Millennials stand accused of “killing” many things: avocados, alcohol sales, and—my personal favorite—napkins. We are also often accused of not having brand loyalty, making marketing to millennials a daunting task. While I cannot account for where we have hidden all the napkins, I can attest to our brand loyalty—but what we’re loyal to isn’t so much the brand itself but how well the brand reflects our core values.
Two major forces have shaped millennial consumer behavior. First, millennials were the first generation to embrace social media when Myspace, and later Facebook, made connecting with one another a breeze. Our social media habits extend to brand interactions, too: In a study conducted by CrowdTwist, over 60 percent of the millennial subjects engage via Facebook with brands. This has also made sharing reviews and opinions on brands more prevalent and much more difficult for marketers to keep tabs on.
Second, many millennials graduated college and entered the workforce around the 2008 financial crisis. We also experienced a 500 percent increase in tuition cost since 1985, and we entered the global economy with $1.2 trillion dollars in student loan debt, according to Elite Daily. Because personal finance is high on our list of concerns, we are some of the most tech-savvy, coupon-clipping buyers the market has ever seen.
These two forces—our tendency to seek peers’ opinions and our bargain hunting—can appear to work in opposition to brand loyalty. But a look at campaigns that have resonated with millennial audiences shows that this is not necessarily the case.
It’s no secret that classic advertising is not an effective way to market to millennials (or anyone) anymore. What millennials care more about is who you are as a brand. If your brand grew arms and legs and walked out the front door of HQ, what would it look like? Even more importantly, does it mirror the consumer who engages with your products or services? That one-on-one connection to the brand is a market preference that has shifted with the millennial market. In an age where we care about finding our personal brand, we will remain loyal to a brand that helps tell our story as an individual and engage heavily with them.
One of the best examples of this is the #ShareACoke campaign rolled out by Coca-Cola in 2011 in an effort to connect with Coke drinkers on a first name basis. The Coke product has not changed in decades. However, the fun of finding your name, be it common or unsusal, made consumers feel that one-on-one connection to Coke.
In the words of my mother, you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea. It might be a tough sip to swallow, but as a brand, this is actually okay. Casting a net that is too wide and hoping to catch some fish along the way can make your brand seem unsure of itself. However, asserting your voice on issues that matter can make people who care about those issues feel much more connected to your brand, and therefore more loyal.
For example, Oreo posted a six-layer rainbow cookie to their Facebook page with the caption “Proudly support love!” This proud support of gay marriage was not without backlash for Oreo. While they lost customers that day, what they gained was their voice in the conversation and a firm stance as a brand. They were also met with 14,800 shares and 87,000 likes, according to AdWeek, as consumers pledged to buy Oreos from then on.
One of the most daunting tasks as an adult with child-size feet is finding an appropriate pair of shoes. As a senior in college, I was tasked with writing a case study about Zappos’ corporate culture, and I immediately fell in love with the company even more. While many service providers will claim that they aim to put the customer first, Zappos is one of the few that actually does so. This value is clearly reflected if you’ve ever called their customer service department, and all but invited the representative for dinner during such a pleasant conversation about shoes. They achieve this through having legitimately happy employees who want to work for Zappos. This type of service and focus on their employee happiness is incredibly important to me as a consumer, and I therefore go to Zappos first when I need a pair of shoes. You may be wondering what types of shoes are on their site, what types of ads I see, or what their UX is like that has me coming back as such a loyal consumer. While their wide selection and well-organized site are all contributing factors, the biggest draw to Zappos is that they truly practice what they preach. Their brand voice and culture spill over into the service they provide and aligns with my own values, making me a loyal and proud Zappos customer.
There are many myths about millennials—and Google autocomplete does not suggest that they are all that positive. But it’s easy to forget that criticism of the latest generation to shake things up is nothing new. Millenials aren’t that different from previous generations. We’re much like our parents and grandparents when they were our age—but we do find ourselves in different circumstances. Brands that understand our circumstances and tap into our story will earn our loyalty.
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Featured image attribution: Marvin Meyer