Millennials treat brands differently, says Collen Ryan.
Colleen Ryan spent a month studying Millennials in the wild. And while some things never change, like love and marriage, money and career, one thing that has changed from previous generations is their relationship with brands.
Millennials are using brands to reflect back an idealised version of their own lifestyle. They look to brands for a lifestyle mission statement rather than a bundle of brand image statements.
Millennials are a busy generation. Following them for a month as part of The Listening Project kept us out late at night, shamed us when we saw how much they post, blog and upload, and had us pondering what the differences are between this and previous generations.
When they talk about brands the language is about usefulness. Brands are what they do, but in this case it’s a fairly literal take on this idea. They are less impressed by the mystique of brands and more by how they make life work more effectively and allow them to get stuff done.
Functionality of the brand is allimportant. Millennials are quite frugal; they’re looking to invest in purchases that are multi-use, able to integrate into their lifestyle, highly durable and of quality and, most importantly, will support them living their lives in some way.
Brands that pre-date Millennials’ adult life still resonate with them, but for changing reasons. When they talk about Apple, for example, it’s less about style and innovation and more about how the products integrate seamlessly into their lives to support them in doing what they want do. Uber has no brand identity value, yet they love it for what it does, not what it says about them as a user.
It’s the same story with M.A.C. Our Millennials talked about the functionality of the products, and as proof they told us it’s the makeup that professionals use, known for all day staying power. Despite it being a fashion-driven category, they love it because it’s makeup that actually does what it says on the tin.
MIRRORS NOT BADGES
The age of the selfie seems to be coupled with brands having flipped from badges to mirrors. Earlier generations wore, ate, drank and drove their brands with pride because they told people who you were. The brand’s image and style gave people a cloak of personality and identity and a way of differentiating themselves from the masses while aligning themselves to the ‘right’ crowd. The choice of brands made a statement about what you aspired to be, even if you hadn’t quite got there yet, or maybe never would.
What we are seeing with Millennials is quite different. They are using brands to reflect back an idealised version of their own lifestyle. They look to brands for a lifestyle mission statement rather than a bundle of brand image statements. The Millennials in The Listening Project quoted Nike’s “If you have a body you are an athlete” and connected that to Lululemon and Nike fitness classes as a reflection of their similar though less ambitious lifestyle choices.
A badge brand requires a shared understanding of the brand’s personality. It functions as a visible manifestation to others of the user’s personality. Whereas mirror brands look back at us and confirm how we feel and how we would like life to be. Millennials don’t have the authority structures that previous generations had to tell them how to behave. They seek affirmation from brands instead and look to brands to tell them how to live.
The difference between a badge and a mirror isn’t a subtle nuance. It changes not just how brands communicate, but also how we measure the effectiveness of communications. It’s less about needs and more about emotional connection, less about aspiration and more about affirmation, less about brand statement and more about brand purpose, and less about personality and more about promise.
PICK AND MIX
When you let go of brands as badges, you let go of the notion of the matching brand portfolio whereby buyers of a brand would also be buyers of other brands with the same personality traits. By contrast, the pick and mix of brands we are seeing among our group of Millennials includes rags to riches combinations of luxury handbags and Warehouse leggings, top of the range phones and Freeview TV.
The polarity paradox we see across many markets is equally true of Millennials and especially as it relates to brands. They are happy to splash out and equally happy to make do. They are realists about life and what the future holds and that is reflected in their choices and willingness to compromise.
TRUST ME, I’M YOUR FRIEND
No comment about Millennials’ relationships with brands is complete without acknowledging the role that social media plays. The enforced transparency of brands is a new phenomena and who knows how it might have affected previous generation’s relationship with brands.
Millennials are a savvy bunch, they get marketing and are happy to participate, but they won’t be messed with. Although ownership of a brand’s reputation has shifted to a no-man’s land somewhere between the brand owner and their audience, our Millennials were not looking to exercise their power. There is a tacit sense of fairness, but of course that works both ways.
Our Millennials clearly felt passionately about authenticity and transparency of brands, because if you look to brands to tell you how to live, when they fail to deliver their promise or, worse, if they cheat on their promise, what is reflected back in the mirror is not a pretty sight.