Why ESG is the Future of Marketing: A Gen Z Perspective
In 1991, Regis McKenna highlighted the importance of technology, company character, and serving consumers’ real needs as the keys to the future of marketing, proposing that “marketing is everything and everything is marketing”.
Thirty years later, this statement is more important than McKenna (ironically vocal for a member of the Silent Generation) could ever have imagined, and to a great extent it’s down to the group who hate advertising the most - Gen Z.
Read on to find out why McKenna was right, what that means for you, and how the solution could lie in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).
- Gen Z have more influence on the market than you might think
- Everything really is marketing with such a vast array of touchpoints and such a selective audience
- Building out your marketing strategy using ESG as a lens could be the solution
1. Why everything is marketing to Gen Z:
Hold on!! You signed up for an article on ESG, why should you worry about Gen Z?! The majority of them are still kids, right?
Well, with the risk of sounding conceited, the straightforward answer is that we (with maybe just a bit of assistance from the internet) have so much knowledge - and people are prepared to listen to us as a consequence.
You see, in contrast to Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, the shift to digital played a fundamental role in our formative years: we’re digital natives - the internet generation - fixed on our phones and with access to pretty much any information we want, whenever and wherever we want it.
There has been two effects of this:
1. We hyper-rationalise every purchase decision we make - there’s so much information out there, meaning we can evaluate the repercussions of each purchase we make from almost every possible angle.
2. As a consequence, we are inclined to be much better-informed when making purchasing decisions than previous generations. This has earned us a much greater deal of decision-making respect from our predecessors than any generation before us. In turn, we have a comparably more powerful influence over their market share - unlike our parents, guardians and predecessors alike, we’re forcing them to adapt to us, not vice-versa.
The first of these effects is essential to understanding why marketers should have input in all business areas. Gen Z’s careful examination of every single business action means that each and every area of a business’ activity should be taken into consideration as a marketing touchpoint: everything is marketing.
The second point compounds this problem. Having influence over the older generations’ decision-making means that our market influence is extending invisibly beyond simply our own purchasing power.
And, at least to me, anything that’s expanding invisibly is certainly worth being scared of - particularly when it’s being spearheaded by a group of angry anti-advertising kids who are soon to control 27% of global income. Essentially, how you market to this future generation is key to survival: marketing is everything.
2. What this means for you:
Firstly, although this might seem frightening, the upside is that if you do get this right, it’s highly likely that Gen Z will stick around - significantly increasing your prospects for long-term success. Again - marketing is everything and everything is marketing.
On the other hand, you must also be aware that with so much information at our disposal and so many business options to choose from, Gen Z’s tolerance for errors is paper-thin - we’re gone if any sector of your business doesn’t meet our standards, and we won’t be back any time soon.
With this in mind, it would be highly practical to account for risk management as one of the core objectives of good marketing practice - reducing the possibility of negative scrutiny from Gen Z should be a top priority for the future.
To begin, you should understand how we want to interact with your business. Perhaps the most vital part of this is to recognise that in order to buy our loyalty, you can’t simply sell us a product: our cash goes to those things which we feel will add value, both to ourselves and society as a whole.
So, in order to stay ahead of the game, marketers must focus on appealing to (or at least not frustrating) Gen Z at each and every touchpoint.
This means you need to go beyond just telling us that your product is the best, instead demonstrating to us why both your product and your business are worth our investment. What value do you offer, not only to us, but to society as well?
In other words, what non-financial value does your company generate?
This brings us perfectly onto the answer to all this, which I believe lies in three all-important letters: ESG.
3. Why ESG is everything:
Now, I’d be prepared to take a guess that many of you haven’t heard of ESG before, but, to be honest, you really should have. ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, and is a framework used by investors to calculate the non-financial value creation and sustainability of businesses - two things Gen Z love.
McKenna alludes to marketers tapping into a “new energy source . . . to recoalesce the young, affluent market”. If we think about Gen Z as the young, affluent market, ESG could well be that energy source - at least from a strategic point of view.
The merit of using ESG as a marketing framework is twofold:
1. It’s fundamentally a simplification of the lens through which Gen Z evaluates businesses when making purchasing decisions, and
2. It’s intrinsically designed to assess your business comprehensively through that lens - which, as we’ve already considered, is what marketers need to do in order to guarantee future success.
The amalgamation of these factors is what makes ESG so influential in a marketing context: when we take the perspective that marketing is everything and everything is marketing, having a tool which acts as a lens from both customer and marketer perspectives is invaluable.
Using ESG to develop your marketing strategy will make certain that every conceivable touchpoint between your business and the consumers of the future - all of which are a marketer’s responsibility - is considered. In some way - everything is ESG and ESG is everything.
4. Enacting an ESG marketing strategy:
Practically, Gen Z aren’t going to start liking advertising - sorry, it’s mostly just annoying.
Therefore, it follows that the future of the industry will revolve enormously around risk management, and ESG conveniently provides a framework for this. The question is, where should you start?
The first course of action towards building out your ESG marketing strategy is to learn about the framework itself and the business areas considered - before you move onto more in-depth resources such as this guide from the UN’s PRI, start with this article from the Corporate Finance Institute.
Once you have a better understanding of the business sectors examined by ESG analysis, work out which of these are consumer touchpoints - especially those which you might not usually appraise to be under the remit of marketing (everything is marketing, remember).
Then, assess how you present these touchpoints - can they be refined to make sure of Gen Z’s (and by proxy the preceding generations’) satisfaction?
The final step is to put them in place - get creative! We love it when brands interact with us in the right ways - and, as previously mentioned, will reward your efforts with our loyalty - just see Tesco’s top performing ad from May.
Be warned, though, if there are issues with your business’s operational touchpoints, you can’t simply put a marketing veil over them: it’s far better to overtly acknowledge your flaws and detail how you are going to address them than to steer clear of them. Otherwise, Gen Z will see straight through you - and you definitely don’t want that all over every social platform.
In conclusion, with marketing at odds with Gen Z’s ever-growing market influence and scrutiny, using the ESG lens when constructing and enhancing your marketing strategy will likely be the key to triumph.
ESG permits you to view your business as they do, making certain that every conceivable touchpoint works to build and develop the reputation of your business, thereby maximising your possibility of survival: marketing is everything, everything is marketing, and ESG marketing is the future.