Brands have never been more under the microscope from their audiences. In a transparent digital world they have nowhere to hide. Millennials are particularly clear on what they expect from their relationship with their brands and will have no qualms rejecting the ones that aren’t authentic.
At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach, being totally clear about who you are and what you do best. Millennials love being part of an authentic brand because they aren’t just buying into a logo – but they are also buying into a set of values and a bigger brand story. They want uncomfortable honesty from their brand relationships.
In the age of social media, authenticity is characterised by a consistency and continuity between brand online personas and their activity in the real world. The more harmony there is between the two, the more authentic it appears to be.
To woo a millennial a company must seem real. Millennials don’t want empty promises, they value brands that demonstrate what they do rather than what they say, and this gives them authenticity that can’t be argued with. A strong brand story is essential as it guides everyone’s behaviours at every customer touch point. It is no longer enough to story tell, brands need to story do. This will be the ultimate test of authenticity, because it takes the story and brings it alive for the audiences to engage with in the real world. The more meaningful it is, whether it is something that ‘helps me’ or ‘entertains me’, the more valuable it becomes. Millennials value experiences over products. Brands like Redbull, GroPro and Apple give millennials a platform to be who they are, but are also creating products to fit their lifestyles.
For brands that lack a sexy product to generate positive engagement the approach becomes about creating experiences. Technology is the big enabler letting brands to deliver on this and if they are really smart they use it to create branded utility. This lets them play an even more meaningful role in their lives using digital innovation. Vodafone created branded utility with ‘power pocket’ clothes that charge smart phones, perfect for the always on and connected Millennials. Ray Ban created the bright Light concept a geo app to find sunny spots in your city and Adidas’ Runbase concept provided branded showers and lockers near Tokyo subway stations. These brands have clarity on the role they want to play in their audience’s lives which helped them have a clear brief to where, what and how to create branded utility that connects with this fickle audience.
It's challenging for large orgainisations to make a brand sound cool to a 20-year-old. Marketers are solving this by opening their brands to customers and discovering ideas that could never come from inside their office walls. A recent study by Forrester Research study that revealed only 14% of consumers trust an ad created by a brand compared to 48% of users who trust the words, pictures and videos created by other consumers. Today the best partners with which to engage consumers are consumers. This is especially true for Millennials when 82% of consult online reviews before making a buy. Social influencers have a power over consumers that tremendously valuable to businesses of all kinds. These influencers have more street cred and for this reason brands are investing in social influencer campaigns that are better equipped to reach the media fragmented millennials. The challenge then becomes how do brands stay true to their brand story when they surrender control to consumers.
Brands must find their millennial influencers and when engaging them, authenticity is essential. Millennials are more inclined to buy their products and become loyal advocates when brands align their messages with their core values.
When brands allow their audience to become part of their strategy it enables their message to be grown organically among the target audience. Multinational clothing brand Urban Outfitters used social media and its website to drive customer participation among Millennials. Online shoppers could visit the “Show Us Your UO” section of the website and view dozens of fan-submitted images of outfits. By hovering over the photos, online consumers could buy the clothing items seen on the photos. This allowed the brand was able to build a community, with Millennials actively submitting hundreds of photos.
The key is not to surrender complete control, it is about co-creation, providing a channel for the audience to be involved. But brands mustn’t under estimate how easy this actually is. Millennials are busy and critical of where they spend their time and energy. Brands that just pick up on a fad with little or nothing behind it that links it back to their brand, will be deemed as inauthentic because they will be seen as trying to be something that they are not. The campaigns that stand-out and capture the imagination are strategically reinforcing a bigger purpose.
By Claire Holmes, head of brand strategy at Lambie-Nairn.
GDPR Summit Series is a global series of GDPR events which will help marketers to prepare to meet the requirements of the GDPR ahead of May 2018 and beyond. Further information and conference details are available at http://www.gdprsummit.london/
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