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Millennials and Brands- What have you done for me lately?

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The end of 2012 brought about a number of things: A faulty “End of the World” prediction, a fiscal cliff debate and the start of the first year since 1987 in which all four digits are different from one another, among other things.

It also brought about the second installment of Edelman’s 8095, (said “eighty ninety-five”) global benchmark study. First conducted in 2010, the 2012 update surveyed 4,000 people in 11 countries born between 1980 and 1995 to understand how they connect with brands, make purchasing decisions and share their opinions on products and companies with family, friends and their extended networks.

This survey reinforces a trend most of us already know exists: Millennials want to be engaged with the world around them. Perhaps it stems from over connectivity– always online and interacting with an impossible amount of information to process. We want to be assured that the time we spend connecting with friends, brands, companies, etc. is reciprocated and our needs are being met. This creates big opportunities– and big challenges– for brands looking to tap into the buying power of Millennials.

Know your audience

So what is an 8095er? For starters, we’re all adults. We’re the most diverse and educated generation in history and our defining moments were triggers for changes in Trust: 9/11, a global recession, the Arab Spring, and a host of natural disasters to name a few. We also continue to face a slow recovery from said recession– one of the worst in history– and are accepting that we will be the first generation that may be worse off economically than our parents. All of these have influenced how Millennials perceive their lives and future. Yes, we are still idealistic (can’t hold us down), but, as this survey found, we also have a new measure of realism.

Why care about this one section of the purchasing population? Millennials will be 75% of the workforce by 2025 and 74% of us believe we influence the purchasing decisions of other generations. In other words, we hold a lot of purse string.

Know how your audience makes decisions

Similar to what we saw in the 2010 survey, the 2012 revamp showed that 8095ers still see brands as potential partners; eight in 10 take action on behalf of brands and seven in 10 are loyal and keep purchasing brands we love. Brands are a form of self-expression. As a result, Millennials want to see all the facts before we’ll take action on behalf of a brand; transparency is key. 94% of Millennials use at least one outside source for purchase guidance, and more than half of Millennials consult four or more sources of information.

The global recession, however, has impacted the values and life goals for many Millennials. Defined by debt, weak job prospects and low net worth, Millennials now tend to delay purchases until they can verify the value in it. Brands can no longer rely on having the latest “it” product; they need to demonstrate how they fit into the lives of those they wish to purchase their goods.

Know what your audience expects from you

Millennials want brands to be authentic and they want to be surprised. When asked how they wish to interact with brands, eight in 10 respondents said they want brands to entertain them. Brands need to be smart and they need to be funny. The Skittles brand does a great job of this on Twitter (@Skittles). With a TweetLevel score of 67.8, they are considered an idea starter, or amplifier. Sure, other brands may have more followers, but the content Skittles produces is engaging. Similarly, at 321,564 subscribers (as of January 2013) and over 300 million video views, the Old Spice Youtube Channel is another good example. (“Hello, ladies.”)

8095ers are also looking for some help and are turning to the brands they support and buy from more and more. Seventy-seven percent of respondents want brands to provide them with financial assistance; no surprise there considering the above mentioned recession and low economic prospects. Three fourths of respondents also want brands to provide opportunities for more life experiences, be it a trip around the world or a chance to meet a celebrity or try a new activity. This mirrors the sentiment of, “You want me to talk about your brand? Well give me a reason to.”

Find your sweet spot

The demands on brands are evident, but the opportunities to engage with consumers are boundless. The biggest decisions brands need to make is how they want to move forward. How can they identify the niche that will separate them from competitors, target Millennials and not break the bank?

One way to do this is through the incorporation of purpose and social responsibility into a brand’s mission and actions. According to the Edelman 2012 goodpurpose study, 53% of respondents reported that, price and quality being equal, social purpose is the most important factor when making purchasing decisions.

The survey also found that purpose drives action on behalf of a consumer. When asked about a company that activity supports a good cause, 76% of respondents stated they would buy its products and/or services, 75% would recommend its products and/or services, and 72% would share a positive opinion and experiences about the company with others.

There is no “one size fits all” engagement campaign strategy. If you are thinking of starting a new program aimed at Millennials, make sure to do your homework.  Look at where your consumers are, where they have conversations, how they look for information and how your brand fits in their lives. Whatever program you come up with, remember to also make it mutable. After all, the oldest of the “iGeneration” or Generation Z just turned 17, and they’ll be the new “it” consumers before we know it. And who knows what kids these days are up to.

Rebecca Andreassen is an Account Executive in Edelman’s San Francisco office. You can follow her @thisbeccalynn.

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