OPINION8 August 2022

Gen Z: Engaging the silent majority

Opinion Trends UK Youth

Generation Z account for four in ten of all consumers worldwide, but are relatively disengaged from market research compared with other generations. How could this be changed? By Sarah Askew of Researchbods.

Young adults

Born between 1997-2012, Generation Z – also commonly referred to as Zoomers – are now the largest generation on earth, representing 40% of all global consumers (McKinsey and co, 2020 ) and also the most racially and ethnically diverse generation.

They’re an increasingly interesting yet enigmatic target audience for brands, but they are one of the most difficult audiences to engage in market research. They’re harder to recruit to communities and panels in the first place, and once recruited, they’re less engaged, regardless of brand, topic or research methodology.

We found ourselves increasingly discussing the same questions about Gen Z with clients. How could they be better engaged? What did they think about online insight communities? What would motivate them to engage in conversations with brands and what would switch them off? 

We set out to provide answers to these many questions, by carrying out our own ‘research on research’ project, to discover how to better engage 16 to 24 year olds with market research and online communities.

Our year-long research project blended methodologies ranging from WhatsApp chats and trial membership of real communities, to user experience reviews and groups. Plus, we conducted a survey with 1,000 16 to 24 year olds, which allowed us to segment the Gen Z audience.

We partnered with three client brands – the AA, ITV and Dunnhumby – to shape the methodology and ensure that our approach was commercially focused throughout.

 Our top five findings from the research are as follows.

Concerns about data privacy are rife
Versus the 25 to 40 year old cohort we spoke to, Gen Z were much more concerned about data transparency in research (what was being collected and why), having sovereignty over this data (including being able to retract it later) and the implications/risks of sharing personal data.

Nearly half ( 45%) of Gen Z respondents worried about what will happen to the data they share, and 52% needed to know how their data will be used before sharing it. We see the most concern about data privacy and transparency among groups that we as an industry most need to influence – those not currently taking part in market research and in their mid to late teens. Within this group, six in 10 are worried about what will happen to data once shared.

Transparency about the use of data drives trust
Transparency needs to be better demonstrated throughout the research process. For communities and panels, this starts at sign up – brands must be transparent about why data is being captured (is it to build profiles for sampling? Is it to ensure a representative panel?).

Driver emails about tasks are an often overlooked touchpoint too. Participants complained that brands could be clearer on the task type (for example, survey vs discussion), length of time it would take to complete, rewards, how long the task would stay open for and, crucially, how this information would impact the brand.

When Gen Z are given more information about how their data will be used by researchers, willingness to share data increases by an average 3%.

Video is not the magic bullet
The willingness to share, evidenced above, included some of the most sensitive categories of data, such as social media accounts, biometric data, photos, postcode data and even location-tracking data (which participants were particularly concerned about).

However, this didn’t hold true for video – willingness to share video content dropped (from 37% to 33%) when Gen Z were told how this might be used by brands, to bring their views and opinions to life.

Avid consumption of video by young people – 54% of our sample said TikTok is an essential app – does not necessarily mean that they are comfortable content creators. Concerns about privacy, along with the inconvenience of shooting video when multi-tasking or out of the home, are driving this.

Cash is king in engaging young people to take part
Unsurprising to know that money is top of the list, but there are a few other motivations which are perhaps less obvious. As well as influencing brands ( 49%), young people also take part in communities to gain knowledge ( 34%) and for altruistic reasons, for example to help other people make better, more informed decisions ( 49%).

The reality of market research’s impact is not felt to live up to its promise, particularly when it comes to influencing decision making by brands. Two in five potential participants don’t believe that brands act upon market research. The message is clear: as an industry, we need to do better at telling participants what has happened as a result of their feedback. 

Our recommendations for those running communities and panels include providing multiple touchpoints and channels for feeding back – asking stakeholders or community managers to shoot video ‘thank you’ messages, as well as considering a social media presence for the community to drive participation and engagement.

Gen Z are an incredibly diverse group
Current data suggests that Gen Z are the most diverse generation alive today. We unearthed four different participant segments within Gen Z, including the reward-oriented ‘Cash Collectors’, the collaborative and curious ‘Knowledge Connectors’ (who are also most likely to be from minority groups), the not-yet-engaged ‘Untapped Potentials’ and, finally, ‘Research Sceptics’ who – shockingly – make up nearly 40% of young people participating in market research, but don’t know why they get involved, or whether brands even act on this information. 

My hope is that we in the research sector – including agencies, brands and technology providers – will take on board these findings to create Gen Z research and insight communities which are engaging, interactive and integral to the businesses they support.

Sarah Askew is innovation director at Researchbods