A young generation poised to “save the world” is stepping into adulthood amid a global pandemic and economic recession. 

Generation Zers, born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s are growing up in tough times and they’re naturally feeling anxious about the flawed world they’re inheriting. According to an October survey by Wunderman Thompson Data, 83% of American Gen Zers feel that their generation is under a lot of pressure and 69% feel uncertain about their future as a result of COVID-19. Despite these concerns, they’re young and hopeful, with 75% believing their generation will change the world.

In a virtual commencement speech, former president Barack Obama, addressing the class of 2020, said “The old normal wasn’t good enough… You don’t have to accept the world as it is. You can make it into the world it should be and could be. You can create a new normal.” The pandemic has offered an opportunity for radical change, the very change Gen Zers have been seeking. Motivated by self-belief, pragmatism and optimism, this generation firmly believes that the future doesn’t have to be bleak if everyone works together on a better tomorrow.

This is the very essence of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence’s latest report Generation Z: Building a Better Normal which unpacks key areas shaping this generation: careers, identity, community, activism and brands. It also includes original consumer data by Wunderman Thompson Data and 13 bespoke interviews with Gen Zers around the world – the best way to learn about this generation is by speaking to them and involving them. Here’s a highlight, to download the full report click here.

Gen Z and careers

The youngest generation has been disproportionately affected by the dire economy, at the height of the pandemic in April, the unemployment rate for American teens aged 16–19 was the highest of all groups, at 31.9% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Owing to this, career plans are up in the air and this young generation is learning to pivot, fast.

There are early signs of Gen Zers gravitating towards job security, opting for jobs in the civil service, as well as in health and science sectors. It is also a generation changing the traditional success metrics, shifting it away from fame and fortune to ethics and values. Research found that 82% say it’s important that their job contributes to the greater good and 70% would rather do something meaningful than make a lot of money.

Gen Z and identity

Multi-faceted and nuanced is Gen Z’s take on identity. It’s not about ticking boxes, it’s personal. Gen Zers are rewriting traditional identity narratives and defining a new set of rules that are ever-evolving. Elias Tzoc-Pachaeco, aged 17, captures this well saying, “identity is something that can change, like politics. That’s a belief shared by a lot of my generation.”

Their identity and who they are also impacts the brands they choose. Three quarters (76%) want a brand that is accepting of a range of identities and experiences whilst 73% want a brand that understands them. As a result, brands are actively challenging outdated identity tropes, reconstructing new ones for a new generation and becoming more inclusive. Period care products are starting to drop the term “feminine care” to acknowledge the transgender and non-binary communities that also have periods. Callaly has committed to using gender-inclusive terms like “period care” instead of “femcare” and “people with periods” instead of women. Moreover, in July, Superdrug released a range of gender-neutral tampons and pads for “people who menstruate.”

Gen Z and community

Creating points of community across social media and in games come naturally to Gen Zers, they were born into technology after all. However, being digital natives doesn’t mean Gen Zers are digitally exclusive – they value in-person connections just as much. In fact, 83% say they have a newfound appreciation for in-person interactions as a result of the pandemic.

Gen Z and activism

Unafraid to confront unjust policies and unfair norms, Gen Z is on a mission to right these wrongs. From combating climate change to challenging the lack of gender equality, this generation is hoping to solve macro problems. Using social media, Gen Zers are distributing educational facts and rallying like-minded people to join the fight. However, digital engagement is not enough, Gen Zers have not only been involved in some of the biggest in-person protests in the past years, they have been leading them. According to a June 2020 study by Yubo, 86% of American Gen Zers felt that peaceful protests and political demonstrations were needed to create significant change. This confrontational and can-do mindset from an early age is defining this generation, poising them to save the world.

Gen Z and brands

Move aside millennials, Gen Z is now setting the pace for popular culture and trends, making brands and marketers track this generation with an eagle eye. Gen Zers already make up 40% of the global consumers and have an estimated $150 billion in spending power in the United States alone (McKinsey & Company), making them a key force in defining brand and consumer influence.

For Gen Z, brand choice is an extension of who they are and what they stand for – it’s personal. Nearly two thirds (60%) of American Gen Zers see their choice in brands as an expression of who they are and 79% want their money to go to a brand they believe in. However, as much as Gen Zers are reshaping the meaning of a brand, they also see brands playing a vital role in society and their future. Over three quarters (78%) of American Gen Zers believe that in the wake of COVID-19 brands have a responsibility to help build a better normal.

Gen Zers are rolling up their sleeves and paving the way to build a better normal. It’s time for brands, influential figures and marketers to join the task force in creating a better future, or risk being left behind.