Building a Brand for Millennials

(content originally published on www.brandingmagazine.com, written by OMS's EVP Allison O'Keefe)

We speak to thousands of millennials every year through quantitative surveys and qualitative methodologies. We get into their heads, hearts, hopes, hashtags and homes. We even look into their refrigerators!

Unfortunately, when marketers speak to millennials they tend to focus on the generation and don’t see the nearly 80 million individuals. What’s important to recognize is that they are real people –25 percent of the population. And, clearly, one size does not fit all. But here are some overarching things we’ve learned about millennials.

The Three I’s

The first set of guiding forces are what we call “The Three I’s.” Millennials are famously proud of their individuality. Products, services, and campaigns that allow for an expression and affirmation of individuality definitely have an edge.

Millennials exert more influence over others than previous generations. After all, they’re digital natives who have more access to and ease with social media than any previous generation and as a result yield tremendous influence. In fact, 74 percent of millennials say friends look to them for their opinions on brands and products.

They are ‘information hungry.’ We tend to think of millennials as a short-attention span generation but research shows they’re as information hungry as any other demographic group. Some things marketers should think about in terms of this generation is to provide information at varying levels of depth and to leverage sharing technology.

The Four P’s

In addition to the three Is, we consistently see what we call “The Four P’s.” Millennials are: pro-social, more involved with their parents than any generation ever, are picture people, and passionate.

Pro-social – this generation cares more than their elders about brands having causes, and cares about making a difference. Does that mean they’re all do-gooders? No. But they’ll choose a brand that does good over one that doesn’t. If your brand has a pro-social angle, flaunt it, but never fake it. Nothing is worse than a brand making itself looking pro-social when it’s not.

Parent-friendly – Millennials were famously spoiled. They love their parents back and look to them as influencers on brands surprisingly often. It’s time for people to rethink the expression “my mom’s brand” as a negative. With this group, it often means a brand that “I also like because me and my mom see eye to eye.”

Picture people – This generation has had more visual exposure than any other so naturally Pinterest and Instagram index highly. When communicating with millennials remember they love things expressed visually.

The Importance of Passion

The most important P is Passion. Millennials who were raised getting trophies just for showing up find themselves coming of age in a marketplace in which it’s really hard to find self-definition through careers.

Instead, they’re defining themselves through their passions, from food to binge watching AMC. Millennials are more likely to geek out over their passions than any other generations and are more likely to seek status in their passions.

They’re also more likely to seek our and follow the advice of their “passion people,” network. Our research finds that millennials are likely to say – “I’ve got a movie friend, an art friend, a book friend, a food friend.”

It’s their way of filtering choices. “Collaborative consumption,” using the passions of your tribe to figure out what to buy, what movies to see, etc., is the way they buy. So whether it’s barbecue, Breaking Bad, big data or butterflies, geeking out builds credibility in the passion economy.

What does all this passion mean for marketers? Millennials want brands to express passion. Start with a passionate core when you’re launching a brand because “passion people” will spread the word. Build systems that encourage impassioned participation, whether it’s feedback mechanisms or your Facebook presence, and evolve based on how people respond and how passionate they are about what you tell them.

Millennials present a new challenge to traditional marketers but there is no escaping the fact that their dominant numbers will reshape the consumer landscape for decades to come.