4 Crucial Business Trends According to Gen Z

By Jackie Cooper

As business leaders begin (and continue) to set course for 2023, they face more uncertainty than ever – a perhaps preposterous statement considering the last three years. Economic downturn is crunching budgets, a distrusted media landscape is clouding judgment, and cultural pressures to "get it right" have never been higher.

I see moments of paralysis from clients who are not only dealing with all of this but also wary of gen Z who are so active, verbal, and influential across so many areas. My biggest lesson with gen Z from our own amazing team – just ask them! Leaders can benefit immensely from turning to these most influential constituents.

So, I asked four members of Edelman's Gen Z Lab from across the globe (Los Angeles, France, Brazil, and India) for their take on what 2023 will bring and how business leaders should be preparing. From gen Z's impending identity crisis to its micro-influences on the workforce, these insights come from globally unified thinkers and offer a direct line into the mindset of young people everywhere.

Trend 1: Gen Z is overdue for a mini-identity crisis.

- Laura Montilla; Los Angeles, California, USA

Three years into the pandemic, gen Z is redefining ourselves. From chaos comes reformation, and gen Z is sifting through our unprecedented experiences to reemerge in focus. Put simply, we're filtering through the emergent trends slapped on as definers of our generation and deciding for ourselves what sticks. The trend is self: self-care, self-reflection, and self-awareness.

This means that gen Z is evolving its obsession with Y2K nostalgia – rooted in in a time when things felt easy, effortless, even – to the tangibles and aesthetics of the 2010s. Think grunge, collages, punk, basic digital cameras, wired headphones, flip phones, layered tank tops and more. Y2K nostalgia isn't gone just yet, but it is evolving, given the hyper-sonic fashion cycles TikTok has induced. The angst of the 2010s – a time most gen Zers actually lived through – matches this moment, a reflection of gen Z's increased self-awareness and emphasis on their own experiences.

Additionally, gen Z welcomes discussions of mental health, however the conversation became cavalier in 2022 as many began dangerously repurposing medical terms and "digitally diagnosing" themselves after a few TikToks. Entering 2023, gen Zers aim to recenter the discussion, filling the space with educational and thoughtful conversations. We'll also see a rise in financial literacy and side hustles, a rise in wellness practices, efforts to resuscitate pre-pandemic normalcy, a craving for interconnectivity, and tangibles to ground themselves.

Trend 2: Gen Z is ready for unhinged brand moments.

- Sébastien-Nicolas Chiffrin; Paris, France

Gen Z – growing up in a digital world overly saturated with trends that have short lifespans – is mindful of overconsumption. We filter through trends and woke-washed campaigns, consuming smarter and seeing through performative stunts. Consumption is further obstructed by real-world issues of COVID-19, climate change, and geopolitical conflict that demand and frankly, warrant gen Z's attention. For brands to break through, they need to both acknowledge world events, and approach communication with levity in order to show up authentically. In short,gen Z is ready for unhinged brand moments.

Gen Z's fight for authenticity is now at the door of marketers. Gen Z expects brands to act like relatable human beings. In fact, gen Z interacts with brands as if they were friends, and in that sense, gen Z expects a certain je ne sais quoi in the brands' tone of voice, as well as an alignment in beliefs and values.

When speaking to brands, Gen Z wants to feel like they are talking to a peer, and a peer they can relate to at that. That's why many of the most successful, breakthrough brand accounts on TikTok are run by a Gen Z social media manager, for example Duolingo or Nerf. These brands exemplify speaking gen Z's language because through them, gen Z speaks to their friends.

Based on the success of Ryanair, and Scrub Daddy, it seems that 2023 will be the era for unhinged brands. Brands with a tailored and unique tone of voice. Brands that aren't afraid to say it like it is. Unhinged doesn't mean out of control, but rather, brands with a unique tone of voice. Brands that aren't afraid of being quirky.

Trend 3: Gen Z is entering the workforce, from macro to micro.

- Jorge Rodrigues; Sao Paolo, Brazil

Gen Z is wielding its sizable influence in one critical area: the workforce. Here, we will make up over a quarter of the workforce by 2025, though our influence isn't based on our scale alone; per Edelman's research, gen Z already influences 63 percent of the general population across work culture, in workplace expectations and willingness to pressure employers to change. This broader influence stems from gen Z's connection to and ability to shape culture. In 2023 as gen Z enters the workforce, we will bring our broader cultural influence on day-to-day work environment that are in line with what we believe in – as the diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In 2023, gen Z will take its values from macro to micro. Accountability in 2020 looked like responding to how brands were confronting social justice and equity issues, but now as more gen Z enter the workforce, gen Z employees are holding their own employers accountable on a more day-to-day and cultural level.

We're becoming leaders of change in work culture, as we're leading the companies' changes from inside out, reshaping priorities for the world and its workforce. We are experiencing a very decisive moment at the climatic, financial, and social apex, with the world experiencing more uncertainty and distrust than ever before. And we recognize that we must be the agents of change - starting on the ground level with our personal and interpersonal relationships, at work, school, and with our families.

Trend 4: Gen Z believes in new nuances of accountability.

- Aliya Mahimtura; Mumbai, India

Gen Zers world-over are often perceived to be bullish activists that will take a stand against any person, brand, or corporation that goes against their core values and beliefs. While it is safe to say that we are a cohort guided by a strong value system, we are not rebellious by nature. We're not here for the battle, we're here for the accountability; we believe in holding all stakeholders accountable for their words, actions, and intentions.

When it comes to celebrities and influencers, those in the limelight will be expected to have a voice and point of view. Growing up with direct access to our favorite stars via social media, we no longer perceive them to be larger than life or 'god-like' figures for whom allowances need to be made. Nepo babies or otherwise, gen Z will not put celebrities on a pedestal because of their popularity or famous surname. How are they channelizing their privilege into action? And where does content end and purpose kick in? Gen Z will continue to hold influential personalities accountable.

As for governments and institutions, they will need to take appropriate measures to win back this generation's trust. Socio economic uncertainty has led to gen Z questioning if the government has its best interests in mind. By recognizing and acting on issues gen Z cares about, such as DEI, financial security, and climate change, they can reverse the trust deficit.

So, what does this mean for brands in 2023? Gen Z will begin to dissect brand-speak vs brand-action. It is no longer enough to only advocate for a cause, it is imperative to deliver impact and drive change. This cohort is all for bidding adieu to green-washing and tokenism and will call you out if you are inauthentic. Prepare to be dissected over an Instagram reel or a TikTok video as your brand values will be analyzed from a macro to micro lens, from large-scale campaigns and CSR to internal communication and employee benefits.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Jackie Cooper is Edelman's global chief brand officer.