I’ve been in a few meetings over the past months where grumbling about Millennials has been an underlying theme. So entitled. Easily sidetracked. Need extra praise. Okay, some of these things may be true on a superficial level, but the Millennial generation has shown us, as consumers, the power we have that we now take for granted. Even we Gen Xers appreciate the influence that Millennials have insisted on, without even realizing it was our younger counterparts who got the ball rolling.
A recent article in the New York Post says that we owe Millennials a debt of gratitude: they have essentially killed products and companies that we didn’t really want anyway. One product the article highlighted was mass-market beer, like Budweiser, which the author (who is likely Millennial herself) says tastes like “seltzer water someone peed in.” Millennials have moved to local, craft beers and, in turn, are supporting small business, local economies, and more authentic brand experiences. Millennials, more than any generation before them, know the power of their wallets and will wield that power to damage products and establishments that don’t fit their sensibilities.
In short, they have figured out that they have choices in ways their parents and grandparents did not. In the ’80s, if you boycotted a product or a store, there would likely be a meaningful impact on your life. You’d have to change shopping habits or have a limited number of competitive products to choose from. Not so anymore. Millennials can reject brands without ever feeling the pain of their choice. Only the brands are feeling the pain. So now it is up to brands to cater to the consumer — this is a huge shift from the paradigm that gave rise to brand narcissism.
Brands have to deliver something beyond a good product at a good price. They have to advance the life of their consumer. No longer is it enough to tout brand attributes. Connections must be made with the consumer on a more fundamental level. Millennials like to support brands that bolster their own sense of purpose – such as charitable giving (Tom’s Shoes) or eco-friendly causes (Patagonia) or social change (Dove).
These avenues give the shopper a halo of good feelings about their contribution to their community. Others do it through exclusivity of experience (Sneakerboy) or exceptional customer service (Zappos) or limited products (Nike). Shoppers choose these brands because they feel unique, special, or cared for. Whatever the path, deeper meaning must be a part of the brand experience to survive.
I would argue that it is because of the Millennial experience that brands have had to shift away from patting their own backs to actually serving the consumer need — exactly when and where the consumer desires. This isn’t a shift in thinking or an adaptation. Brands must wholly rethink everything about themselves from the perspective of their consumer. No longer can they make business decisions based on advocacy metrics or consideration scores. Brands must truly understand what is motivating their shoppers and find how to enhance and replicate that experience beyond their base while maintaining authenticity and connection. No small task.
It isn’t only Millennials who have put this together. Gen X and Boomers are also starting to flex their consumer muscle. An IPSOS study found Boomers were much more likely to boycott products which clashed with their personal political views. So put aside all the negative perceptions that have been following Millennials around like a plague and remember that, without them, we probably wouldn’t have the consumer power we now take for granted. If a brand doesn’t live up to our expectations or meet our needs exactly, then we demand change or the brand ultimately fails. Say thanks to a Millennial today!
I would argue that it isn’t Millennials that have made brands need to be more focused on the customer experience; it’s a) the preponderance of other products in a category that “satisfice’s” needs at the same cost as one another and b) the lowering of friction in finding and acquiring those products. Craft beer? That’s been around since I was in college — and that was nearly 30 years ago. Amazon and search engines have more to do with brand shift than just about anything else.
The millennials seem to give themselves a higher level of importance as engines of change than what they may deserve.
This research is from 2000.