So the big buzz word has been Millennial for a while now. “We are targeting millennials”, “We are widening our assortment to accommodate the millennial”, “We are loved by millennials”. And? What exactly do you want me to do with that information and why exactly is it important for me as a retailer? Or for you as a brand?

Writing this in January 2019, it’s time of year where in corporate we review our business offer, review budgets and meet with most of our key brands to discuss the next few years, and definitely the following year’s, product strategy. It’s with increasing frequency that we hear the millennial buzz word pop up as being part of a brand’s strategy – however it’s become clear to me that so many are using the buzz word to ensure they have it ticked off rather than understanding the real reason why they should or shouldn’t include the millennial as part of their strategy. So for clarity – A Millennial is someone who Pew Research Centre, in March 2018, announced would be a person born between 1981 and 1996. That means all millennials will be between the ages of 23 and 38 in 2019. There are countless books, podcasts, newspaper articles and TED talks on what a millennial is – so I’m not going to delve into that. Some common themes to describe millennial behaviour: they love to be loved, can be seen as self-entitled, tech/digital savvy, communicate with a strong sense of local and global community as they are so ‘connected’, value transparency, rather nomadic and have a strong sense of social justice – whether for the earth or human kind. So how is one supposed to plan one’s brand for this ‘tribe’? How is one supposed to work with millennials? We hear so much about what is needed for the millennial, I’d like to offer a different perspective of the rest of us, who have money to spend and are just as important a brand consumer. I speak as someone who is officially a Gen X girl. Over the past few years I have been fortunate to look after some teams at work who are filled with millennials as well as hire some incredible young talent who would fall into the millennial category. At a team meeting a few months ago we were talking about leadership and individual styles within our larger team. Being the only non-millennial in the meeting, I did lots of reading and research the weeks ahead, so as to ensure I was best prepared for how to approach new topics in a ‘millennialised’ environment, which proved to be invaluable. It dawned on me half way through the meeting to ask the wider team what they thought Gen X was like – what did we value and expect in a work environment? It was a great eye opener and since then there has been a far higher level of understanding and productivity of work. Understanding the ‘Why’ – for all generations. A valuable question I would encourage everyone to be mindful of within your team – at work or socially.

Some Myths about branding and the Millennial

1. “I have to attract the millennial” Actually, do you? Yes – not all brands are meant to attract this age group. Make sure you ask yourself the right question again for your brand. Who am I targeting? What type of person is the sweet spot for my brand? – if it happens to cross over the millennial targeted group – great, but do not force it because to feel you have to.

2.“I have to attract millennials to get influencers and bloggers to increase my social media presence”. No – if anything, the strong movement for the Over Sixties and Fab at Fifty social influencers is growing faster and getting far more interaction than some millennial influencers. They include @fabulousafter40, @iconaccidental, @alternativeaging, and @mywrinklesaremystripes. I’m not saying you do not need millennials, but I am saying there is a whole world out there of influencers and social medial trailblazers who are over 40 who can help promote and connect with your brand. If you have a skincare brand launching a new eye crème – then true engagement with the right audience is hard when you use a 20-something to talk about an eye or neck cream – they have no idea what wrinkly crepey skin is yet. It’s not authentic.

3.“Targeting this millennial group means prosperous sales”. Now, here I strongly disagree. Targeting this group may bring great success – but it also brings with it ‘new money loyalty’. Stay true to your target audience – as a brand – you cannot easily serve the millennial, her mother and her granny! Great if you can but it will be a rarity. This age group is yet to truly settle down, and know her true monthly disposable income and career path, hence brand loyalty may be fast, fabulous and quick until another snappy idea comes along with another well paid influencer steering them off in a different direction. There is something to be said for turning forty and knowing ‘Your bum will always look big in this’. However – once again – stay true to your story – which may, for example be: getting press worthy, instant skin-benefit products to Festival goers who need a quick, skin pick-me-up and fast disposable biodegradable makeup. Then the Millennial market is perfect for your brand.

4.“The retailers will not want my brand if I do not offer something for the millennial”. Not true – pitch your brand, who it’s aimed for and ensure it’s up to date for your market segment. Being out of the millennial bracket does not mean your brand is outdated. It also doesn’t mean you are not digital savvy or do not have a social voice. Align with influencers and social media personalities who share the same wider values as your brand. Widening your brand to try and appeal to too young, or too old a market means you dilute your focus, which will mean you drive away all customers in the end. You may get a quick short term gain, but short term gain is normally long term pain.
5.“My business plan will suit millennials as well as the over-forty customers”. Are you sure? These two markets are very different, one quite transient, portable and not very loyal to a brand, rather loyal to an idea. The other expects longevity, long-term trusted partnerships and a solid background in research, with the ‘Value’ in Value for money meaning two very different things here. The business plan for a brand focusing on millennials has to have a fast-operational turnaround, sustainable packaging and a quick communications strategy and verbiage for this target audience. Distribution methods will differ – with pop-up stores, online and influencer selling being key for true millennial brands. A short life exit strategy is also critical – quick sell-off of company, moving on to the next idea vs a brand where you are planning to grow with your customer.

And finally…

Overall I’m not convinced millennials, at the heart of it, are any different in essence than when I was in my twenties. The world was my oyster, I had a million more opportunities than my parents. I was able to backpack in Europe on my own and connected with many globally. I was a brand tart (kept changing my favourite ‘to-die-for’ products) and was very influenced by pop stars and new TV personalities. I thought we were high tech as we had colour TV and a DVD player. Today, Newspapers make way for Google, Pop stars are YouTube stars and TV personalities are Reality stars. But the essence remains the same. I only started being loyal to beauty brands once I knew where I roughly stood financially, found my ‘style’ and realised my hair was never going to be naturally straight! So – be clear on your brand story – and if your brand is targeted at the millennial, brilliant – go for it and know what needs to be done differently than if it was targeted to an older audience. Know what that customer is looking for and how she likes to be sold to, what events and language she gravitates towards and what is important in her world. If your customer is older – make ready for when the digital tech savvy millennial grows up! In three years’ time the oldest millennials will turn forty. You need to be ready to cater to her needs and speak her evolving language when she is ready for your brand once she is older. So be prepared and plan ahead to ensure you welcome her in a brand language she understands and loves. In esprit April issue we take a look into key steps to building socially conscious brands.

By JUDY DEUCHAR Head of Merchandising/Programming at TVSN

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