Millennials' Brand Preferences Shift Due to Household Structure

This group only cares about brands in categories where there is a significant cost to getting it wrong.

While use of technology and social media among Millennials is legendary (they've never known a time that wasn't digital), new Hartman Group research finds that their relationships with brands is less definitive and, thus, fertile ground for creating brand affinity.

No longer can Millennials be viewed as young kids playing video games or texting friends between classes. Millennials are young adults, many firmly entrenched on career and family pathways. It is little wonder then that this emerging generation garners so much attention and is clearly in every marketer's bullseye. Here, a little understanding on their culture can go a long way towards influencing the path to purchase for your products and brands.

Historically, marketers and brand managers are faced with the challenge on how to reach teens. Conventional wisdom has long held that tomorrow's shopping and purchase behaviors are forged in the early, formative years of consumerdom. After all, young shoppers are the beacon of hope for companies and brands in tomorrow's consumer marketplace. Thus, we can begin to understand why the constant fascination with teens among marketers and why the preoccupation in understanding Millennials.

By 2015, almost half of the world's population will be under the age of 25. Raised in a digital age, they wield a tremendous amount of influence through their use of technology and digital media. They have the power to set trends, are open to trying new products, services, retailers and brands. As we all well know, they then share their experiences with others in their social (and global) universe. Since Millennials are no longer just teens (in 2011, two-thirds of Millennials are over the age of 21, the oldest now entering their 30s) and encompass numerous lifestages (high school, college, post-college, beginning their own families, etc.), as well as rites of passage, how do you market to the Millennials? And it is likely this group will be consuming at levels relatively higher than their predecessors. And, in a future where it is likely that we will all be buying more stuff, Millennials will be leading the way. What does this mean for brands?

Millennials identify with brands, but not in the same manner as their elder Boomer cohorts consume and relate to brands. In our Culture of Millennials research, we found Millennials, when leaving home, begin to shift their brand preferences away from the brands they grew up with. Close to a third (29%) of Millennnials shift back toward their parents' brands after having children. One out of five Millennials switch almost entirely to different brands when they move out on their own.

We also found that Millennials have a different-less definitive-relationship with brands and products. As a whole, Millennials only care about brands in categories where there is a significant cost to getting it wrong (e.g., cars, computers) and few claim to be interested in popular fashion brands-or fashion brands in general.

Among Millennials who claim to want brand relationships, they are most interested in categories that contribute to their own image: fresh foods, personal care products, local groceries, and electronics. Most Millennials who don't want brand relationships (60%) haven't thought about why.

This isn't to say that Millennials are radically different from other generations. There are more similarities than differences between Millennials and other generations. Many of their attitudes and behaviors are reflections of broader culture. Households with children, whatever the age, face the same challenges. As with trying to stereotype any large diverse cohort (such as Baby Boomers), many of the stereotypical characteristics of Millennials don't apply at all. We find it more fruitful to approach this generation in the same way one would the population at large in order to identify clearly those places where Millennials do actually diverge. There primary ways in which this generation diverges from its predecessors are:

  • They have a greater self-awareness and self-focus
  • They have a heightened interest in travel (many are already as well-traveled as their parents)
  • They are comfortable with technology in a way that reflects its importance in their daily lives

Creating a relationship between your brands and Millennial consumers requires due diligence with regards to transparency. Be true to who you are. Be honest about your products. This means a word of caution with regard to social media: Millennials can easily spot "cluelessness" among those dabbling in social media marketing.

Connecting with Millennials is less about building loyalty and more about having fun. Don't take yourself too seriously. Millennials will relate and bond with brands they deem are less serious and dowdy and possess a great deal of integrity

For more about Hartman Group's Culture of Millennials report click here.

Laurie Demeritt is President and COO of the Hartman Group.

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