What do Millennials and Gen-Zers Desire in Brands?

Full disclosure: this piece was written by a bona fide Millennial.

And, hopefully, that’s what you expected. A blog post about the Millennial mind penned by, say, a Boomer, would largely defeat the purpose of the exercise (although there’s no shortage of thinkpieces bemoaning the wretched state of Kids These Days). For the most part, young people are best at understanding other young people—that’s the nature of generational cohorts.

So. The youths grok the youths. Okay. Now apply that logic to your brand strategy: if you want to market something to young people, you should be soliciting ideas from other young people.

But here’s the thing: if you’re only marketing to Millennials, you’re still missing half your audience.

It’s true that, with 92 million Millennials in the United States, there are more of them than there are members of any other demographic. But theirs is a distinct cohort from Gen-Z (also called Net Gen), the 65 million Americans born between 1996 and 2010—the oldest of whom are now entering the workforce.

Millennials aren’t as young as they used to be, either: the oldest are approaching 40 years old, while the youngest Gen-Zers are only 9. Suffice it to say, there’s a substantial gulf between the priorities of a fourth grader and someone old enough to be the parent of a fourth grader. That difference should inform any marketing strategy from the get-go.

But while a 9-year-old may not have a lot of purchasing power, a 21-year-old certainly does, and the rest aren’t far behind. Gen-Z’s spending power is currently valued at $44 billion; by 2020, Gen-Z will represent 40% of all consumers in the U.S.

So how do you appeal to such a broad set of demographics? What do young people—of all ages—want in brands?

In 2018, Morning Consult conducted a comprehensive study of what millennials expect from their brands. Vision Critical performed a similar study with Gen-Z. In broad strokes, here’s where these generations’ priorities overlap:

They’re broke. With lower incomes and employment than their predecessors, Millennials and Gen-Zers have less money to spend. That means they place a higher priority on the reliability and longevity of what they do buy.

They value values. It’s not enough for Millennials and Gen-Zers to just spend money wisely—they also want to spend it ethnically. Only 25% of Millennials said they would buy goods from companies whose labor practices they don’t support; 89% of Gen-Zers prefer to buy from companies who support social and environmental issues over companies that don’t.

Tech rules. As digital natives, Millennials and Gen-Zers spend most of their time—and money—online. YouTube, Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Sony topped Morning Consult’s list of brands most beloved by 18-29-year-olds. 34% of people between 18-35 reported that when a brand uses social media, they like that brand more; this number was 16% for people 36 years old and older.

They like perks. In a study of 200 18-to-29 year olds, 83% of respondents showed greater loyalty to brands that provide rewards and surprise—and 82% are willing to spend those rewards on special offers delivered with them.

Some of this is a no-brainer: consumers have wanted more bang for their buck since time immemorial. They expect a high level of customer service, and will develop loyalties to brands who consistently meet their expectations of quality and reliability.

But where technology facilitates global communication, so does it facilitate a feeling of global responsibility. Millennials and Gen-Zers don’t exist in isolation; they’re deeply attuned to their impact on others, and integrate that sense of accountability into every aspect of their lives. They do their research. They are vocal in their repudiation of brands who don’t uphold their standards. It’s not enough to just buy a product that was built well and will last a long time—young people want to feel good about the ethics of their choice.

And they want to be asked what they care about.

Statistics and trends are valuable tools for seeing the big picture, but they’re impersonal by design. Interacting directly with your consumers, on the other hand, can provide valuable insights about why, and how, they’re motivated to make one purchase versus another. And, even better: you can ask them to help you create the brand they want to see in the world, to have a personal stake in shaping the products and services they care about.

MindSumo was founded on that precept: young people should be their own innovators, marketers, and data collectors. Anything else is inauthentic—and Millennials and Gen-Zers can detect a phony from space. If you want to develop a product they love, ask them to get involved. If you want to know how you can make your existing product better, ask them to get involved. And if you want to know what would motivate them to buy your product (or run into the arms of your competition)—yep, you’ve got it: ask them to get involved.

There’s really nothing more to it than that. No magical formula. Ask, and ye shall receive. Because the only thing better than collaboration is avocado toast.

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