When ‘best value’ and ‘personal values’ clash: The Gen Z dilemma


If your brand’s core value proposition hinges on being cheap and fast, eventually you’ll lose out to someone doing the same thing cheaper and faster.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).

Value-conscious, radically inclusive and digitally empowered, Gen Z is a formidable group of change-seekers on a mission to make the world a better place, and 68% expect your brand to help

Think you can ignore the call to action? Think again. Not only is Gen Z’s spending power on the rise to the tune of $360 billion in disposable income, but a recent study by Forrester revealed that over half (51%) of Gen Z will research a company before making a purchase to ensure it aligns with their values. 

We’ve reached a point in consumer culture where brands no longer have the option to sacrifice having values for providing value — today’s younger buyer expects both. Larger, more established brands that have historically appealed to people because of their guaranteed quality are being forced to emulate smaller niche brands that were born around a story and a mission. 

Global brands like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and Tommy Hilfiger serve as prime examples of companies that expertly evolved to meet the demands of Gen Z by recognizing their environmental and social responsibility and responding with action. What’s more, they’re setting themselves up to garner lifelong brand loyalists in the process.  

I say all of this as a member of Gen Z, who just spent three hours researching and purchasing a more expensive, eco-friendly cat litter. Why? TikTok revealed to me that the brand I’d been using actually contains carcinogens (yikes!) and is sourced from strip mining, which pollutes water sources and destroys wildlife habitats (double yikes!). 

Admittedly, my generation isn’t perfect. We cling to our morals, and yet junk food, fast fashion and corporate monopolies top the list of Gen Z’s favorite brands of 2022. It’s understandable if this dichotomy makes you scratch your head: Is Gen Z all talk, no action? The truth is more nuanced.

A significant chunk of our childhoods were spent in the shadow of the Great Recession, and just as the oldest of us were establishing ourselves in the workforce, along came COVID-19. These formative experiences have left us acutely aware of our precarious financial wellbeing, pushing us to learn how to juxtapose our innate idealism with learned pragmatism. And it’s still a work in progress. 

With every purchase we make, we are forced to weigh “personal values” against “best value.” And, yes, sometimes for the sake of our own financial security, we buy bargain-brand cat litter. But if your brand’s core value proposition hinges on being cheap and fast, eventually you’ll lose out to someone doing the same thing cheaper and faster. 

Changing the world isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Sometimes, it’s as simple as switching your cat litter brand. But the brands that appeal to Gen Z’s pragmatism at the expense of our idealism will only earn a temporary customer, not a brand loyalist. 

So choose wisely — we know Gen Z will. 

Madison Grubb is a senior account executive at Acceleration Community of Companies.

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