April 27, 2017

Let's Get Personal

There are approximately 75.4 million millennials in the world, that makes up 24% of the population, so naturally everyone wants to figure out how to tap into our market share. Well, sorry to break it to you, but we like things personalized. No, not because we’re spoiled, but because we value individuality. We don’t like to be part of a “target market” and consequently traditional advertising doesn’t bode well with us. Millennials appreciate knowing the stories of the products we purchase and the companies behind them, rather than being convinced to buy a product. Patagonia, Trader Joe’s and In-N-Out Burger are experts in this area, not to mention some of my favorite brands. Through a strong presence of authentic branding, companies can easily win over the affection of Millennials.


Let’s start with some statistics. (Sorry, sorry!) A 2015 Nielsen survey shows that 72% of millennials want companies to make it easier to “do our part” related to social and environmental issues. Millennials like to consider ourselves “change-makers” not only through our own work, but also through the brands and products we affiliate with. A complementary Nielsen survey shows that 55% are willing to pay more for products that have positive impacts. 

But be careful not to do what Pepsi did, using a subject matter millennials are invested in and turning it into something trivial that can be solved with a soda. As Eric Thomas, Senior Partner at Saga Marketing, concludes, “If you are going to market to millennials, remember that you’re going into an open forum. This is not a one-way conversation. This generation is especially brutal when it comes to being patronized or talked down to.” To appeal to the millennial audience, it is vital to connect to our community-driven passions in a culturally-aware fashion. And Patagonia does just that.


The environmentally friendly brand does the opposite of what retail brands typically do; it encourages customers to not buy its products, or to buy a used one. Patagonia has fully committed to its company value of environmental sustainability through its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, which has lasted for several years. Patagonia makes up for the number of sales through higher prices and longer-lasting products. (Although, ironically, more people buy Patagonia fleeces now than ever before.) In addition to encouraging shoppers not to be wasteful, Patagonia uses recycled, fair trade and organic materials and donates a portion of its profits to environmental causes. The company’s full dedication to its granola lifestyle has lead to passionate conversations and shared stories amongst customers; in other words, consumer-generated content or free advertising.


Trader Joe’s attracts the same millennial crowd. Full disclosure, I am a Trader Joe’s fiend. The grocery store offers high quality products, 80% of which are in-house, for low prices. Sounds like every advertisement ever, I know. But there’s an angle. Trader Joe’s has cheap-priced wine. (Wine Wednesday, anyone?) By encouraging shoppers to bring your own bags (“BYOB”) with weekly raffles, the store appeals to the environmentally friendly crowd of millennials that shop at Patagonia. However, the real difference is its weekly comical and friendly publication the “Fearless Flyer” that tells the stories behind its featured products. The aspect of storytelling, or content sharing, is what makes Trader Joe’s unique in comparison to other grocery store brands.


Last, but not least, In-N-Out Burger has captivated a cult-like following of millennials without any paid advertising. In-N-Out has even captured the hearts of vegetarians, including myself, with their grilled cheese, fries and shakes. Similar to Trader Joe’s, the burger joint offers high quality products for low prices. Again, so what? Similar to Patagonia, In-N-Out Burger fully commits to its company value of fresh products by only opening stores within a day’s driving distance from one of its vendors. Not a big deal if you’re on the West Coast. But most significantly, the burger company supports local community activities. An estimated 79% of millennials define success as “doing what you are passionate about.” A successful company does what its passionate about for the greater good of the community. This makes it vital for brands to connect to the passions of their millennial audience members to stimulate word-of-mouth advertising. A+ for In-N-Out Burger.


These three companies successfully offer high quality products, fully commit to their company values and share the story behind their brand with hardly any paid advertising. What more could a millennial want?


There is one last thing that sets these brands apart in our eyes—the employees. No, not because of the Hawaiian shirts or free hats. (Although who doesn’t appreciate those things?) Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet, finds a particular interest in the human factors of businesses. According to Davis, “Your employees are the most effective messengers of your brand promise…the customer experience and employee experience will succeed together and fail together.” He’s so right. The workforce behind Patagonia, Trader Joe’s and In-N-Out Burger all truly believe in the companies they work for. They are the ones who start the chain of passionate conversations about the brand with the customers.


So, if you really want to market to millennials, start by making moves that convince your millennial-age employees to believe in your company. Work from the inside out to make your message actually personal.


Photo of Lyn

Lyn Fonzi, Pace Setter at Fifth Letter, is constantly breaking in new running shoes and new ideas. She received her Master’s degree in Interactive Media and specializes in web design. Lyn can be found around downtown Winston–Salem running with her two dogs.