Gen Zs Resolve to Build a More Empathetic Culture in 2021

Written by Julia PetersonJulia Peterson's Signature

5 Min. Read

After a year that halted life as Gen Z knew it, we asked our Insights Community what they’re reflecting on at its close. What are they hoping 2021 will ring into their world and what does this mean for brands?

In December 2020, Archrival reached out to its Gen Z Insights Community to understand what is on young people’s minds. After a year that halted life as they knew it, what are they reflecting on at its close? What are they hoping 2021 will ring into their world? Do the events of January 6th alter that mindset?

Initially, we expected Gen Zs’ cultural resolutions to center on some of the larger themes we’d been hearing about all year — Black Lives Matter, climate change and generally getting the country back on track — most young adults’ 2021 New Year’s resolutions were about being more intentional in the small interactions happening on a personal level. In fact, three key themes emerged in the qualitative data:

1. Acceptance of Others

2. Selflessness

3. Intention + Awareness

Even before protestors stormed the steps of the Capitol Building, the Gen Zs we talked to insisted that our cultural resolutions should be to move through the world with these things top of mind — three ideas rooted very much in empathy.

I think there’s so much that we as a people didn’t understand about the experiences of our neighbors… We have learned a lesson. I hope that we don’t lose that moving forward.

Jude, 18, Long Beach, CA

While these findings surprised us a little, perhaps it shouldn’t have. The more we study Generation Z, the more we’ve come to believe that they’re the most empathetic generation to date. Not because they were born with a special empathy gene,” or because their Gen X parents raised them to be so. The difference is social media. Global platforms of connection have thrust the experiences of others to the forefront of their minds via their ever-populating feed.

Previous generations, who saw world events through the lens of reporters’ cameras, were passive observers. Gen Zs see the world through the eyes of an individual on the ground — one who’s not only sharing the facts of what happened, but also the little t” truth of what it means to them. How could empathy not be fundamental to how they interact with the world?

Take January 6th as an example. Zs absorbed information of what was happening alongside the reactions of their peers on social media. 

As the Capitol Building was being invaded by pro-Trump insurgents, we connected with Gen Zs to hear their reactions in real-time if anything, what went down on Capitol Hill served as further evidence in the case for increased empathy. Gen Zs were appalled, not only by the attack on democracy, but by the divisiveness of it all. It felt to many we spoke with that the MAGA crowd was acting only for themselves, not for what’s best for the country as a whole.

So, what does this mean for brands as we head into 2021? It means that what resonates with their target is shifting.

As marketers, we often seek to align brands with concepts, values or lifestyles.” But what resonates with Zs is much more personal — human, in fact. Brands who win the attention of this generation are the ones who put people front and center. 

Consider Glossier, Gen Z’s makeup brand of choice, whose founder Emily Weiss set out to democratize the beauty industry with her website Into the Gloss, which was devoted to people sharing the products they love.” Even massive tech companies like Riot Games have employed this human-centered strategy by pulling those who typically remain behind the scenes, its developers, to the forefront. Head to the League of Legends YouTube channel or website and you’ll find a mass of content featuring the people who created aspects of the game explaining what inspired them to do so.

This is what resonates with Zs. If a brand resolves to connect with Gen Z in 2021, it has to lean on its people. It has to allow its team members to speak with authority about what matters to them, internally and externally. It has to listen, then throw its resources behind those individuals to amplify their voices (not the voice of the brand!). Brands should become more human, not only by acting more human, but also by featuring the humans they’re made up of as well.