Marketing to Millennials: What brands need to know

(*Millennials: defined roughly as those born between early 1980s and the early 2000s)

1. Millennials look for a sense of purpose- in life, at job and in brands

Unlike their parents who pursued a predictable trajectory- degree, job, marriage, kids, home & retirement, millennials look for higher level needs.

They look for direction and meaning- seeking an interesting mix of altruism and self-interest in life. Hence there is a concern towards bigger issues like sustainability, recycling etc.

Enthusiastic, dynamic and raring to go, they are loyal to a job and not the company. An organization that fails to provide them a vision on where do they fit or how will they make an impact, often loses them.

Brands too need to ensure that they generate enough talking points for millennials to buy into them as being businesses with a greater purpose beyond immediate sales. Millennial generation appreciates and values conscious capitalism.

2. Millennials want borderless brand experiences; brands can’t hide behind the narrative of nativity

Millennials are digital natives and digital isn’t confined by borders. Brand stories & experiences easily travel across states, nations and continents and benchmarks are increasingly global.

Also, with increasing international exposure and information availability, there has been an escalation of expectations across categories.

Therefore brands need to up their communication & experience game. They need to be cautious that unlike previous generation, millennials won’t be swayed by the emotion of nativity.

They love their roots, identity and aren’t looking to clone other ‘cool cultures’. But when it comes to brands they judge- both Indian and international brands- on equal pedestal of quality and utility.

3. Millennials are driven by pragmatism & instant gratification- in relationships, at work and in brand choices

Millennials are experiential and avoid commitments. Acquisition is more important than ownership. Hence there is a rise of ‘rental’ or ‘shared’ economy where getting rid of old for new is no longer a taboo.

A broader outlook and need for instant gratification has also led to gradual morphing of established social institutions, roles and norms (gender neutrality in expectations, changing notions of marriage, career trajectory & dating). This is reflected in career experiments and no-commitment relationships.

Consequently, millennials appreciate simplicity and value convenience. To cater to a generation that’s always multitasking and has lower attention span, brands need to genuinely simplify lives and add convenience to be considered.

While they continue to seek products that up their social cool, they also pay attention to the value. They are willing to pay a price provided it’s worth the value created. Mere social cool isn’t good enough reason to buy.

4. Millennials live in multiple communities, which influence and guide their choices

Having been born and brought up in the post liberalization era where basics were taken care of, millennials come with a streak of independence.

Many feel that coming from a generation that had different motivations, parents find it tough to ‘get’ their aspirations and anxieties.

Hence while bounded by an emotional umbilical chord with family, millennials live in multiple real and virtual communities that share common interests, passions and vibes.

This community habitation, that often happens in college canteen, café’s, pubs, WhatsApp and Facebook- has deep influence on their brand choices and preferences. Their brand choices are often a weighted average of pros and cons rather than an absolute influence from a single source.

5. Passions are no longer just talking points, millennials like to walk the talk

Millennials no longer talk about their passions to garner CV points or score quick social credits. Rather, the passion points are more serious and backed by real action.

With millennials are increasingly seeking a sense of ‘purpose’ beyond regular 9 to 5 job, it’s not uncommon to invest time, money and effort to live their passions.

In fact many go to great lengths- taking breaks, investing monies and joining groups or forums to fulfil their passions. It’s a common millennial dream to view passions as an eventual source of livelihood.

Brands can benefit a lot by connecting with right passion points but mere lip-service or financial aid won’t do. The brand needs to be a seen as passionate as the consumer to leverage real benefit from association.

6. Ambitious, risk taking and individualistic, millennials value dynamism and are deft in handling ambiguity

Nuclearization of family system and reducing liabilities increases the overall risk taking appetite. Also, being the best educated demographic that lives in an era of numerous possibilities, millennials believe in investing on themselves for their financial security.

Thus financial independence for millennials in its true sense comes a little earlier than their parents. Dynamic and optimistic, setbacks are considered springboard for future possibilities

In fact, failure is increasingly transforming from a source of shame into a badge of honour. Eventually, leading to a culture where failure is not only destigmatized but also considered empowering.

Also, with tech disruption shaking up many traditional industries, ability to unlearn and reinvent is considered invaluable even by the employers.

Kids of knowledge economy, millennials believe in ‘moving up’ rather than ‘settling down’. This also shapes their expectation from the brand messaging.

7. Non-utopian and realistic, millennial role models come from identifiable circle with shades of grey

Stardom today isn’t about a mysterious sense of charisma that overawes and mesmerises one into blind followership. It’s also not about espousing lofty ideals that millennials cant relate to in regular life.

Social media has brought celebrities closer- they are expected to have a point of view, quirks as well as vulnerabilities. Millennials want to relate to them as humans rather than stars.

Hence identifiability is the key, perfectionism is utopian and is often even rejected. Like their passions, millennials want role models whom they can follow and those with whom they can comfortably engage with.

Already under peer pressure to depict a ‘happening’ lifestyle, the added burden of perfection could be the last straw. This is reflected in the popular backlash against perfect models, perfect figures, perfect bodies…

8. Opinionated, judgmental and empowered, post-truth often shapes millennial perceptions

Subjected to opinions and counter-opinions from their multiple social circles and digital platforms, millennials are quick to make opinions and take sides.

Coupled with information empowerment, need for instant gratification and high community impact, objective factual analysis often takes a back seat over subjective emotive appeals.

Digital algorithms that often rely on past behaviour to show ‘relevant’ content further sharpen the opinion and aid confirmation bias.

There is a surge of self-righteousness and political correctness among millennials. Hurting sentiments and popular notions may lead to instant justice. Trolling is the new tool for instant gratification in digital war.

So, in a post truth era, where it’s easy to dig out and misinterpret information, it’s imperative for brands to walk-the-talk and ensure that their purpose and actions are in an unambiguous sync. More so when they are talking to an individualistic and expressive generation.

9. With rising social media led narcissism, online ‘friendship’ of millennials doesn’t imply their emotional affinity

Being digital natives millennials consume more information online than offline. Digital symbolism quickly becomes a default and may even become a shorthand for classifying and sifting through tomes of data.

Thus Likes, Emoticons, Emoji, Retweets and even Shares are quickly becoming generic and losing their significance as an indicator of real behavioural or emotional affinity. There is often a wide gap between their online and offline behaviours.

Also, with a glut of ‘friends’ and ‘communities’ out there, ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’ are quickly becoming a transactional give and take- losing their real value.

Brands need to build a carefully crafted relationship with millennials- getting into their inner circle will need time, patience, perseverance and most importantly- genuine and relevant messaging that’s true to brand DNA.

10. Millennials consume content by choice and not coercion- easier to cultivate evangelists than mercenaries

Digital is changing the way content is created, distributed and consumed. True to their streak of independence millennials want autonomy in what they see and consume online as well as offline.

The rising trend of pop-up blockers, content blockers and ad-free websites/channels indicates the inception of a world where media consumption will be increasingly by choice. The boundaries between ads and entertainment are rapidly blurring.   

And while all brands want to attain the holy grail of virality (YouTube Views and Facebook Likes are becoming the topics of PR articles) very few are able to achieve it sustainably.

More importantly, there is no formula for getting a ‘viral’ content. Latching on to hot topics, slapstick humour etc. might work for some brands but may absolutely fall flat for others.

While tech savvy and smart millennial will avail incentive to lend his token ‘Like’ or ‘Share’, genuine evangelism will come only from content that’s truly connected to brand purpose. 


(A BusyBeeBrands perspective)

Authors : Gurudev Prasad and Suharsh Dikshit

January 5, 2017