Marketing researchers rethink approach to inclusivity when building research

Editor’s note: Lilah Raynor, Logica Research, is a member of the Insights Association IDEA Council. The Insights Association IDEA Council would like to thank the sponsors of this study, including InsightsNow, Logica Research and Escalent for the design, execution and analysis of the study; Cint, Dynata, Kantar, InnovateMR and Tap Research for providing sample; Nuance for coding open-ended questions; G3 Translate for translation; and Confirmit for hosting.

Generation Z, the 60 million Americans born after 1996 and before 2015, is the most racially and ethnically diverse population in United States history. Gen Z has strong perspectives on identity in general – their views on diversity and inclusion, both regarding society and themselves personally, are markedly unique from past generations. 

Gen Z finds themselves struggling with an outdated demographic model where race and ethnicity, gender and other demographic information is too delineated. According to a look at Gen Z by Vice, these traditional buckets of description don’t fit for a generation that is “more fluid and more holistic” than parameters we’ve been working with in the past. Freedom of identity expression is critical to this generation. Including their different identities and preferences in our market research studies are pushing us to rethink how we approach inclusivity when building our research. 

A recent study by the Insights Association’s IDEA Council, Logica Research and other industry organizations have begun to uncover how to best reach and incorporate more respondents into market research. The first wave of this collaborative research-on-research initiative worked to identify how to create the right demographic questions about race and ethnicity across all populations, including Gen Z.

So how can market researchers go beyond asking race and ethnicity questions and shift our thinking about identity – and how to include Gen Z and their ideas and feelings about identity? 

This study, “On Good Terms: How to Ask Race and Ethnicity in a More Inclusive and Sensitive Way,” showed negative reactions to race and ethnicity questions from Gen Zers, more than any other generation. Gen Z responded that these questions made them feel confused (27%), frustrated (24%) and offended (20%). As shown below, 37% of Gen Z feel very or extremely negative emotions when asked race or ethnicity questions, a much higher percentage than other generations.

Younger generations are more likely to react negatively than older ones when asked race and ethnicity questions

By using an implicit testing approach in the study, the research was able to gather subconscious positive and negative reactions to the 10 questions posed in the survey. And Gen Z had a higher negative reaction to being asked race and ethnicity, compared to other generations. Qualitative responses uncovered that respondents did not feel they were provided with answer choices that truly represented their race or ethnicity. 

“Surveys should give the option to skip the race question... I do not speak for all [race] and don't want my view to be representative of all [race]. Also, if the survey can explain why they are asking the question… that would be great.”

You can take action on your study design to ensure you are inclusive of Gen Z and incorporate them into your research. Some of the solutions uncovered in the study include: 

  • Only ask the race/ethnicity question if you need to.
  • Consider the placement of the question on the survey.
  • Don’t terminate right after the question.
  • Explain why you are asking the question.
  • Allow multiple responses.
  • Have detailed and inclusive response options.
  • Provide write-in, self-identify options.
  • Give people the option to skip the question.

Learnings from this research support the concept that identity is often situational, and people want the flexibility to identify in different ways based on the situation and how they are feeling. The fluidity of Gen Z’s identity means that market researchers will need to be flexible and sensitive to the preferences and attitudes of this generation, as they continue to evolve and change. Brands that understand the need for this flexibility and sensitivity will gain greater trust and be better able to meet the needs of this youngest adult generation. As an industry, we will need to adjust our research to be inclusive of this, and all, populations. 

Next up, the IDEA Council and other collaborators will be looking at gender and sexual preference demographic questions – and we are sure we have a lot to learn from Gen Z on how we can be more inclusive and sensitive in how we ask about gender and sexual identity. You may download the “On Good Terms” presentation here (registration required). 

The next phase of research will be a study on gender and sexual orientation identity. If you’re interested in supporting this ongoing research initiative, e-mail the, follow the IDEA Council on LinkedIn or reach out to the author.