Purpose-driven messaging: engaging the next generation

By Mia Claselius, Head of Communications for ABB Electrification.

We live, work and play in an always-on environment immersed in continuous delivery of messages from digital channels and virtual interactions. Experienced in filtering out this noise, the next generation seek trust and purpose, meaningful relationships and true two-way dialogue.

The next generation, Gen Z, has grown up experienced in filtering out the overload of continuous messages and has become accomplished at interacting through multiple mediums simultaneously. Because of this, gaining the attention of this generation presents new challenges for communicators.

There is a simple truth, however, to engaging the next generation that cuts through all this noise – in an overloaded environment open to all cultures and geographies at the click of a button – the next generation looks for purpose and belonging.

We know that consumers are presently four to six times more likely to buy from, trust, champion and defend companies with a strong purpose. With Gen Z’s purpose-driven focus, this trend will only increase.

Earlier this year I experienced this first-hand during the St. Gallen Symposium’s Leaders of Tomorrow challenge.

In response to the prompt “How would you lead, to establish trust in a crisis?”, a group of 14 university students from around the world vocalized their generation’s desire for transparency, humility, open dialogue and equality. Their responses were perfectly aligned with the trends we see across Gen Z, highlighting the authentic and vocal nature of this generation.

As a comms leader in a global organization, my personal experience is supported by wider evidence. Companies that don’t align their purpose with their customer’s beliefs pay the price. Accenture Strategy’s 2018 global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers in 35 countries found that 53 per cent of consumers disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it, and 47 per cent walk away from a brand in frustration, with 17 per cent never returning.

The next generation demands impact, purpose not product, and accountability for change. Driven by a desire to connect with those who share the same values and beliefs, to belong, Gen Z supports brands with a greater purpose (a strong ‘why’), leaders with strong beliefs, and movements that enable them to make a difference. It is by understanding the ‘why’ that Gen Z builds connections, and it is by catering to this need, by building deeper, richer more meaningful connections and experiences, that communicators will ensure their message stands out.

As you begin to define your ‘why’, from my experience leading a team of communicators across diverse generations, time zones and cultures, here are three tips to keep in mind:

1 Be intentional:

Ask yourself what you stand for, why you exist, and why people should care. Then use this to define your purpose with authenticity. In doing so, you will build a strategic narrative that not only speaks to the impact you wish to create in the world, but also inspires others to join you – shifting employees to partners and customers to co-creators.

2 Be consistent:

Use your purpose as the guiding light for all decisions and as the red thread across your communications. This will enable you to build connections, loyalty and trust with your audiences, where authenticity is key.

3 Be concise:

Your message is only as impactful as it is clear. Ensure your purpose is simple enough to inspire change and excite others.

Success in connecting with the next generation lies in authenticity built on two-way communication and trust. Be stakeholder focused – think about what they want and connect at the audience’s level, using appropriate language in a style that resonates with a younger audience.

Above all, communicate with purpose if you want to make your voice heard.


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