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Adapting to change: Secrets of millennial branding

by Casey Schmidt  |  October 14, 2020

10 min. read
Three young people looking at a computer.

Marketing to a particular demographic can be like throwing darts at a moving target. Especially as the group ages, their interests and spending habits change.

Millennials are a prime example of this, representing an enigmatic group for brands to focus on. As a generation, they have idiosyncrasies you can’t afford to ignore, especially when creating important marketing campaigns.

A group of young people smiling at a camera.

Fortunately, even though millennials are a diverse group, it’s still possible to target them. This article will walk you through some of the most important trends and strategies to help your millennial branding succeed.

Before we go any further: Relevant millennial stats and trends

Instead of jumping right into how to market to millennials, it’s necessary to identify the important statistics and trends surrounding the demographic in question.

This information serves as the key to truly reaching our audience, and gives us the foundation on which to structure any marketing campaigns aimed at them.

Don’t forget that these traits aren’t permanent – expect them to evolve as the group we’re focusing on continues to age.

Why focus on millennials?

Is there some specific reason to target millennials in our branding efforts?

According to many of the recent data, yes. It seems there are some pretty good reasons to win millennials over.

For one, they make up approximately 50% of the American workforce. That number is expected to climb to upwards of 75% within the next five years.

An infographic about millennials in the workforce.

It becomes clear that overlooking this demographic now will cost you down the line.

Millennial behavioral trends and why they matter to you

Millennials expect to create a better future, using the collaborative power of digital technology.” –
Mal Fletcher

We often believe the only important behavioral trends of a demographic involve buying and spending habits, but that’s just not the case.

A smartphone using digital technology.

In fact, something that might be more telling is the way in which millennials communicate. This extends beyond the language they use or things they discuss, like communication technology.

If millennials prefer less phone interaction (which they do), then wouldn’t it make sense to move away from that method?

It’s no surprise that as the millennial generation makes up more of their customer base, companies are finding better success using chatbots than before.

An infographic about chatbots.

With these trends and statistics in mind, here are five tips that will change the way you market to millennials for years to come.

5 tips to change your millennial branding efforts forever

Use these five dynamic methods to craft a marketing campaign that connects with millennials.

1. Re-think everything you think you know about trust

Don’t lie to anyone, but particularly don’t lie to millennials. They just know. They can smell it. Be yourself” – John Green

Brands have found themselves running into a brick wall lately trying to gain the trust of the millennial demographics. No matter what new efforts they undertake, there seems to be a disconnect.

An infographic about business ethics.

The reason for this is simple and provides us with a comprehensive blueprint for millennial branding efforts: peers have the power.

This can act as a double-edged sword for brands. On the one hand, if they successfully win over a millennial or two, they can expect recommendations to spread quickly in their favor.

On the other hand, if a millennial distrusts them, that sentiment will spread. Peers simply have the power.

To take control of this fact, attempt to positively influence whenever possible. Look to expand your outreach where millennials communicate most. Social media plays a big part in this method.

2. Pandering will get you nowhere

When it comes to millennial branding, it’s easy to mistake connection with pandering.

No demographic enjoys being tricked or taken advantage of. When your branding efforts are hollow and include buzzwords or trends to reach a certain group, they will be turned off.

A lightbulb with the word 'honesty' inside.

Instead of touching on stereotypes about millennials in your content, think of what they want as people – their needs and desires. Be helpful rather than condescending. This is accomplished through interesting, relevant content and information.

Millennials are especially drawn to brands they connect with and believe in. Give them content they can enjoy without feeling they’re being sold to or scolded.

3. Millennials want to get involved, so let them

More than other groups, millennials love to contribute. This extends to the brands they follow.

So, what are some ways to help them feel like they’re involved with a brand? A sterile, cookie-cutter survey won’t cut it with millennials. Consider the following methods instead:

  • Get creative with contests. Contests can fuel brand experience and are a great way to have your customers feel a part of the overall brand. Consider giving customers a chance to design a new logo or come up with a slogan so they can show off their creative side.


An infographic about brand contests.


  • Let it show that feedback has an impact. What better way to make customers feel involved with your brand by letting their feedback shine through in your future decisions? If a customer notices his or her feedback changes something about a marketing campaign, they’ll be excited moving forward with your brand.

4. Always be true, always be see-through

It’s no surprise that one of the most important things for millennials when it comes to brands is their honesty. In fact, brands who let their millennial customers down in this regard have pretty much no chance of restoring the relationship.

Brand transparency should be at the forefront of all your millennial branding efforts. From the beginning of each new project, discuss how to stay truthful from start to finish.

Here are some key ways to uphold transparency in your branding efforts:

  • Admit to your mistakes early and always. When it comes to millennials, the worst thing you can do with a mistake is cover it up. There will be times when you blunder – just don’t make it worse by failing to come clean.
  • Don’t be sneaky – white lies are just lies. It should almost be a golden rule, because it never fails to hold up: your customers will sense when you’re being untruthful, even if you’re dealing in half-truths. It’s not really worth the trouble of losing customers, so be honest completely.
  • Be open and available to customers. Finally, show yourself as much as possible to customers. Let them have your ear and bend to their whims. The more you do, the better your relationship will be.

5. Focus on the right benefits

Remember that preferences change from one demographic to the next. Millennials have quirks that other generations don’t. Stay vigilant to know which benefits will please them most.

For example, health benefits are key when it comes to different food purchases, giving brands an opening to adjust their marketing around the nutrition of their product.

Now, this is just one example and doesn’t apply to all brands, but use it as a standard in which to follow. Chances are you’re missing something – find it and use it.

5 examples of brands who set the standard for millennial branding

Use the following examples as a way to understand what works when targeting specific demographics in marketing campaigns.

1. Netflix


A person watching Netflix on TV.

Netflix is an online entertainment streaming service which delivers media instantly to customer’s television and computers.

What they did: Netflix is like a chameleon. At first, Netflix watched for basic trends and made changes from there, going from a DVD-by-mail outfit to a streaming service. However, they didn’t rest on their laurels once they reached success. Instead, they made their service sync with things like social media in order to give personalization options and share them with friends.

Why it worked for millennials: First and foremost, millennials prefer convenience over other benefits, so delivering a movie directly to their television set was a great start. What also won them over, though, was the engagement possibilities from Netflix on social media, where millennials could watch what their peers liked and vice-versa.

2. Uber


A smartphone with Uber showing.

Uber is a service that allows users to order rides using a smartphone app.

What they did: Uber sought out the issues surrounding millennials and addressed them, both in their marketing and in their service. The idea that you need a car to get from point A to B is now a completely thing of the past. And even taxis – once the default alternative – are being replaced by the smartphone ordering capabilities of Uber.

Why it worked for millennials: In this case too, we see that millennials prefer convenience over other benefits. They seem to not enjoy the idea of automobile ownership as much as other generations, which leads them to the ride-sharing convenience of Uber. Uber has also taken to social media in order to connect better with their users.

3. GoPro


A GoPro camera in the wilderness.

GoPro makes cameras that allow users to film their active, physically-demanding adventures with the world.

What they did: Created campaigns centered around user content – showing off the creativity and experiences of the people who bought and used their products. Whereas some brands focus on their own creations, GoPro let their customers do the creating, and it paid off bigtime.

Why it worked for millennials: As we know, engagement with brands is something that drives brand loyalty for this demographic. GoPro is all about engagement, basically encouraging all users of its products to share their experiences through videos they created for all to see.

4. Chipotle


A Chipotle advertisement.

Chipotle is a restaurant chain striving to be different for the sake of its customers.

What they did: Chipotle researched the important topics surrounding food when it came to millennials, resulting in marketing campaigns highlighting things like organic farming and sustainable operations.

Why it worked for millennials: One of the trends I discussed earlier was how important certain benefits are for millennials over others. They usually prefer brands to be environmentally-cautious and focused on good health. Chipotle’s marketing efforts fed into these desires.

5. Starbucks


A young woman drinking Starbucks coffee.

Starbucks is a coffee company that focuses on experiences and restaurant layout.

What they did: It has been a comprehensive effort from Starbucks to succeed in millennial branding. They’ve worked on everything from many different angles, including breaking through in the digital realm, personalizing experiences and offering rewards.

Why it worked for millennials: Due to the emphasis Starbucks placed on engagement, they were able to win the hearts and minds of the millennial demographic. They mastered the art of social media, fitting in without being too ‘corporate’ or intrusive. They also created rewards systems that customers loved.

Last but not least: The future

As you can see, there are some concrete things to work toward in order to be successful in your millennial branding efforts. But remember, these too will change.

To succeed long-term, you’ll need to keep your research current, re-evaluate methods and follow relevant trends.

Millennials will continue to age, changing their desires and needs. Make sure you have a finger on the pulse of these changes.

Closing thoughts

Millennials now make up a very large portion of the population. As other marketers scramble to pander to this age group, take a step back and focus on an effective gameplan.

We know that everyone, no matter the age, has things they worry about, care about and want taken care of. We know they have preferences in the way they’re talked to and contacted.

With enough research and thoughtful strategizing, you can be in-tune with your audience without being intrusive or disruptive.

Check out our branding guide for more tips on striking that balance.