To achieve brand loyalty is to achieve success.

If your business has brand loyalty, you’re golden. Smooth sailing. Right?! As marketers, this is where we’re supposed to focus our big picture strategy. We all want to find that elusive sweet spot where daily habit collides with desire and the brand builds itself.

After working alongside a handful of Millennials each semester (and counting myself on the outer range of the age bracket), it seems fair to say: there is a disconnect when we’re talking long-lasting loyalty with the next wave of consumers.

Pew research suggests Generation Y contributes over $600 billion dollars to the $6.5 trillion dollars spent each year in the United States. So where are we spending that money? What factors weigh heavily on the mind of a Millenial?

Generation Y is generally pegged as a “cause loyal” demographic, rallying behind political candidates and socially or environmentally-conscious companies; but it turns out these trends may be more of a flash-bang marketing effect than authentic, long-lasting sentiments.

A recent study led by Jean Twenge, PhD of San Diego State University indicates “popular views of the millennial generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, as more caring, community-oriented and politically engaged than previous generations are largely incorrect, particularly when compared to baby boomers and Generation X at the same age.” The results of Twenge’s study feed a general depiction of Millennials as demanding narcissists, with an admirable soft spot for equality / tolerance issues and radically different ideas surrounding ‘ownership’.

We don’t care much about brand loyalty

…at least not in the sense that most CMOs and Baby Boomers understand the term. To us, loyalty is more closely associated with companies that offer incentives and a deal stream (versus companies that have some sort of ethereal, emotional stronghold on our wallets).

Millennials can’t afford to make purchase decisions according to a moral code or emotion. Now, I don’t want to paint some sweeping nihilistic image of our generation; most Millennials I know want to make better decisions and support brands that do good things. There are plenty of young people that would prefer to only buy local, “Made in the USA”, fair-trade or organic based on ethics – but few young people actually follow up with action.

We’re aware of the disparity between how we poll and how we act. Notions of loyalty and “putting money where our mouth is” are luxuries we can’t afford.

Generation Y faces a depressed work force – older friends, siblings and even parents have been sucker-punched by boom time purchase decisions. Paid, full-time jobs are hard to find, our buddies are off fighting wars and the costs associated with being a responsible adult (insurance premiums, student loans, etc.) have risen to a ridiculous rate.

As a result, much of the elasticity has been taken out of the Millennial consumer market. Econ 101: we will pay up for goods and services that we deem necessary. But that list is pretty short.

The rest of our decisions are about striking a balance between cost and quality. Compromise is to be expected (but we’d prefer not to make the call).

If Millennials are selfish, it’s because our generation is interested in self-preservation. We are forced to constantly re-evaluate our decisions and look for better opportunities. Loyalty implies confinement. And stagnation = death to our ambitious but under-employed generation.

So brands: here is where Verge Pipe Media’s advice kicks in.

Appeal to a Millennial’s self-referential sense of humor or jolt them with a slick, emotional plea and you may move merchandise, but you will be hard-pressed to win repeat business. Check out Kony 2012, LIVESTRONG bracelets, platform Skechers, the list goes on & on.

We’ll admit it: we’re easy to manipulate. But exploit Generation Y or betray our trust and you’re done. Fool me once…

‘Cool’ only gets you so far with Millennials and it certainly won’t lead, in-and-of itself, to brand loyalty.

As a brand, this means you have a few options if you want to delight a Millennial and grab our attention for the long haul:

  1. The obvious: be necessary (in a genuine way). Solve problems, save them money and build a reliable product that they will use in everyday life. If your brand is necessary – or you’re able to reshape definitions of ‘necessary’ – you get to charge us a premium. See: Apple, Starbucks, Whole Foods.
  2. The other route: position your brand as a low-cost, high-quality solution for your space – but mean it. Sweeten the pot by offering rewards and incentives in exchange for some social media love or easy-to-provide personal information. See: Gap, American Outfitters.
  3. Better yet: be a free, quality product for your space. Businesses that are disrupting industry trends, shaking up traditional business models and finding money from alternate revenue streams are the businesses that are currently finding investment and grabbing business headlines. See: YouTube, Facebook, Khan Academy, etc.
  4. Finally: give Millennials power.

If our loyalty is what you’re after: you need to get us, establish trust AND constantly fight for our business. You can’t sell out, pass the buck or get lazy and expect a Millennial to stick around.

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Meredith Singer is COO & Co-Creative of Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world.

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VPM Admin at Verge Pipe Media
Verge Pipe Media is a strategic digital marketing and Public Relations agency based in Auburn, Alabama. We partner with our clients to develop their digital story and solve complex brand, marketing and communication challenges using our imaginative inbound marketing best practices.
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