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It depends… a millennial take on trends

With numbers that are more than 75 million strong, millennials have officially taken over as the largest living generation. Ranging in age from their late teens to their mid-thirties, the group spans several life stages: young millennials are busy graduating from high school and college and taking on their first jobs, while those on the other end of the spectrum are getting married, buying homes, and building families. With this in mind, it’s clear that the differences within this group — the ways and places they choose to communicate, shop, buy, and have fun — are just as varied as the group’s members themselves.

Curious about just how different one generation can be? Try asking a young millennial about dial-up internet. Or making collect calls. Or about the days when you had to lick the stamp to stick it to the envelope. (Or, for that matter, about the days when we mailed things with stamps and envelopes at all!) You’re likely to get a blank stare in response. On the other hand, ask an “old” millennial (an oxymoron, we know) about her squad goals, and she’s probably going to have to Google it.

So what do brands need to remember about this massive group of millennials when it comes time to connect with them?

  • First, as we know, this generation is BIG. With $200 billion in annual buying power, their increasing impact on the economy cannot be understated — and shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • Second, a one-size-fits-all approach to reaching them, serving them, and earning their loyalty isn’t going to cut it. 

Alliance Data’s 2017 trends report: Now, New, Next looks at the evolving needs of today’s customers, and how brands are reacting and responding accordingly. To dive a little deeper, we talked to a few resident Alliance Data millennials to get their take on trends. What we heard, by and large, was it depends…

We asked: How do millennials feel about using technology, rather than personal interaction, to engage with brands, shop, and get information?

We heard: It depends… but it better be easy, and it better make sense.

Across the board, it was clear that millennials value seamlessness. They expect their journey, whether they’re shopping from their couch or standing at the checkout counter, to be without roadblocks.  

They’re comfortable and confident when it comes to using technology, and they’ll actively seek it out to make their lives easier. But, and this is key, it has to make sense. A flashy touchscreen in the store might draw their attention, but if it’s just an ordinary experience they can get elsewhere (like on their phone), it’ll likely go unused and leave them wondering what the point was. If they can’t learn it, see it, or do it all within their preferred channel, there’s a chance they won’t even engage to begin with.

While many are admittedly “tech-obsessed,” they still recognize, and in some circumstances prefer, the value in a little face-to-face conversation — when they’ve got a complex question, for example, or when a spotty Wi-Fi connection makes getting information on their mobile device tough. In instances like those, even millennials would rather talk to a real person; they’re quick to abandon their shopping efforts if a helpful, knowledgeable store associate isn’t readily available.

We asked: Are millennials content with great products, or are they looking for brands to deliver experiences and education?

We heard: It depends… but mostly, yes.

Millennials are investing more and more in creating the story of their lives. For them, smart is the new sexy; they’re spending time and money on things like travel and experiences, and are actively seeking out opportunities to learn and develop new skills. Simply put: They want more from brands than just “stuff.” Their deepest connections are with those brands whose environments cater to their needs holistically — by offering a great product, obviously, but also interesting experiences and new tools that improve and develop their skill sets. Here’s the rub, though. That great experience? It can’t get in the way of them accomplishing whatever it is they’re trying to get done. So if he just wants to get in, get what he came for, and get going, he’s not going to want to have to work around an unwanted — and, for him, irrelevant — “experience.”  

We asked: How important is it to millennials to know and understand the values behind the brands they shop?

We heard: It depends… values matter, but only if they can relate.

Millennials shop with heart, for sure. They want — and expect — the brands they shop to align with the values and causes they hold near and dear. They really do want brands and experiences that “keep it 100.” (You can look it up. We’ll wait.) But take note: they can spot a fake from a mile away, and they don’t give their loyalty easily. Brands that fail to create genuine connections, illustrate a higher purpose, or demonstrate the essence of their brand risk missing the mark with this group. The brands that will ultimately earn their loyalty know their audience well and deliver the right marketing, from the right people, in the right forums. 

But if the answer to all things millennial is “it depends,” you’re probably wondering how your brand can possibly rise to meet the challenge of meeting their needs. It’s a fair question. The quirks and whims inherent to this generation likely aren’t going to change anytime soon. So the brands that provide options and access — that grant millennials control over their individual path to purchase — are the ones that resonate most with this segment. What does that look like for your brand? It depends on you.  

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