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3 Things Millennials Will Start to Expect from All Brands This Year

This week we’re counting down our five most popular articles of 2016 so far, and giving all our readers access to one each day. Here is the number one most clicked article, originally published Jan 7, 2016.  Enjoy!

More brands are trying to live up to Millennials’ expectations—so what will they start to expect from all brands in 2016?

We’ve looked back at the year that just was, looked at the industry trends predicted for the year to come, and given our own forecast on the ways that young consumers will impact brands and culture in 2016. Through all that, we’ve kept our eyes open for some of things that Millennials and teens are clearly looking for from brands, here are three they’ll start to expect from everyone: 

1. Online & Offline

Global branding firm Landor is calling 2016 “the year of the brand experience,” and increasingly that brand experience needs to live both offline and on. As a generation that truly lives with one foot in the digital world and one foot out, Millennials and teens expect brands to seamlessly bridge the two worlds as well. At this point, it should go without saying that every offline brand needs an online presence. But they also need to incorporate elements of online seamlessness into their offline experiences—as we’ve begun to see some retailers do with smart dressing rooms. Perhaps to match up with Millennials’ online/offline mentalities, several previously online-only stores—including Amazon, Warby Parker, and Birchbox— are bridging the gap into the offline shopper’s world, and with both pop-ups and permanent brick-and-mortar spaces. Brands outside of the retail space should also take note: creating real-life experiences for digital properties is often wildly successful, and some fans have already begun to create their own locations devoted to the media they love, media brands could take it to another level.

2. Total Honesty

The tradition of marketing is to create an illusion around a product that is so alluring that consumers can’t resist it. While this will always be partly true, young consumers are looking for more (sorry) transparency from brands than any generation before them. With access to all the information they need to make their own decisions about a product or company, what brands tell them to believe has less influence. They’re also creating their own very honest content about brands, and embracing celebrities (Zendaya, Amy Schumer, Jennifer Lawrence) who take an honest approach to life and even fame. They’re pushing back against Photoshop, and questioning things that appear perfect. It’s time for brands to worry less about the illusion, and more about communicating what benefits they actually bring to Millennials’ lives. This honesty also applies to brand personas—Millennials are looking for brands that don’t pretend to be what they’re not. As Digiday noted, 2015 was the year of brands trying to sound like Millennials’ “cool” friend, throwing out slang like “bae” and “on fleek.” But if you aren’t already a part of their conversations, trying to fit in by using their language just comes off as a bit sad, and inauthentic. (And they’re calling it out.) Young consumers are more interested in content that focuses less on “with it” language and instead answers the question, “How will you make my life better?” If you’re not a young brand, don’t talk like a teen. If you aren’t a health product, don’t pretend to be good for them. Sbarro CMO Anne Pritz told Forbes, “Consumers expect—no demand—honesty in all marketing efforts and believe in brands that tell it like it is…So stick to the facts and seamlessly integrate these facts into your advertising. Communicate openly and make it extremely easy for guests to have a two-way conversation with you in real time.” Which brings us to our third…

3. Real Time 24/7 Response

Young consumers’ expectation of customer service has been shaped by their social media use: they want in-the-moment care from brands. Emails with 48-hour response times are now frustrating—if not unacceptable—to a generation that prefers “live” one-on-one communication through social channels. A reported 75% of all transactions will be completed through mobile by 2020, so innovating customer care with mobile social tools that provide near-instant gratification is vital. We’ve long said that social media has opened up the opportunity for brands to connect directly with consumers, and vice versa, but not enough brands have yet given Millennials the 24/7 real time response they are beginning to expect. This 24/7 response can also be a marketing opportunity. Take the most successful social media post for Groupon this year: marketing for a cheeky product by directly replying to 200+ Facebook comments. Direct messaging is now an integral part of most social apps, event marketing by way of Facebook is gaining ground, and things like Reddit AMAs often launch with much success. Engaging directly with Millennials, and giving them the response they need in the moment they need it, is something all brands need to be working towards. 

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