Successful Branding in the Millennial’s Era


In a digitized world, where web 2.0 empowers people like never before, brands face the challenge that their fans can follow and rate them with every step of their way – 24/7/365. As a consequence many brands have to reinvent themselves in order to adapt to the specific needs of a whole generation – the millennials. The question is, what is the key to successful branding in this environment.

As I was honored with the chance to hold a brand building lecture at FH JOANNEUM in Graz (AUT), I spend quite some time analyzing the nature of successful brands and their behavior. The good news is that they all have something in common. How they act, communicate and connect to people, follows a systematic scheme.

This blog article is the first of a whole series, in which I want to give you a toolkit for cracking the brand building code too. If you don’t want to miss a post, register for my newsletter below this article. And now let’s find answers to the question, “how does successful branding works, when it comes to interacting with millennials”?

From why to what – Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

„People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it“. This simple formula is a great starting point for our brand definition journey and also the essence of Simon Sinek’s famous Ted Talk “How great leaders inspire action“. The concept of the so-called “Golden Circle” is based on the idea that all the Apples, Googles and Patagonias out there use a certain pattern when it comes to their message architecture. Their communication hierarchy always starts with the “Why” (why a brand exists), continues to the “How” (how a brand acts) and ends with the “What” (what a the brand provides). And yes, this is the exactly opposite way of how most other companies communicate and at the same time this is a key factor for successful branding. See the difference for yourself and let’s take Apple as an example (I cite Sinek here):

  • How Apple doesn’t communicate, but most other computer companies do:

“We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.”

  • How Apple actually communicates (from why to what):

“In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our computers beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. We just happened to make great computers.”

What we see here is, that the reversed message hierarchy obviously makes a significant difference when it comes to effective brand communications. Answering the “Why” is simply much more inspiring and attractive than starting communications at the “What”. But why is this concept important for successful branding?

Millennials an the Millennial question

According to many economists like Craig Bonthron, especially the generation of Millennials and their consumer behavior will contribute to a strong structural economic growth within the next couple of years. The reason for this is on the one hand their general purchasing power and on the other hand, their distinct desire for literally valuable and therefor more expensive products. And now we are getting down to the essence of the whole thing: The answer to the question, which factors make a product valuable, is changing with the rise of new generations. And because of this shift, the criteria, which influence a consumer’s opinion-forming process is changing too. And this is now where successful branding comes in and where we need to understand what a brand actually is and how it influences consumers.

Branding experts agree: Today, successful brands need to build strong emotional connections. To do so, they need to provide meaningful answers to the “Why”, not only the “What”. For a good reason the generation of Millennials is also called “Generation Y”. The letter “Y” refers to the term “why” and indicates the generation’s characteristic behavior of generally questioning things. On a more specific level, this also means that millennials much more question brands than its Generation X predecessors.

Wharton marketing professor Americus Reed claims: “Millennials tend to be very socially aware, are prone to be more public about it, and they are simply more thoughtful and forward looking about, ‘Why am I here? What am I going to leave behind? How am I going to change the world?’ All of these lofty things were in the minds of other generations, but not at the center to the extent that they are for millennials.”

Successful branding through emotional connections

Questioning the “Why” is nothing that stops when it comes to comparing brands within a purchasing decision process. Why does a brand exist? What’s their true nature? And in what does a brand actually belief? All these questions play an important role within decision-making processes. Sophie Maxwell comes straight to the point by stating that: Successful brands need a „truly revolutionary brand language that is rooted in a brand’s core and comes from quintessential beliefs but brings new energy, excitement and impact – breaking established norms – to set radically new and different standards.

No single company can afford not to canvass for this economically important target group called “Millennials”. The key though, is to do it right. Providing millennials a new perspective, a meaningful vision of a great tomorrow is more important than you might consider. Make sure that your brand fulfills the three following principles:

  • Differentiation: be different
  • Consistency: be consistent in communications and behavior
  • Resonance: share values and beliefs with your target group

In my next article I’m going to explain these three universal branding principles in more detail. Subscribe to my newsletter below and make sure, you don’t miss it.

To round this post off, I’d like to cite the branding author Joen-Noäl Kapferer. He said: „In fact, it is time to think of the brand as a ‘great shared idea supported by a viable business model“. A beautiful idea – what do you think about it? Leave me a comment and let ne know.

Just for the record: If I speak about the generation of “Millennials”, I refer to people who are born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. I know that demographers and researchers are divided over the question when this cohort starts or ends.

Franz Drack: Handout brand management keynote

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Max Sommer Written by:

Max Sommer is a specialist and advisor in the fields of content marketing, content strategy and brand management. He is head of the department "Brand & Content Marketing" at the international high tech company Anton Paar.

One Comment

  1. Betty Petrillo
    July 7, 2017

    Thanks for your article Max. I think, however, that the key for successful branding relies also on the ability to be aware and respond to the changes that take place in the society in order to avoid the “boiled frog” phenomenon. In fact, if these small changes are ignored, this might lead to losses for the business in future.

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