This originally appeared in MediaPost on April 17, 2019.
Every day, a new bell tolls for something millennials doomed into obsolescence. Industries and brands point fingers at the generation for “killing” things like cable, diamonds, golf, and casual dining.
“Millennial,” typically used to classify someone born between 1981 and 1996, has become a catchall phrase to describe lazy and selfish tendencies — and credit the decline of older ways of thinking to youthful folly. But the negative media discourse surrounding millennials is inherently flawed.
Blaming Millennials Benefits Nobody
Blaming whole swaths of consumers for changing trends can backfire. Millennials are the bulk of the workforce; they’re an economic power to be reckoned with. In fact, the World Data Lab predicts that this generation will soon have more spending power than any other group.
What are brands to do when sales are dropping and all signs point to millennials as the culprits? They must change with them, not against them. Follow these steps to handling the problem openly — which will help you build your millennial customer base, rather than alienate it.
Highlight your origin story. Millennials want to pull back the corporate curtain to understand the “why” behind a brand, and Stackla found that 86% of consumers consider authenticity an important factor in their purchasing decisions.
Nonalcoholic spirit brand Seedlip offers a great example. Its legacy page takes readers on a historical journey, the story of how early physicians would distill herbal remedies using copper stills. Today, Seedlip honors this ancient practice, using the same processes to create nonalcoholic beverages. It’s a memorable tale with no fluff — just an authentic look at why the brand exists.
Grow with changing consumer preferences. Make sure you’re not sending outdated signals. Häagen-Dazs was long accustomed to pushing sophisticated messaging around luxury and indulgence, but this didn’t appeal to younger audiences. The treats became synonymous with mothers and grandmothers, not young consumers who craved full-fat, smaller-portioned treats.
So Häagen-Dazs pivoted the crux of the conversation with a rebrand. Responding to millennials’ desires for healthier dessert options with meaning, it changed the brand focus with its “Everyday Made Extraordinary” campaign, tapping into a bevy of modern designers and musicians, including Pharrell Williams. As a result, Häagen-Dazs sales increased by as much as 50% in some markets, all because the brand shifted with consumers.
Embrace your position within subcultures. Vans suffered a serious identity crisis in the early 2000s. It filed for bankruptcy in the 1980s, but rather than try to duplicate commonplace ’90s styles as a comeback, the brand went back to its initial styles and audiences with slight product refreshes. This appealed to a similar subculture in a new generation.
This, along with the help of contemporary messaging platforms and influencers, built up the brand’s social cred and relevance. Now, Vans is a global powerhouse because it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t.
Millennials have become convenient scapegoats, but strategic brands don’t play the blame game. Instead of alienating a powerful economic group, use these tips to embrace change and evolve alongside your consumers.