By 2025, it is estimated that millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce. And as soon as next year, Gen Z will account for 40% of all consumers. This means baby boomers, who are currently in senior and C-level positions, will increasingly find themselves in a reactive role to the demands of these rising generations, both as employees and customers. It is therefore business critical to understand how to best engage and address the needs of these groups for companies to grow, be sustainable and relevant in the future.
McKinsey has published an in-depth report into Gen Z.
A key point from this research is that consumers increasingly expect brands to “take a stand” – not just to talk about their values, but to deliver on them too. This attitude applies to employees as well, while job security is as important to this generation as any other, more and more people are looking for work that has purpose and aligns with their values and ethics.
Building that sense of ownership – in the voice of your brand
However, it's not just what your business does, but how you communicate, and intrinsic to this is strong, relevant content – both in terms of focus – less ‘what we believe’, more ‘how we deliver’ – and how it is generated. Once delivered through top-down messaging, content can now be developed in a much more inclusive way, across divisions, across regions. This results in a greater sense of ownership and alignment around a shared ambition.
Honesty and transparency
The world is a very unpredictable place and it feels like it is getting more so every week. Climate change, a post Covid-19 environment and unrelenting technological developments mean that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make accurate predictions. To remain relevant and sustainable requires creativity and risk taking and by definition that means there will be setbacks. It’s important to share both achievements and challenges, to be honest and transparent, both internally and externally. Do that and you will build trust in your brand. You will be seen as authentic and credible.
“Slightly worse than last year!” – have a look at Oatly’s sustainability report for 2018 (PDF)
Think global, act local
While a company is likely to benchmark its strategy internationally, against global competitors or maybe SDGs in terms of sustainability, initiatives need to have relevance closer to home, within the communities in which you operate. By focusing your teams on goals that align with local issues and challenges, and communicating these initiatives effectively, you will build greater engagement from within your employees – as well your local market, for both potential customers and future employees.
A good example of this is Danone, which has developed an Ecosystem Fund to ensure that local communities benefit from the growth of their business. This includes empowering family farmers by providing equipment and training in sustainable and regenerative practices, as well as stable contracts that allow these farmers to invest in the future.
Both in terms of what you do and how you communicate. Think about initiatives from the point of view of the people you want to engage with. To be blunt, they’re busy people, why should they care about what you have to say? Put yourself in their shoes and create content that will pique their interest – share in a form that will engage with a digital generation – bite sized / episodic feeds of information – short, creative and to the point.
Talk about your activities and achievements in terms of the people who made them happen. Your company after all, is made up of the people who work there, so focus on them and make them feel proud to be part of what you are achieving.
One look at Microsoft’s Instagram feed shows a changing brand, focused on putting its employees firmly at the center of its work. The company’s recent Diversity and Inclusion report provides the background and ambition to become a more human-centric company.
And here is the 2018 Annual Report Eat developed for LIXIL. The company is very human focused in the way it develops its products and solutions and wanted to focus on the people that made the company succeed. Eat turned the first half of the document in to a magazine format to present these stories in the most accessible and engaging way.
It’s obvious when you think about it, but when it comes to real people engaging with your message, an online report and active social media channels make a lot more sense than a large pile of printed paper. Not to mention the reduction in distribution costs and exposure to a wider, younger audience.
The legacy pressures of “The board needs print something tangible they can hold in their hands” should not be underestimated, so build the argument and consensus internally for paper-free communication from the beginning.
Ultimately, consider the opportunities that digital provides in terms of interactivity and broader engagement with the groups most important to you moving forward.
Look at what Kingfisher, the home improvements company produced to share their sustainability highlights here. Try doing that in print.
And remember, you can always download a PDF – so your board can print out their own copy – should they really need it.