When it comes to the favorite brands of millennials, most marketers can easily rattle off a list of Gen Y darlings – predictable names like Instagram, Sephora, Shake Shack and reddit. But according to the results of the latest Prophet Brand Relevance Index™ (BRI), we should broaden our perspective. It turns out millennial consumers are pretty much just like the rest of us. The brands that win them over aren’t just the ones with snazzy apps or doing social media stunts.
Simply put, millennials reward brands that make their lives better. These brands aren’t always hip, nor are they targeted specifically at this younger demographic. In fact, millennials are actually more apt to look past trendiness, and fall head over heels for brands that stand for something real, like John Deere and USAA.
USAA ranks as the 223rd most relevant brand (out of 300) on the BRI for a general audience, but it skyrockets to No. 41 among millennials, who value it both for its authenticity and clear sense of purpose. Consumers feel connected to the company because their membership is granted either through their own service or that of a family member. Millennials admire the brand’s commitment to the military community, which is made even better because they never overplay it.
Other brands, such as The Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas, are winning millennials over with higher scores in innovation. Its vow to “Defy the norm” is resonating with younger guests. It ranks as the 54th most relevant brand to millennials. They describe it as modern, in touch and inspired. And for this group, that usually translates to social sharing. The Cosmo was recently ranked as the most Instagrammed hotel of 2016.
So what can brands that are not having as much luck appealing to this key demographic do? Even if they perform very well with other audiences, they’re poised to fade away if they don’t connect with this younger generation, and soon. Here are a few steps they can take:
1. Make Inspiring Consumers Is A Full-Time Job
Marketing and packaging can’t disguise a stale product or idea. Your brand’s offering must be fresh and new. Take a look at Method versus Old Spice, for example.
One could argue that Method’s products, including dishwashing detergent and counter sprays, are inherently boring. But its bold promise – better-for-the-environment products that really work, delivered in beautiful packaging – appeals to one of the most important millennial core values: a purpose I believe in.
In comparison, Old Spice has spent tens of millions in recent years, wooing young men with its ever-more-viral ads. (Who can resist the crazy antics of Isaiah Mustafa, Terry Cruise and Von Miller?) But even though the ads may have earned the brand a cool factor for a while, the company poured all its inspiration into marketing, not its products. And consumers noticed: While the general sample in our study ranks Old Spice at No. 165, among millennials – its primary target – it sinks to No. 276.
2. Expand Your Definition Of Innovation
Tesla, of course, is an automotive brand. But, I suspect the reason it commands so much respect from millennials is due to its revolutionary technology. Younger consumers don’t believe Elon Musk’s brainchild is just better than its electric car competitors; they respect the way it is constantly pushing the entire industry forward.
As a brand, you have to be willing to think differently about your product and experience On the other hand, Dell, which was once considered the most innovative personal computing company, does not enjoy a pioneering reputation among millennials. It let its innovation engine falter, and soon became an also-ran in the fast-paced tech space.
Today’s consumers are quick to adopt the new and discard the old, so companies cannot afford to coast on their laurels. As a brand, you have to be willing to think differently about your product and experience, and constantly challenge yourself to push the status quo.
3. Become Obsessed With Your Customers
Although it is incredibly important to fix major pain points consumers have with your brand experience, the companies that go above and beyond are the ones that will win with millennials.
Look no farther than the airline industry. Virgin America and Southwest infuse the travel experience with fun and irreverence. Southwest’s employees are empowered to “celebrate, commemorate and acknowledge special moments” with customers. And guests are still treated to free snacks and checked bags. Virgin added pop music and mood lighting to their flight experience so passengers would feel like they are at their favorite restaurant or club, rather than in the air.
By comparison, American Airlines, United and Delta offer consumers a more standard flight experience, and are among the worst-performing airlines according to The Wall Street Journal’s influential blog The Middle Seat.
Every brand can take steps like these to increase relevance, and deepen their connections with millennial customers. But more importantly, they’ll appeal to all consumers, including Gen X, Baby Boomers and the fast-rising Gen Z. Brand relevance, it turns out, resonates with people no matter how old they are.