Yesterday, the “2017 Cone Gen Z CSR Study: How to Speak Z” was released to the public showcasing the generation that is glued to smart phones, buys avocado toast and grew up learning about climate change in schools. The generation that follows Millennials and doesn’t really know life without smart phones, Generation Z.

The study raised some interesting points about the behaviours and characteristics of this generation relating to social media and overall views and attributions to social and environmental issues. One of the key highlights mentioned was this:

“89% [of Generation Z] would rather buy from a company supporting social and environmental issues over one that does not, but just 65% pay attention to company’s CSR efforts when deciding what to buy.”

If only 65% are paying attention to a company’s CSR efforts, 24% of those who would buy from a socially responsible business are unaware of or do not pay attention to the social and environmental initiatives a business participates in. We call this, the CSR awareness gap.

Although Generation Z has been said to have low attention spans, they are also social activists who post for social or environmental issues to which they care about. In fact, 81% believe they can have an impact on social or environmental issues by using social media. So, if the CSR awareness gap stands, we pose this question:

If 24% of Generation Z do not pay attention to the CSR efforts of businesses when deciding what to buy, is it because the CSR efforts of brands are not compelling enough to influence their decisions? Or are brands even doing enough to convey these efforts to this generation?

The answer certainly gets construed when you are looking at multinational for-profit businesses selling products and services with proven demand but hold low attachment to a specific social or environmental cause. The term corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be loosely applied to ethical, social initiatives in order to speak to or target a certain consumer group or stakeholder. In corporations, these initiatives traditionally run through the corporate affairs department and are not under the control of marketing. Until the last decade when businesses have started to connect with consumers on a deeper level; where core values and beliefs are communicated and align with those of the consumer. Consumers represent the brands they wear and believe it is part of what defines them.

Enter the social enterprise. From the likes of Tom’s shoes, Peace Collective, Me to We or TenFed, there are businesses that not only support charities but whose business models are sprung from the social or environmental causes they stand for as a brand. A brand whose core messaging and marketing efforts encompass these very social and environmental efforts that the business is built from. There are now over 25,000 social enterprises registered in Canada with proven success serving consumers who buy and advocate for brands they believe in. Social enterprises make these issues the forefront of their business, leaving a very small CSR awareness gap.

More recently, large corporations are using “cause marketing” to connect with engaged consumers. Cause marketing is sharing with consumers through their marketing efforts the issues that these brands care about. Built and baked into marketing plans, brands become social activists by partnering with or create their own charities to raise money or spread awareness about issues using the power of their voice as a brand and brand equity to deliver a message.

Take Hurricane Irma for example. On the forefront of Banana Republic’s eCommerce site, a Red Cross banner is front and center encouraging consumers to donate to the Red Cross Society to support people devastated by the hurricanes in the United States and Carribean.

Like Generation Z, brands should take a stance on the social issues they care about, and devote marketing efforts to cause to both give back to society in a meaningful way and to close the CSR awareness gap with this young generation.