Not to Be Ignored: “Generation Disrupted” Takes Center Stage
By Therese Caruso
I have always been a student of humanity; my life’s work is studying humans and their values. The research Zeno Group conducted last month on Generation Z and younger Millennials has motivated me to issue an impassioned call-to-action, urging brands and marketers to understand this generation that stands ready to help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Ignoring these brave and empathetic individuals - who just a few weeks ago made their voices heard in record numbers at the polling booths - is like ignoring millions of points of influence and light.
Zeno surveyed more than 1,000 young Americans aged 14-28 who are simultaneously disrupting the world by driving change in a broken system while crying out for help with their own besieged, disrupted lives. We call them “Generation Disrupted.” In this time of monumental uncertainty, the public and private sectors must understand the new values, hopes and fears of this disproportionately powerful group of practical problem solvers who will take us into the future.
So, if you think they are not your target: think again.
Typically, ages 14 to 28 represent a transformative time in the lives of teenagers and young adults. A life stage marked by meaningful growth, transition and a set of perpetual “firsts” are now frozen in time. Many of their formative experiences now indefinitely on hold: developing friendships, educational advancement, entering the workforce, getting married, starting a family and, unique to this youth generation, building a brighter future for everyone. I personally have witnessed the dramatic toll on my two daughters whose current lives are unrecognizable. They miss their friends, travel, learning in the classroom with other students and feeling free in the world. They are yearning for a light at the end of the tunnel, but fully aware of the significance of this time.
Zeno’s research reveals some startling truths: 76% say their personal beliefs, values and character have been fundamentally altered by recent events. The values rising in most importance are protecting the family (72%), compassion (71%) and equality (70%), while status (16%), power (15%) and wealth (11%) are falling showing this generation’s fervent commitment to collective change and fairness rather than individual accomplishment and personal gain.
And their top fears demonstrate the emotional turmoil they face every day - death, losing loved ones and health issues – while their top hopes include equality for all and feeling safe. A 180-degree swing from their pre-pandemic desire for creativity, being taken seriously and having a voice.
This new reality must be a wake-up call for brands and companies to deliver what Generation Disrupted wants now: authenticity, honesty, support and purpose, a.k.a. putting your money where your mouth is and taking real action to help fix issues such as racism, environmental sustainability, mental health, police violence and more. This group is optimistic and resilient, ready to roll up their sleeves to create a better world for everyone while expecting society to step up and do their part.
I can offer a few key takeaways based on this research and what I know to be true of this extraordinary group of men and women I’ve been studying since they were born:
- Invite the youth voice in even if you don’t market to them directly: their influence is pervasive among both older and younger generations.
- Show Generation Disrupted you understand them: know the differentiated values that guide their attitudes and behaviors, mirror their values inside and outside your organization and brand.
- Deliver practical solutions to the new challenges they face: ensure your brand/product experience reflects their reality and helps them succeed in their activist pursuits.
- Treat well-being expansively: guide them toward regaining order within the chaos of the world today.
- Be empathetic and compassionate: offer the promise of more after what they’ve been through, help them achieve their personal goals.
I was particularly struck by this response from a Florida teenager: “The world is a mix of beautiful and terrifying. We are experiencing inequality, division and evil, but the beauty in it is that we can come together and be there for one another.” That vulnerability and emotional candor perfectly encapsulates the mood of this generation. Now is the time for all of us to take concrete action because there is no going back. I know I will.
Therese Caruso is Managing Director of Global Strategy + Planning at Zeno Group and architect of The Human Project, a proprietary research study and strategic methodology that connects brands and companies with the audiences they serve.
LinkedIn: Therese Caruso