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Understanding “Generation Disrupted” In A Country Divided: New Zeno Group Study Is A Wake-Up Call For Leaders And Brands

Reflecting a Tumultuous 2020, Generation Z and Younger Millennials Demand Societal Change and Say Their Top Concerns Now Include Death, Losing Loved Ones and Mental Health

A new research study of more than 1,000 young Americans aged 14 to 28 found Generation Z and younger Millennials cited “equality for all” among their top hopes, “death and losing loved ones” among their top fears, and “better access to mental and emotional health services” as their most important issue in a divided America that’s seen numerous societal, economic and political challenges in 2020.

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The latest research from Zeno Group’s The Human Project, its long-running exploration of generational values, suggests these most-influential young Americans have had their worldviews dramatically disrupted and their fears, hopes and concerns altered in ways previously unseen. The views of this group – which Zeno has dubbed “Generation Disrupted” – will be critical for companies, brands and leaders to understand if they want to engage them as consumers, citizens and advocates now and in the future.

Indeed, the study found 76% of respondents said the events of 2020 have changed their personal beliefs, values, and character and 75% feel the country is on a wrong or uncertain track.

“Generation Disrupted findings are a wake-up call for companies and brands and leaders. These young Americans see today’s challenges, understand them, and expect others to join them in creating the change they want for our world,” said Therese Caruso, Zeno’s Managing Director of Global Strategy and Planning. “The brands and leaders who fail to appreciate how different Generation Disrupted is will struggle moving forward because of this generation’s unprecedented influence.”

As Generation Disrupted has voted more, worked more, and spent more, their influence has grown. To resonate with this group, leaders and brands should adopt a more expansive view of wellbeing, one that better reflects their values and priorities, demonstrate more empathy and compassion, and deliver practical solutions to their problems. They also need to consider Generation Disrupted’s concern for loved ones and local communities.

Rethinks Status Quo and Important Issues
Generation Disrupted also appears united in wanting to change the status quo to bring about societal changes that would address the hardships and issues they see and care about in today’s world.

Among the study’s participants, 73% said they believe society and socioeconomic equality is on a wrong or uncertain track. Nearly 58% said their day-to-day life is more stressful and uncertain than ever before. Many said the biggest driver of increased stress in their lives is the health and wellbeing of their family and loved ones, completing school/higher education, job stability and the current political and social climate.

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When asked about the top and rising issues of importance to them they said:

  • Improved access to mental and emotional health services (80%)
  • Directly addressing racism and inequality (78%)
  • Social justice/protests (74%)
  • Community policing/police violence (74%)
  • Misinformation in the media (70%)
  • Election security (69%)

Remains Aware, Positive and Grateful
Despite a tumultuous 2020, many remain alert, grateful, and optimistic, albeit with some feeling less patriotic and confident.

When asked which character traits most described them they said:

  • They are more aware of the world around them (76%)
  • They are grateful (71%)
  • They are more independent and empathetic (68%)
  • They feel they have become less patriotic (22%)
  • They are less optimistic (16%)
  • Feel less confident or romantic (14%)

Holds Leaders and Brands Accountable
Generation Disrupted also believes public and private sectors must play a critical role in developing and implementing solutions to these cultural and societal issues. When Zeno asked who they want more support and accountability from they said:

  • Parents and family (37%)
  • Friends (34%)
  • Federal government (32%)
  • Local government (30%)
  • Large companies and brands (21%)
  • CEOs and presidents of companies (20%)
  • Community and neighbors (19%)

Generation Disrupted expects corporate leadership to help identify and implement purposeful solutions to today’s challenges and will hold companies accountable. Data from Zeno’s Global Strength of Purpose Study found when a brand has a strong Purpose, consumers are four to six times more likely to buy, trust, champion and defend those companies over others.

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