A decade ago, Americans felt like they’d been hit in the head with a baseball bat. We’d watched Wall Street nearly collapse, and had just seen the economy tank to its lowest point since the Dirty Thirties. Students graduating college spun their wheels for years waiting to build careers in a thriving global economic environment. This was 2009. It was also the last year a majority of Americans (52%) expressed having high confidence in the church (Gallup). Since organized religion’s peak rating in the mid-70s, Americans’ trust—or, really, distrust—in some of our bedrock institutions has taken on a completely new identity; it’s one that probably feels strange to our oldest friends and neighbors whose trust has, in large part, remained intact over the years.
Enough of the dreary memories. If we’re not turning as much to (or trusting) leaders in religion, Congress, or TV news (etc.), where are we going for information, hope, change, partnership, validation? What’s the one thing, or a few, that we count on to guide us in the right direction, support us, or lead us?
A peek into the digital world offers a glaring hint: each other. All the “each others” that we don’t even know yet. Otherwise known as peer-to-peer recommendations. These testimonies matter…even to the most skeptical cynics among us.
In the U.S., 91% of shoppers 18 to 34 trust strangers’ online reviews as much as their friends’ recommendations (Bright Local, 2018). And when it comes to buying local, 86% of consumers, regardless of age, read reviews for local businesses. Spoiler alert: It’s even more prevalent for our younger cohort (95% for those ages 18 to 34). More than ever, people (and practically all coming-of-age Gen Zers and their Millennial elders) seek out authority in the collective experience of peers and—frankly—of complete strangers. “That Airbnb has 4.8 stars out of 5, and 106 strangers offer testimony—count us in!” We trust the experience and expertise of real, imperfect, diverse individuals, especially when it’s at the collective level. Perhaps because we ourselves ARE real, imperfect, diverse individuals. And we’re looking for that reality in each other more than ever.
Trust in the collective isn’t exclusive to online reviewing. We see it in youth culture strongest. Take the fact that most teens (80%) believe that their demographic has the potential to change the world for the better (Viacom, 2018). We’re seeing a huge wave of teen activism across causes ranging from the environment (Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old Swedish activist) to equality (Desmond Napoles, 12-year-old LGBTQ activist). Gen Z believes in themselves and in their trusted brands (complete with aligned values) to act.
Contrast that 80% with a measly 8% of Gen Z adults who trust the “people in power” to do the right thing (Morning Consult, 2019). Yes, those are the teens and young adults who are coming into $143 billion in spending power (Barkley, 2018).
Reminder—these are the kids-turned-young-adults that were born from 1997 onward (Pew Research). They’re internet and social media natives. Some of the oldest will be finishing college next year and starting their first big-kid jobs. They’ve surpassed hesitant and entered the realm of utter distrust of power. The Global Recession and the crash and burn of Wall Street in the late 2000s, for most, is their defining world history mark as kids. This coming-of-age generation is the most diverse the world has seen, and they are looking to YOU—their trusted brands—to come alongside them to do and be right for the world. Brands can, and should, act as a guide and an educator, and a partner in change—beyond what they sell or service. What elements of your brand ethos give people a reason to trust you, to believe in you, or to continue to choose you?
Vladimir Jones is Colorado’s original independent, integrated advertising agency, with offices in Denver and Colorado Springs. We believe in brilliant brands and love making the world love them as much as we do.