Think Twice Before You Market to Millennials

By Joseph Olender

Scroll through any business or advertising publication long enough and you’re bound to find an article likening Millennials to unicorns or some other mythical beast that defies the conventional nature of the universe.

What even is a Millennial… and how does one market to a said Millennial? How does one… employ a Millennial? Or tap into the complex spirit that these Millennials seem to want to live their lives with?

Well, thank you for caring, various publications, but you’re doing it all wrong.

It’s important to understand who you’re trying to communicate to. Millennials are not only the face-buried-in-their-phone teenage caricature that they’re made out to be. Not anymore at least. We’re not (all) narcissists who post selfies all day and worship Kardashians. We’re adults. We’ve graduated college. Some of us are married with kids. Some of us have mortgages. Some of us want to be able to host a barbecue in a home we own someday (but are fully aware that it’s a changing market, not an Avocado Toast addiction, that currently prevents us from being able to do so…).

Millennials now outnumber every other generation in the world, and while we may be the first to end up more financially insecure than the previous generation, we are going to inherit a record $30 trillion from Baby Boomers.

So, how can you better market and advertise to these Millennials, who we’ve been told are immune to marketing and advertising?

It’s quite simple, actually: don’t.

Don’t “get on social” and assume this alone will make you seem younger, hipper, and sexier to us silly kids with our silly phones. Don’t hire influencers to peddle your products and assume that will rack up the likes and translate into monumental sales.

Don’t do this. Or this. Or this… and definitely don’t do this.

Link……. Link

#Cringe, right?

Instead, stand for something and then follow through on that stance. Do what you say you will do. Be exactly who you say you are, and make sure that essence seeps through every communication, every visual, every post… and be proactive about it!

And this doesn’t necessarily mean simply “have good CSR” (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). This means communicating your authentic impact that goes beyond dollars and cents.

Put this way, communicating with Millennials is actually really, really simple… if you first know exactly who you are, and exactly why you matter.

This recent Fast Company piece outlines the power in understanding that the Millennial consumer desires to be so much more than just one side of a dollars-and-cents transaction. Rather, the Millennial is a value-seeker who wants to broadcast their purchase as a value-add to their own identity.

When we look at the brands performing well, many of them have a clear mission. Despite being only six years old, Honest Company’s stands for product transparency and healthy families have helped it to a No. 34 ranking for millennials (No. 84 for boomers), significantly above Pampers’ ranking for millennials of No. 76. This is a microcosm of a larger shift: Procter & Gamble’s largest global brand, generating sales of over $8 billion per year, being de-positioned by a millennial-focused brand with much clearer, more overt values.

Similarly, Starbucks has taken strong stands around healthy communities, ethical sourcing, social justice, and environmental progress. Those stands have helped it to a ranking of No. 25 for millennials (No. 111 for Boomers). Always, another P&G brand that has taken a different approach to marketing with its Like A Girl campaign, has effectively championed girls’ potential and won broad support from millennials, who rank it the No. 29 brand (boomers: No. 99).

Our research suggests millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations. Sixty-eight percent of millennials say creating change in the world is a personal goal that they actively pursue, while a minority of boomers do (42%).

Millennials see life as a series of experiences, and we see the organizations we give our money to as being crucial players in that journey. We want (and want to feel) proximity to the impact that your organization wants to leave on the world, and we want to help you leave that impact.

Do we literally think about changing the way the world moves every time we step into an Uber? Nope, but we are drawn to participate in a world where we can be transported across a city with the push of a button.

We are drawn to participate in movements greater than ourselves.

And this is true across every industry.

Mattresses? Yep. Football? Of course. Transportation? You betcha. Citywide safety and security? Absolutely. Beverage holders? Oh yeah…

No clever campaign or filter is going to suddenly make Millennials love you. But you know what might? Vision and honesty.

So stand for something of value, and go be it. It works better than a #hashtag.

Brand Strategy Isn’t So Simple After All

By Alex Bornoff

I have never been one for self-help books, guides to better business, how-to-build a brand instruction manuals, or how-to literature of any kind. Ironic perhaps given my profession as a brand strategist, but then perhaps not.

If I do find my way through the pages of such literature, I struggle with how over simplified everything becomes. As if, all I need to do is check the boxes and I win.

But intuitively I know the boxes themselves are not that simple.

Those boxes crave opening, unpacking, and dissecting, before their contents translate to actionable learnings. But that level of detail is often missing from these resources and so I am often left unsatisfied.

I had one such experience recently re-reading Landor’s Agility Paradox, a report into what makes for successful brands in an era where disruption is the norm. It’s one-part investigative reporting, mining through data attempting to understand the characteristics of successful brands in a modern era. And, one-part instructional manual, giving brand managers a synthesized list of recommendations for how they can set their brands up for success in today’s business landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, this by no means is intended to discredit the valuable work Landor has done. The analysis is insightful and there is a lot to learn, if not empirically validate what one may sense intuitively.

Yet, I struggle when the work is distilled down into six neat little attributes that so long as a company complies, success is abound. These attributes include adaptive, open, global, principled, responsible, and multichannel – six little boxes to check before a brand can feel confident it will thrive in a new world order.

But each of those attributes can dramatically change the course of business for any brand. And I would argue (even at the expense of jumping into the “hands off” advice pool) that the art to succeeding at any of them starts with a core dimension the Agility Paradox does not address – the internal brand.

Building a brand that succeeds at all six attributes the Agility Paradox identifies, is by no means simple, especially if the brand was never designed to include them in the first place, of which there are many.

Brand reinvention is hard, rigorous work and along with vision, leadership commitment, and resources, transformations that enable brands to meet these modern standards require the unwavering dedication of those in the business. And getting employees to commit, means getting them to believe in the promise of the brand (before any consumer or shareholder) to ensure success, loyalty, and longevity.

Too many times I’ve seen great brand vision and strategy fall by the wayside because employee buy-in was so deeply de-prioritized. Building employee trust, advocacy and alignment to the brand, is what puts in motion the brand’s ability to succeed externally.  It forces the business to think about process, structure, and evaluate vision against reality so as to uncover what’s needed to close the gaps.

The workforce is a brand’s greatest, loudest, most impactful asset and advocate. It’s a critical dimension to lean into and take seriously as employees can also be a brand’s greatest roadblock if they don’t believe in it. Arming the workforce is arming the brand with the firepower it needs to rise above the noise and standout above the rest.

Building brands is an inside out effort. It’s how authenticity is established and brand reverberation is felt far beyond the efforts of any single campaign. Consumers drive vision but employees drive success of its execution. Over look that and all good recommendations will remain boxes unchecked. Build into it, and you may find yourself asking the “how” question far less.