Some describe the Millennial generation as narcissistic, tech-obsessed, materialist, lost, lazy and entitled. Others may describe them as compassionate, open-minded, adaptable, creative, and resilient. So what’s the truth? Depends on whom you ask. But if you want to win the hearts of Millennials, start by asking them.
Millennials describe themselves as responsible, realistic, and compassionate. They’re turning tradition on its head, throwing out the rulebooks, and forging their own path—acting on the confidence and encouragement their Boomer and Gen X parents gave them. The first step to making Millennials love you is to leave your judgment at the door. The second step is to stop treating them all the same. And the third step? Like all great relationships, engage on the platform of shared values.
Hitting the Club or Hitting the Diaper Genie?
Depending on the report you read, the Millennial Generation, on average, encompasses 1978ish-1995ish, or roughly 18ish-39ish. That’s a pretty big gap. Typically 21-year-olds are doing very different things than 39-year-olds. (Unless you have a very mature 21-year-old and a very immature 39-year-old.)
For simplicity sake, let’s call them younger and older Millennials. While certain events have collectively influenced this generation (9-11, housing crash, and the internet), this age gap is significant and shouldn’t be neglected. So when thinking about the Millennial generation—who do you think of? A college kid? A mom? An established professional? Because they’re all Millennials.
The Millennial generation is not one consumer group. You cannot treat them the same. They’re in different life stages, have unique needs, have different digital behaviors, and have different mindsets. You need to be able to answer two questions before thinking about Millennials as a target.
Who is my ideal consumer? What is happening in their lives, and what do they value? Why?
Regardless of age, what role does my category play in my ideal consumer’s life? Are they highly engaged in my product category? Or passive? Why?
That should give you a jump-start on narrowing in on your target, for example if they’re hitting the club, hitting the diaper genie, or hitting the gym. Once you know who they are, then you can start building some love.
Create a Relationship Based on Shared Values
Brand love is really just a solid relationship with the consumer. And like most great relationships, it starts with understanding, shared values, and often times some humor (this generation cares about funny ads if you hadn’t noticed). You can’t fake your values. That’s like adding personality traits at the last minute before meeting the parents of a girlfriend/boyfriend for the first time. But you can change if you want to.
Below are some of the most commonly discussed Millennial Values & Trends. But remember, these do not sweepingly apply to everyone aged 18-39. You can find exceptions to each, but in general if you want to win some Millennial love these are good areas to start.
Digital Natives: Remember the dial-up sound of AOL? “You’ve Got Mail”? The older Millennials do. The internet was just coming about for them in high school or college. Napster was a thing way before Spotify, killing the need for CDs or cassette collections. Digital has been naturally, progressively integrated into their lives—with PDAs replacing Franklin Planners and the iPod replacing Walkmans. For the older Millennials, constant adaptation of new technology is the norm. For the younger Millennials, digital IS the way of life and has been from pre-school. They were born into the internet, instant information, and what older Millennials once thought of as mind-blowing graphics.
For both young and older, digital is a way of life. It’s seamless. It’s instant. And when something doesn’t meet their expectations of seamlessness and instant value—game over Wayne. Digital is their language and it’s table-stakes for brands to speak it.
Do Good: Millennials are looking for brands that are responsible citizens to their communities. They have an underlying distrust of corporations, and expect those in power to give back versus get richer (which can especially be a challenge to corporations reporting to Wall Street). Find ways to give back to the community, be responsible in sourcing, and make the world better. The catch is that you have to do it authentically, in a way that links to your brand or industry. While the Millennial may or may not want to pay more for it, a brand’s commitment to do good will play a major role in creating a sustained relationship with the Millennial consumer..
Design for Me: Thanks to technology, we need less things. But that means the physical things we do buy become more of a statement about who we are. They say something about us. Millennials care about design in general (hello Apple), but they also care about personalization. How can you make them part of your process? How can you personalize for them? So that they believe both in what your brand does, and what your brand says about them?
Experience over Stuff: A rising trend within this generation is less stuff, and more experience. Be it travel, dinner, music, the arts—the American Dream is changing shape to be more about moments lived versus hours worked, memories made vs. cars bought, and balance achieved across all aspects of life including health, relationships, and career. This does not mean luxury is dead, or status symbols are passé—but it does mean that luxury and status take different forms…Perhaps an upgraded rental car on vacation, or a smaller mortgage in trade for more overseas selfies. Keep in mind this generation has also experienced multiple recessions, and while materialism has its joys—it also comes with debt. Whereas experiences can be lived without revolving credit.
Simplicity: Closely related to Experience over Stuff—this generation is trending toward less stuff but better stuff. Minimalism, tiny houses, capsule wardrobes, all seeking to free up cash and simplify choice. Consumerism isn’t dead, but the brands with staying power add sustainable value in a simplified life.
Diversity & Inclusion: Millennials are more likely than older generations to accept social change; be it supporting gay marriage, interracial couples, or alternative family arrangements. Diversity in skin color is expected, especially as interracial relationships become more common and children no longer identify with one racial “box” on surveys. Inclusion is a value (ironically divisive) many Millennials expect to see reflected in the brands they chose.
One universal truth worth noting however, even if you line up perfectly with each and every value listed, product quality, value, and differentiation through emotional connection will always be cornerstone to brand success. No conversation or fancy marketing in the world can (sustainably) make up for a less-than-stellar product. Eventually, it still comes back to the basics of business. Regardless of the generation, quality is still one of the most important factors for success.
So, Are you a Match Made in Heaven?
Maybe? Maybe not? If you’re not, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe you have a Millennial target that goes against the Millennial grain. Maybe you are solidly positioned with the Boomers, or the X’ers. You don’t have to be all about the Millennial, right now anyways, as long as you have a different target and strategy. Just don’t try to pretend to have aligned values if you don’t. It won’t work.
If you’re not a match made in heaven but want to be, you have some work to do. How will you become the brand of their dreams? As we’ve all probably learned in love, in order to be a real dreamboat it has to be more than skin-deep. Changes can’t occur on the surface, they have to occur culturally which requires commitment all the way up to the top.
If you are a match made in heaven, continue your relationship. Keep it interesting. Keep the conversation going. Keep focusing on your shared values, and maybe find some new ones to talk about. Don’t let the love die.
To learn more about Millennials, please contact your Jacobs Marketing Account Executive.