In the last few years, toxic polarization – the way we demonize each other across differences- has increased. One way towards decreasing the divides that lead to dehumanization is to engage with people who think differently. Indeed, according to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, “the heart of bridging work lies in trying to understand someone else’s perspective, even if it’s not your own.” This simple charge was enough to attract Gracie Bynum (IMC 22) to work with Listen First Project (LFP), a 501(c)(3) that leads the collaborative movement to heal America by building relationships and bridging divides. A big part of the work of LFP is aggregating, aligning, and amplifying the efforts of 500+ #ListenFirst Coalition partners into large-scale, collective campaigns and strategies to ameliorate civic behavior towards people and groups of different perspectives, increase bridge-building skills and behaviors, and reduce the potential for political violence. Seeing a perfect connection with her studies as an Integrated Marketing Communication student, Bynum merged her work with LFP and her honors thesis project to explore how to reach a particularly important yet underserved population in the work of bridging.
Bynum believes that Gen Z (defined as anyone born between 1997 and 2010) has the opportunity to bring about significant change through positive listening and conversation, helping bring an end to the toxic polarization hurting our communities. Although bridging organizations have increasingly recognized the importance of this segment of the population, very few are actively creating messaging, resources, events, and other opportunities geared to recruit and retain them. Even so, Gen Z should be the focus of attention for bridging work. They are unique, being the first generation who was raised surrounded by technological advances. They are also the most diverse generation in US history.
Even though the represent a perfect target demographic, bridge-building organizations face hardships when attempting to engage Gen Z. First, this generation is often stereotyped as careless and politically unaware, but the truth is that they have an active social conscience. Indeed, social movements addressing climate change, school shootings, and a range of other issues have been raised into the public sphere not in spite of but because of Gen Z. Even so, they have spent their time at school without much civic education, and loneliness and isolation run rampant, problems made worse by the pandemic. Many Gen Zers have thus not forged real connections beyond their echo-chambers, suggesting they might be especially transformed by joining a bridge-building organization. Based on these difficulties, Bynum emphasizes the necessity for marketers to use clear messages that directly reach this demographic; otherwise, it will be difficulty for bridge-building organizations to remain relevant in their minds.
Through her work with LFP, Bynum was able to recruit leaders of four bridge-building organizations considered key players in this space. Each claims Gen Z as their primary target audience, and Bynum sought to understand how these organizations currently marketed to Gen Z audiences. Many factors were agreed upon by the interviewees including: this demographic (Gen Z) is excited to take part in building a better future for all, whether on a national or local level, and this might be very appealing to them to stand up and be activists in their own communities. In addition to their desire to have an effective and audible voice, Gen Z is the most educated and diverse in the world today; involving Gen Z with bridge-building is a way to bridge the gap in communities across the country.
Bynum’s thesis concludes with time-based marketing communications plans that mean more involvement of Generation Z within the bridging space. She separated her recommendations into three different time-based categories: short-term recommendations, mid-term goals, and long-term goals. The purpose of the short-term recommendation is to give a direction to bridging organizations on what they can do during the current moment, by launching social media campaigns that give GenZers the opportunity to express themselves. The mid-Term goals focus on the underlying civic engagement needed to create a lasting motivation in Gen Z, to extend the passion generated in the short-term to the entire year. Finally, the “long-term goals” helps organizations draw a roadmap for establishing a strong, trustworthy, cooperative image of bridge-building in the minds of Gen Z. In a nutshell, Bynum believes that Gen. Z has grown up in a deeply polarized America and bridge building gives Gen. Z the opportunity to build a better future than the one they grew up in, by focusing on bridging values that are deeply aligned with the values that Gen. Z holds.
Bynum, Gracie, “How Integrated Marketing Communications Can Be Used to Better Engage Generation Z in Bridge Building” (2022). Honors Theses. 2591. https://egrove.olemiss.edu/hon_thesis/2591