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Millennials Don’t Trust Most Brands, But Here’s How to Get Them to Listen

The growing challenge for retailers is cutting through the noise to connect with customers in meaningful ways.

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BY Melissa Thompson - 28 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Much has been made of Millennial purchasing power, and with good reason. Defined as children born between 1980 and mid-2000s, there are more Millennials than Baby Boomers. That's 81 million consumers; the first generation to grow up in the digital age. The growing challenge for retailers is in cutting through the noise to connect with their customers in meaningful ways.

In some ways, Millennials are just like every other consumer. They want good value for their money, excellent customer service, and a brand they feel good about. The web makes it impossible for brands to abuse trust, as they have done in the past. (Imagine telling customers doctors approve cigarettes today.)

Young consumers are understandably cynical, and old methods simply don't get their attention. It's up to retailers to go beyond traditional advertising and create a seamless, multi-channel customer experience, online, offline, mobile, and in-store.

Here's how to win Millennial attention and brand loyalty.

1. Advocate for a cause

The 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study found that Millennials are heavily influenced by brands they perceive as socially responsible. More than 90 percent said they would switch to a different brand if associated with a cause.

Social responsibility is more important to Millennials than any generation before, possibly because social media fosters increased awareness of global issues. They care about others and want to spend their money with brands who share their concerns.

2. Offer a multi-channel experience

Millennials jump back and forth between traditional retail, web browsing, and social media to research products and make buying decisions. Even while shopping in store, Millennials are connected, doing things like looking up reviews, using the store's app to research and find deals, and sending pictures to friends for outfit opinions.

The 2016 Global Powers of Retailing report concluded the data they collected "reinforces the reality that retailers are underestimating -- or at least under-delivering on -- the consumer's evolving desire and ability to incorporate digital into their in-store shopping journeys."

3. Give them a voice

Young consumers like to have input. Ask their opinion when developing new products. They value co-creating products with brands they engage with. One great example is Mountain Dew, a brand that challenges followers to register their vote by dyeing their hair or taking a bath with their favorite product. Recently, Oreo joined the flavor-creation fray, offering $500K for the winning flavor.

4. Cross-merchandise to boost impulse buys

Retail stores can increase customer spend by displaying products from different categories together. That's why you'll see single-serve snacks at eye-level on top of a small drink cooler, or cases of beer next to hot dogs during football season. This works for any customer, but especially with snack-loving Millennials.

According to Nathan Linder, founder of IDW Global, "Cross merchandising fast moving consumer products is a powerful way for retailers to drive increased sales, profitability and enhanced consumer experience. Offering today's busy consumers with convenient meal, snack, or refreshment solutions is critical. Not only does cross merchandising drive increased sales, but it also provides convenience and added value to the consumer."

5. Offer customization

Millennials like personalization. Nike tapped into the trend in 2015 with PhotoID, an Instagram campaign that allows users to upload their favorite photos and design a shoe based on the colors in the photo. Coca-Cola brought back its popular "Share an ICE COLD Coke" name campaign for the summer and added last names to the mix, and now you can even order bottles with a personalized name.

6. Make everything visual

The social channels most popular with Millennials are visual. They are the first generation to grow up with smart phones, which means web-connected cameras and videos in their hands at all times. Half of them think their lives would make a good movie. If your customers love to post and share pictures and video, it makes sense to invest in visual impact in your branding.

It's not a one-way conversation for brands anymore. Millennials are citizens of the world, and they care deeply about what's going on around them. And the same web that gives them access to cultures and ideologies unreachable on a personal scale by their parents, also gives them a huge range of possibilities. Every time a brand raises the bar on personalized service or new marketing techniques, we all have to step up our game.

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