“Cool with a purpose” defines the millennial generation. It also defines the marketing path to winning the millennial generation as customers. The obvious business challenge is trying to figure out how to be cool. Here are the three attributes that define “cool” for your millennial generation customers:
Authenticity is the foundation of being cool. If you are not authentic in terms of your business behaviors or product attributes then you are “not cool.” The millennial generation measures your company’s authenticity based upon what they see posted online by your customers, work associates and stakeholders. Fifty percent of millennials buy a good or service based upon Internet postings of complete strangers. Sixty percent of millennials engage in online rating of products and services. Twenty-eight percent say they would refuse a job based upon a company’s poor environmental practices.
Whether it is on Facebook, Yelp or Instagram this generation will post what they experience. Bad service? A favorite millennial posting is to talk very candidly about how poorly they were served. A failed product? Get ready for an avalanche of Instagram postings and Yelp ratings. If you conduct your business in a manner that is harmful to people or planet then expect a protest-petition posted on sites like Care2. Every business is naked before the millennial generation and will be exposed through their social media postings. Your business authenticity with the millennial generation is determined by your ability to deliver positive experiences for them, people and the planet that they can (and will) post online.
2. Have a purpose
Fifty percent of millennials say they are more likely to buy a brand that supports a cause. Patagonia is a great example on how to successfully engage the millennial generation through purpose. Yvon Chouinard is the founder of Patagonia. He is a passionate climber dedicated to preserving the environment. He and his climbing friends pioneered the concept of “clean climbing” where the rock face is left unaltered. He started his business to sell products that advance the sport of clean climbing. Leaping forward in time Patagonia is recognized by the millennial generation as one of the world’s most authentic brands. Patagonia’ viral advertisement of “don’t buy this jacket” http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-08-28/patagonias-buy-less-plea-spurs-more-buying went viral through strong millennial support because the purpose behind this message aligns with the millennial generation’s strong focus upon reduce, reuse and repurpose. It also increased Patagonia’s sales by approximately thirty-three percent!
Most businesses are not started by a Yvon Chouinard with a way-cool passion for climbing and the environment. But businesses can connect with the millennial generation by successfully defining their business around a purpose that millennials deem to be cool. One example is Numi Tea. They seek to be the largest seller of fair trade teas. Fair trade teas are cool. Numi Tea directs a percentage of sales to charities selected through customer voting via social media. That is cool. Their product packaging draws upon the artistic talents of one of the co-owners. That is cool. Your business goal is to define your authentic path for being cool like Numi Tea.
A word of caution. Offering promotional price coupons tied to getting Facebook “likes” does not make you cool. You will get increased Facebook likes. The millennial generation is still on a tight budget due to school debt and starting their careers during the Great Recession. But buying millennial generation customers by making them like your Facebook page to get a better deal is not cool. It is commercialism.
3. Adopt diversity
The millennial generation is the most diverse generation in U.S. history. If your work force and marketing outreach is just one flavor you will be missing the millennial generation. The path to this generation is to embrace diversity as part of your business culture and values.
Here are three action items your company can use to increase your coolness that will attract millennial generation customers:
1. Create experiences
The millennial generation seeks experiences over stuff. “Supersize me” is not cool. The Apple store is cool. What’s the difference? The millennial generation considers selling cheap or unhealthy stuff at promotional prices to be an ignorant marketing strategy because it does not consider the impacts upon people and the environment. So McDonald’s is not even in this generation’s list of top ten restaurants.
An Apple store is cool because it allows people to play with and experience the technology. It is cool because it enables the millennial generation’s parents to stay current on technology through the Genius Bar and One-On-One training. It is cool because store work associates represent the diversity of the millennial generation.
One easy path for creating an experience that will engage millennials is to help them generate a selfie photo. Fifty-five percent of millennials have posted a selfie online. Create selfie opportunities for the millennial generation and watch the online awareness of your business soar!
2. Videos go viral
This generation grew up with YouTube. They almost all carry a smartphone that can record a video and then seamlessly post it across social media. Video is their coolest messaging path. Every business must have a strategy for producing and posting videos because 84% of millennials report that content on a company’s website has at least some influence on what they buy. Chipotle is a best in class example. Their videos have gone viral with millions of views. They don’t show burritos. They use animated video with engaging music to tell a cool story around the sustainable sourcing of foods and what this means to farmers, animals and the environment. For a generation raised on Toy Story this series of videos by Chipotle is very cool.
3. Mobile is cool
Eighty percent of millennials own a smartphone. One in five millennials are mobile-only internet users. Millennials are 262 percent more likely than the average shopper to be influenced by a smart-phone app. While their parents might have been the Pepsi generation the millennial generation is the mobile app generation.
The millennial generation loves mobile apps. Their three favorite apps are weather, games and social networking. The top three websites accessed from a smartphone by millennials are Google, Facebook and Yahoo. Their top in-store shopping activities using their smartphones are: price comparisons, taking a picture, reading product reviews and finding digital coupons. Sixty-three percent of millennials post Facebook comments while shopping. To be cool your business must have a mobile strategy for engaging millennials. You must have your business and product information formatted for favorable viewing on a smartphone screen. Having content that is easy to read and share via a smartphone is cool and the path to winning millennials as cusotmers.
Millennials are highly price sensitive. They started their careers during the Great Recession. Many carry college debt burdens. You can attract and win millennial generation customers through price promotions. But you cannot keep them as customers on price alone. This generation was born into our national obesity and diabetes crisis. They were born into climate change. They embrace diversity in people and experiences. This generation is very purpose-aware and will punish companies that violate their sense of purpose and values.
This generation was born into the mobile and social media revolution. From pre-school through college they were fostered to collaborate. Technology now enables their collaboration in real time inside your business. What their network says about your business and products will define if you are cool and if they will shop with you.
Becoming cool with a purpose is the path to winning the millennial generation as customers. Chipotle gets it. McDonalds’ is still searching for their secret sauce. Apple gets it. Microsoft is trying. Tesla is definitely cool with a purpose but is way too expensive. They are planning product launches to align with the millennial generation’s search for businesses and products that align value with values. Your business must have this strategy too because in 2017 the millennial generation will replace the boomer generation as having the largest economic buying power in the United States.
About the author
Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017