Millennial Branding

Are Millennials elusive consumers for established brands? While some long-standing brands do well with Millennials, others struggle. According to a study by the Moosylvania agency, almost all of Millennials’ top 50 favorite brands are large companies, the top three being Nike, Apple, and Samsung. Yet, there are other brands struggling to reach this target, at risk of losing relevance. Budweiser, for example, has found that 44% of U.S. 21 to 27 year olds have never tried a Budweiser. Procter & Gamble, needing to establish relevance of its Gillette brand among young men when they start shaving, has initiated a point-of-market-entry sampling strategy to acquire customers at this relevant entry point. 

Yet, winning with Millennials goes beyond simply building brand awareness and driving trial. Relevancy is critical, and Millennials are deemed to be a demanding bunch. Frankly, they expect more from brands and workplaces. 

Consider these points:

  • Transparency. Millennials want to trust brands and seek authenticity and transparency. Yet, the Deloitte Millennial Survey from January 2014 states: “Many [Millennials] do not trust the actions or motives of business.” A March 2014 Pew Research Center study reports Millennials as the least trusting when compared to other generations — just 19% of Millennial respondents agreed that “most people can be trusted.” This suggests that people, companies, and brands, alike, have to earn trust with this cohort.  
  • Do Good. Millennials value companies that give back and do good for society, both in terms of where they work and where they buy. Looking back again to the Deloitte Millennial Survey, it states, “50% of Millennials surveyed want to work for a business with ethical practices.” And a Brookings Institute Report quotes a 2013 Cone Communications study as having “found Millennials to be the generation most focused on corporate social responsibility when making purchasing decisions.”
  • Value. Millennials are cash-strapped. Median incomes for twenty-something’s are lower today than in past decades, according to a study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Almost 80% of this group has debt, with 55% owing more than $10,000. Greater than 10% of U.S. Millennials ages 20-24 are unemployed (Bureau of Labor Statistics). All this suggests why these young adults appreciate brands that offer value. Don’t take this to mean a brand can skimp on quality. The Moosylvania report also states that quality is the most important factor to Millennials, with 75% of respondents in their study saying high-quality products matter.



What’s a brand to do to connect with these demanding consumers? Several young brands winning with this group offer guidance, practicing a type of “Millennial Branding” that addresses each of these factors with a mix of Transparency + Do Good + Value. 

Take these examples:

  • Everlane, a clothing retailer based in San Francisco, champions transparency in the manufacturing process (ensuring good manufacturing practices within its factory partners) and in its retail margins (communicating a transparent mark-up), while offering quality, basic fashions at a value for its shoppers.
  • Warby Parker, an eyeglass manufacturer and retailer, took a direct-selling approach to the market, allowing it to sell cool glasses at a great price point, while also offering a one-to-one, do-good model, à la Toms shoes.
  • Toms, itself, sells reasonably priced, fashionable shoes, while supporting its many causes, communicating its ethos on its website, and sharing its stories with followers.
  • Cuyana, another direct-to-consumer fashion retailer, celebrates quality over quantity, crafts pieces with stories, and offers accessible price points given the lack of a middleman. The company also has a cause program that incentivizes and facilitates giving away unused clothes and passes them on to its non-profit partners.

While some traditional brands clearly are finding a model that appeals to this target group, upstarts can tap the Millennial ethos that demands companies and brands offer more than just product functionality. Brands that build trust through transparency and give back to society, while also making it affordable for Millennials to participate in their brands, could find a winning formula to upend the traditional brands and oust them from Moosylvania’s Top 50 ranking.

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