Keith Nunes 2019KANSAS CITY — A lack of trust in corporations among many consumers has been an issue of concern for industry leaders for many years. The latest annual survey of millennial and Gen Z consumers by the consultancy Deloitte affirms this point powerfully. The lack of trust among these increasingly important consumer groups in business represents a near crisis and requires consumer-facing companies to visibly embrace issues and causes important to these consumers to engage them and attract or retain them as customers.

The Deloitte survey is substantial and global in scope. It includes the views of 13,416 millennials from 42 countries and 3,009 Gen Z consumers from 10 countries. Millennials included in the study were born between January 1983 and December 1994 and came from a diverse range of backgrounds, including 31 per cent who did not have full-time employment and 34 per cent who did not have a college or university degree. The Gen Z respondents were born between January 1995 and December 2002 and included full-time students as well as those employed part time and full time.

A key finding in the survey is millennial and Gen Z consumers will patronize and support companies that align with their values. Many respondents said they will not hesitate to lessen or terminate relationships when they disagree with companies’ business practices, values or political leanings.

The bar for achieving the trust of these demographic groups is high. Despite the efforts by many business leaders to improve their company’s image, the opinions of millennials about business continue to fall.

“After four straight years in the 70s and a drop to 61 per cent in 2018, the number of respondents who said business has a positive impact on wider society fell to just 55 per cent,” the study said. “This showing is driven, in part, by growing views that businesses focus on their own agendas rather than considering wider society — 76 per cent agree with that sentiment — and that they have no ambition beyond wanting to make money (64 per cent agree).”

Manifestation of these opinions is seen in how these consumers are willing to do business. Forty-two per cent of millennials said they have “begun or deepened” a business relationship because they perceive a company’s products or services to have a positive impact on society or the environment. Thirty-seven per cent said they have stopped or lessened a business relationship because of the company’s ethical behavior.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers make up more than half of the world’s population and, as the Deloitte survey says, “They aren’t the future — they’re the present.” Many of these consumers were scarred by the Great Recession, dismayed by government gridlock around the world and are increasingly alarmed by societal and environmental issues such as income inequality and the impact of climate change on their lives. They also have learned that where they spend their disposable income gives them influence.

Mission statements, codes of ethics and corporate social responsibility commitments form the foundation of what millennial and Gen Z consumers are looking for in the companies they do business with. Companies that consistently build upon that foundation may reap greater rewards as millennials and Gen Z transition into their peak earning life stages.