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Without question, millennials do things differently than their predecessors once did. But, are they just a rebellious motley crew or something else entirely? Over the past year, there are many brands that tapped into this rebellion by going against cultural norms to reach their customers in a new way and gain competitive edge. And for millennials, it works. Here’s why a more human-centered approach is harvesting millennial attention.

Patagonia’s Black Friday Donations

Last week, Patagonia vowed to donate 100 percent of its Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups that fight to protect vital natural resources like water, air, and soil. And guess what, they followed through. Patagonia had $10 million in sales on Black Friday and is donating every penny to save the planet.

So, why did this campaign resonate with millennials? Patagonia pursued a more human approach, pushing against traditional norms — and millennials loved it. Like most audiences, millennials are tired of marketing speak. With all the “best” deals, “once-in-a-lifetime” savings, “buy this,” and “buy that” emails filling their inboxes, millennials witnessed something different. And it was, well, refreshing. REI and Patagonia’s decisions created instant brand love, and it resonated deeply with millennials.

It’s the Experience.

While you can’t blame marketing disconnect on the economy, you can at least place some of the responsibility on brands that fail to craft experiences that millennials truly value. At the end of the day, millennials don’t care much about tangible items they buy — if they serve a purpose. But, they do care immensely about the experiences that define those purchases. Was the experience unique? Memorable?

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Millennials Opt-Out of Conformity.

Brands sell — that’s what they do. But, traditional consumerism doesn’t resonate with millennials. Influencer marketing is far more impactful, as trusted peers — not brands — are offering deals. Baby boomers cut coupons; millennials hunt for bargains online — and, that direct mailer is more likely to sit in the mailbox than end up in a millennials wallet.

Value-Driven Campaigns Win.

One of the main reasons Patagonia’s campaign worked is because it spoke to values, which are more important than money to most millennials. Most millennial consumers research brands before they buy anything from them. Corporate personality matters. Do you have a good company with solid values? Do we believe in similar things? Value-driven campaigns win with millennials — period, plain and simple.

Other Brands Doing It Well

So, which brands are experiencing the most success with breaking cultural norms when marketing to millennials? While there are many who have tried, few have tapped into the millennial mindset as successfully as the following:

  • Dollar Shave Club — Shaving isn’t complex, but it does require product. Dollar Shave Club maximized on this simplicity — and how to present it — and it resonated with millennials. Cheap razors? Who wants to spend a million dollars on something so mundane as razor heads? By highlighting cost effectiveness, ease and convenience, this brand was able to gain an edge with millennials looking to simplify.
  • Airbnb — Sharing a house is not only cool, but also a great chance to create your own experience rather than accept the usual touristy experience — something most millennials strive to avoid. Personalized, individualized and customized experiences — these are expectations for many millennials and the key to differentiating your brand.
  • Netflix — There’s a huge shakeup in movie viewing going on today, and millennials are totally on board. Again, it’s all about convenience and the experience, and Netflix was quick to recognize that millennials would rather pay for access than pay for products. Servicing with no-hassles coupled with on-demand access and personalized viewing recommendations created a winning marketing strategy.
  • Casper — These guys made mattresses cool — and without having to air less-than-tasteful commercials on TV. By cutting out the ‘middle man’, they removed barriers to sales, shipping and return policies, selling their product more efficiently. To millennials, buying a mattress from a cool, hip company rather than a huge big brand makes sense, and Casper leveraged that marketing opportunity.

The Takeaway

To achieve more effective marketing, brands must leverage the cultural shift taking place with millennials. For instance, Target reduced the dollar amount needed to secure free online shipping to $25 dollars — a great example of a smart brand changing tactics to meet the needs and expectations of its audience. Marketing that’s personalized — that speaks to the individual — makes sense to millennials.

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