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The In-Depth Guide to Branding for Millennials

So you’ve pinpointed Millennial as the target market… The Millennial Generation, Generation Y, or simply the Millennials are the demographic group following Generation X. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from…

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Learn or Die - Branding for Millennials

So you’ve pinpointed Millennial as the target market…

The Millennial Generation, Generation Y, or simply the Millennials are the demographic group following Generation X. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Are they wiley enigma’s or do they have some clear preferences from the brands they are loyal to? How do we create branding for Millennials?

Branding for Millennials - Marketing to Millennials

To generalize… they really do have some key points to consider that show up consistently in studies and that we can leverage when sharing a brand’s story with them. Who am I to say? Well.. I’m a Millennial. And according to the research I’ve read, absorbed, done on my own and will be sharing with you here I’m similar to a lot of Millennials out there. I love things that are simple and don’t have logos plastered all over them (except for a very few key brands that I find stylish,) being able to customize or personalize things, and for my brands to complement my individuality and to be connected to a cause or have a compelling story.

Table of Contents

Features to Note about MillennialsBrandlessness and MillennialsPersonalization and MillennialsStories and Millennials
Individuality and MillennialsMillennials and Social MediaConnecting MillennialsSummary of this guide


Branding for Millennials: Keys to connecting with the generation bigger than the Baby Boomers.

How Many Millenials are there? Branding for Millenials

Features to note about Millennials (generalized):

  Not attached to tradition

‌•  Value learning above paper

‌•  Designed life not work-life balance

‌• Ability to work outside of a corporation

‌• Hyper-connected

‌• Oversaturated, looking for a return to simplicity in brands

‌• 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that the number one goal of the majority of Millennials is “to be a good parent.”

‌• Generation Y is the connected, diverse collaborator, shaped by 9/11, texting, and the recession. – US Chamber Foundation

A great product representation for Millennial is Brandless.

Giant ostentatious logo’s all over everything are not what millennials are about. Companies that provide a high quality product and a somewhat blank slate are perceived as luxury goods. People can then project what they want onto the goods.

This is why brands like Abercrombie & Fitch are faltering.  The message matters more than the medium, and where the idea of demonstrating your superiority with a big brand on your chest might have made sense in the recent past, the story or message of the brand is more likely to resonate with people today.  Brands like American Apparel who’s idea is ‘made in America goods’, and somewhat edgy advertising has made more of a dent, even though it’s representation of the brand on the product is pretty light.

Why being brandless might help your company connect with Millennials

Perhaps a Millennial oriented brand could be considered a ‘black-label’ item, the insinuation is that it’s more about the quality of the product inside than a colorful label. In actuality great care could go into the label using matte black and glossy black to give a high-end look. Or potentially the item has other branded elements that allow it to quickly be spotted as of a certain type of brand without someone seeing the logo, similar to the way that the more basic styles of American Apparel paired with colors that relate closely to each other are the branded element of the company’s products.

A great product representation for Millennials has an element of personalization.

Research by a group called Ypulse says that 22% of Millennials cut up their clothing, or modify it for their own purposes. A worldwide study by Viacom of Millennials shows that 60% personally feel influenced by the economic crisis and 71% of Millennials worry about money, so perhaps some of this D.IY. attitude is born of their worry about money. Perhaps they are currently in some kind of economic distress, or they learned a ‘Do-it-yourself’ attitude from the years when they had to go without.

17 year old MTV blogger, Freya Bromley says that this also might have something to do with the fact that there is a decrease in demand for branded goods. She says that: ‘Sewing, knitting, cutting, tying and dying are all simple skills that can easily be employed to keep up-to-date with ever changing fashions and free us from being chained to high street brands and styles’. Whether or not this is really the case, the demand for items that can be personalized seems to have gone up.

Why having elements of personalization matter for helping connect your brand with Millenials

It may be suggested that an element of personalization is added to the way the brand is presented. Perhaps the flavors are intended to be mixed, matched, or combined in curious ways. This could also drive more than one flavor being sold in a single transaction. Maybe you break down the components of your product or service and offer them as separate pieces and allow the customer to use only what they want. This will tap into the desire to create something with more uniqueness and individualized to their situation.


Wellness is important to Millenials. Stories and causes and branding/ logo design for Millenials

A great product representation for Millennial is connected either to a cause, or has a story built in.

They’ve had the 3 R’s of recycling ingrained into their brains since kindergarten, so they’re more interested in cause marketing than non-Millennials. They’re more likely to purchase items associated with a particular cause over an item that has no cause attached to it.

You know this if your company focuses on natural ingredients or rides the wave of 3D Printing or has launched a Kickstarter campaign but the kids these days love stories. They love getting on board with a cause or a product or service that has a built in differentiator. That’s why it’s difficult for Behemoth’s to just slap a slogan or a mantra on to their product like they’ve done before. Rather than getting a new tagline, maybe your product or service needs a new ingredient or a new above and beyond service technique. These things strike a chord with Millennials. They’re use to constant stimulation, and grew up on viral videos and causes being promoted to them on facebook, so the value has to be real. The story has to be real. Jeff Gordon has to REALLY be scaring the shit out of someone for Pepsi to fully benefit from the campaign.

Here’s the video I’m referring to here.

YouTube video

Why having a cause or story built into your product or service matters for your brand connecting with Millenials

Having a truly unique story to the product will help carry the idea of the brand in customer’s mind. By considering whether another component makes sense for the brand, or another viral idea could help carry the idea of the brand. Think about viral on a simpler level, perhaps use the word sticky.

According to Sources of insights the Six Principles of Sticky Ideas are:

Be a master of exclusion. – Less is more.
Ruthlessly prioritize and focus on the vital few.
Boil it down to simple + profound. – Create messages that are both simple and profound.
Create engagement. – Use surprise, emotions, concrete images, and curiosity.
Surprise people. – Surprise people’s expectations.

Have testable ideas. – Have a ‘”try it yourself” approach and help people test out your ideas for themselves.

A great product representation for Millennials is an expression of their individuality or uniqueness.

As I already mentioned, there is a decline in demand for clothing with big brand logos among Millennials.  The reason why is that it’s harder to be unique when hundreds of people wear the same logo-centric T-shirt. And Millennials increasingly want to be unique.

Research by Ypulse has shown that for Millennials, and young Millennials in particular, expressing their individuality is really important. Another study by Ypulse showed that 55% of people between 13 and 34 years old say: ‘I don’t follow trends; I like to think I have my own personal style’.

Millennials want their fashion to express their own identity. Take a look at Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj for example. They are Millennials. Marketing Pilgrim says this: “Customization and personalization; hit those two chords and the Millennial will be singing your praises in 2015.”

Why allowing for expressions of individuality with your product or service matter for your brand and Millenials

Elements related to the counter-culture could be represented in the styles, flavors, imagery and language used. A rugged individuality may include strong bold colors, typography or elements related to metal or hip-hop. Consider the relevant music styles to your prime demographic and how artists represent themselves in those genres. It would be suggested to pair these components with purposeful and sophisticated elements that speak to a desire to be distinctive and be part of something “high-end.” When these elements come together in the same product representation you have a perfect storm of high-end bad-assery. This speaks to me as an individual, but I believe that style can strike a chord with many Millennials.

A great product representation for Millennials strikes a conversational tone, and responds on various social media platforms.

Twitter, Facebook Instagram, Yelp: Listen and respond. You can’t just flap your gums and expect people to absorb your powerful brand message any more. Why is listening so important these days when it comes to connecting with Millennials? Listening has always been important. We just have more tools to do it, so it’s expected. If you have a Facebook page for your company, you best believe people are going to send messages to that thing. Be there, and don’t miss an opportunity to resolve their question positively.

Tell stories on social. Tell stories with video. Be there when people are talking and share how your company or service serves their needs. Simply respond to people talking about your brand, it’s disarming.

Reviews and Technology - Branding and Logo Design for Millenials

Here are some great principles from Pixar’s perspective. Perhaps run your idea by these principles next time you are looking to tell a story from the company or of a satisfied customer.

Why Social Stories Matter for your Brand and Millenials

Beyond seeing so-and-so has liked Fitbit on Facebook, social stories go deeper than that. Corral your fans by giving them content to share, and thank them when they talk positively when they talk about your brand. A great example of a shareable story was Envato’s example of a web designer from Pakistan paying for their house by developing a single WordPress theme. Just by telling the story of a positive interaction with their company, just by connecting people. And so much of these social stories revolve around companies just connecting people. Which will speak to our next point.

YouTube video

A great product representation for Millennials simply provides the interface and infrastructure to connect.

This one really cuts to the business model, so perhaps it’s not right for every brand. It really speaks to our earlier point about how some of these are less about slapping a new tagline (or look) on an existing thing. If companies like Envato (in the video above,) Uber, Air BnB and Ali Baba can connect so deeply with their customers we see a clear pattern. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.” Tom Goodwin – The Battle is All for the Customer Interface

And according to Harvard Business Review in the article “What Airbnb, Uber, and Alibaba Have in Common” these companies are also the most profitable. They refer to these companies as ‘Network Orchestrators’.

Branding for Millenials - AirBnB, Uber, Ali Baba. Logo design, marketing to millenials

Harvard Business Review suggests that fewer than 5% of companies work this way though. It mentions siloed thinking, lack of the intellectual property to find the right niche using this model. To quote the article: “For example, think back to the early 1990s. Most traditional retailers were slow to move into the online space because they didn’t consider themselves “technology companies.” The online market was left open, and in came a slew of new players such as Amazon, eBay, and Zappos, who gobbled up market share and changed the retail game. Today, the power of networks is creating a new cross-industry transformation. Consider what Uber and Lyft are doing to the taxi industry or how Airbnb is affecting the hotel industry.”

So they don’t want to cannibalize their current business model. But they have to, to survive.

Learn or Die.


TLDR; – “Too Long, Didn’t Read” Summary

• The Millennial population is growing. Where they once put off marriage, they will dive deeper and get homes. They will migrate and gain financial stability. If your company is to survive it needs a deep understanding of what these people want and why those things matter to them. Just having Millennials in your management might help, but crucial thinking and non-siloed ideas will help the next idea of your organization break out and become real.

• Brand representations go deeper than packaging and taglines, build a story into your brand to connect with Millennials where it counts. There emotions. The emotions bone is connected to the pocket book bone. The BONE bone is also connected, but that’s another story altogether.

• Let people modify your product, personalize their options or make it their own.

• Causes and stories matter to people. If you get anything from this article, understand that having a sticky idea for your company only requires a being truly interested in your customers and sharing stories that demonstrate the unique value proposition of your company.

• Love your customers uniqueness. Show things they like, immerse yourself in their styles and culture. Be OK with being edgy when appropriate and drop the corporate speak.

• Apply real world politeness to social media interactions and reviewers.

• Connect people

You’re done!

Thank you so much for reading! I’m all about connection myself, so hit me up on Twitter with any thoughts about this, and let me know if you have any ideas about the things that matter when branding for Millennials. This guide was created and curated from research for the purpose of my own education, to draw attention to my Branding service and Logo design in Minneapolis, but honestly the most useful thing you could do to thank me for putting this together would be to share it with your followers! Thank you.

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