Millennials have a profound relationship to brands according to a new report (‘8095’) released last week by the world’s largest PR firm, Edelman. It’s almost as important as religion or ethnicity in their lives. But while this research shows how important brands are to Millennials, does the same apply to brands? Do they frame their responsibilities to their customers in equally lofty terms? Right now the marketing world is trying to make sense of their new relationship with customers that are using social media to dialogue with them and share the stewardship of brands. Understandably many companies are reluctant to share their power so readily. So let’s examine what brands could gain or learn by offering Millennials the same devotion.
Firstly, consumer devotion is both a boon and a responsibility for a brand. Deep bonds are hard won and easily lost. Feelings of betrayal makes the cost of winning back an old customer astronomical when compared to keeping an existing one. So brands that ignore or disregard Millennials do so at their peril.
Secondly, despite many half-hearted or piecemeal CSR efforts, Millennials believe brands actually stand for their core values they claim to represent. So brands must consistently deliver on these value propositions in a transparent and accountable way. The contrast between BP’s marketing and their handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a powerful example of a costly breach of trust.
Thirdly, Millennials expect CEOs to be evangelists for these value propositions. CEOs can no longer content themselves to be silent architects sliding profit sheets under the boardroom door. They need to actively represent the brand in both the on and offline worlds, as we see with the likes of Richard Branson (Virgin), Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo) and Tony Hsieh (Zappos).
Fourthly, as representatives of borderline religions, employees must also demonstrate adherence to the core values of the brand. This applies to everyone in their supply chain to customer service to the language that is used in company tweets. Without that alignment of purpose and consistency, employees will expose their brands to be empty promises undeserving of Millennial devotion.
Finally, like any religion there is a fundamental element of faith, a predisposition to the positive, and an assumption that those in charge have the best interests of everyone at heart. The global economic meltdown that began 2008 was an alarming wake-up call for Millennials. The unbridled self-interest of power brokers on Wall Street and within corporate America came at an extreme cost to everyone including Millennials. As a result Millennials are well-schooled in the art of corporate deception and will expect higher standards of behavior or simply worship somewhere else.
The energy, positivity and optimism of Millennials is something corporate America should not squander. It has the power to dramatically change our world for the better. The Millennial generation has little patience for destructive corporate self-interest. Millennials look to brands as partners with a shared responsibility in building their future. Brands that embrace this opportunity will have their praises sung in rapturous Millennial tones. Those that don’t will find Millennials lining up to read them their last rights.
Do you think brands owe their customers the same degree of devotion? Or are Millennials simply naive?