Commentary

Millennials Aren't The Problem, They're The Answer

Every day, a new bell tolls for something millennials doomed into obsolescence. Industries and brands point fingers at the generation for “killing” things like cable, diamonds, golf, and casual dining.

“Millennial,” typically used to classify someone born between 1981 and 1996, has become a catchall phrase to describe lazy and selfish tendencies — and credit the decline of older ways of thinking to youthful folly. But the negative media discourse surrounding millennials is inherently flawed.

Blaming Millennials Benefits Nobody

Blaming whole swaths of consumers for changing trends can backfire. Millennials are the bulk of the workforce; they’re an economic power to be reckoned with. In fact, the World Data Lab predicts that this generation will soon have more spending power than any other group.

What are brands to do when sales are dropping and all signs point to millennials as the culprits? They must change with them, not against them. Follow these steps to handling the problem openly — which will help you build your millennial customer base, rather than alienate it.

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Highlight your origin story. Millennials want to pull back the corporate curtain to understand the “why” behind a brand, and Stackla found that 86% of consumers consider authenticity an important factor in their purchasing decisions.

Nonalcoholic spirit brand Seedlip offers a great example. Its legacy page takes readers on a historical journey, the story of how early physicians would distill herbal remedies using copper stills. Today, Seedlip honors this ancient practice, using the same processes to create nonalcoholic beverages. It’s a memorable tale with no fluff — just an authentic look at why the brand exists.

Grow with changing consumer preferences. Make sure you’re not sending outdated signals. Häagen-Dazs was long accustomed to pushing sophisticated messaging around luxury and indulgence, but this didn’t appeal to younger audiences. The treats became synonymous with mothers and grandmothers, not young consumers who craved full-fat, smaller-portioned treats.

So Häagen-Dazs pivoted the crux of the conversation with a rebrand. Responding to millennials’ desires for healthier dessert options with meaning, it changed the brand focus with its “Everyday Made Extraordinary” campaign, tapping into a bevy of modern designers and musicians, including Pharrell Williams. As a result, Häagen-Dazs sales increased by as much as 50% in some markets, all because the brand shifted with consumers.

Embrace your position within subcultures. Vans suffered a serious identity crisis in the early 2000s. It filed for bankruptcy in the 1980s, but rather than try to duplicate commonplace ’90s styles as a comeback, the brand went back to its initial styles and audiences with slight product refreshes. This appealed to a similar subculture in a new generation. 

This, along with the help of contemporary messaging platforms and influencers, built up the brand’s social cred and relevance. Now, Vans is a global powerhouse because it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t.

Millennials have become convenient scapegoats, but strategic brands don’t play the blame game. Instead of alienating a powerful economic group, use these tips to embrace change and evolve alongside your consumers.

7 comments about "Millennials Aren't The Problem, They're The Answer".
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  1. Patrick Stroh from Brunner / data science, analytics, April 17, 2019 at 3:48 p.m.

    "As a result, Häagen-Dazs sales increased by as much as 50% in some markets, all because the brand shifted with consumers."  From what I read, part of that was shifting from TV to digital channels (Instagram, etc.) and also different influencers (sponsorships too) and packaging (which fit into your thesis about selling to millenials).  What I don't read is what changed in terms of budgets ... did they increase their budgets by X% (as brands often do when they do brand relaunches)?  I would bet they did, but have no backup except expectations/experience.  In any case, the "all because" seems pretty strong statement unless it rules out budget increases/reallocations.  But overall, I am in agreement; brands should obviously shift with consumer values, tastes, channels, etc.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 18, 2019 at 7:49 a.m.

     Millennials---those aged 18-34----probably represent 45-50% of the work force---not the "bulk" of it. As for the case history cited, if sales rose by "as much as 50% in some markets" one wonders why no overall sale gain figure is presented----unless it's not really all that impressive. Like any other demographic segment, millennials always need to be considered by marketers, but one can't ignore the others nor can one assume that millennials are a monolithic group that responds in lockstep fashion to any promotional effort directed at "them".

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 18, 2019 at 10:18 a.m.

    The 18-34 range has not experienced upheavals of the world as the prior generations, the draft for war in particular, especially the vast majority of 18-25's. (Our voluntary military is only about 1-2% of the country.) They were kids when the recesssion hit at the end of the Bush administration. No, not all millenials are incompetent so let's stop that, but they (first full gen to do so)fall like lemmings to anti social media, selfishies, lack so much historical knowledge and little to no concept of the dangers ahead including they will sooner than they think, be the sandwich generation with more responsibilites than today's sandwich generation. As they monthly subscriptions being sold as easy and raising all kinds of money, they will fall out of favor when the subscribers begin to realize they have too much stuff and they can't sell if for as much as they think can because the market is flooded with stuff and more so because they can't take a tax deductions for donations. More entitlements disappear because too many are not paying attention with not enough to do. See anti social media which proves it more and more each day.

  4. Gracie Ziegler from Mitchell Communications replied, April 22, 2019 at 4:37 p.m.

    Thank you, Patrick, for your comment. I’m glad you agree with the idea around brand shift, it’s something we are very passionate about at Mitchell.

  5. Gracie Ziegler from Mitchell Communications, April 22, 2019 at 4:38 p.m.

    Ed, thanks for the comments. As more Millennials enter the workforce the numbers are always changing. I appreciate your willingness to engage as we learn new approaches together.

  6. Gracie Ziegler from Mitchell Communications replied, April 22, 2019 at 4:38 p.m.

    Paula, thanks for your feedback. There is so much to consider with each new generation and we’re working to help brands understand how to navigate with the most impact.

  7. PJ Lehrer from NYU, April 23, 2019 at 11:33 a.m.

    Or you could just buy a brand that Millennials like.  Here's what my students had to say about the idea...
    http://pjlehrer.blogspot.com/2016/11/if-millennials-dont-like-your-brand.html

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