate about creating positive social and environmental transformation. What’s more, this generation doesn’t hold the same standards of loyalty as older generations. Yet their commitment to purpose draws them to companies that do more than make money and actively participate in serving a higher purpose. These factors speak to the power of purpose-driven social media and digital storytelling to inspire engagement and loyalty in young technologically savvy consumers.

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CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.