Brands that are trying to be something they are not should be worried.  A new generation of consumers and B2B buyers that really care about the purpose of the companies they buy from and work for, combined with a landscape in which brands are increasingly exposed by the people who work for them, are putting pressure on organizations to become truly authentic about who they are. Because of these factors there are some standout trends among millennial buyers that will play a huge role in shaping the market.

Social ResponsibilityTrend #1 – People increasingly care about purpose.
A lot has been said and written about the millennial generation as both consumers and employees, but maybe the most important part is where they intersect. The generation that will drive commerce within the next 20 years cares about purpose in who they work for as employees, who they decide to buy from as consumers, and who they buy from as B2B buyers at the companies they work for.

They have higher expectations of brands, and increasingly expect a holistic and authentic experience across all the online and offline ways they interact with a company.  They are attuned to inconsistencies and can spot fakeness in an instant.  In a comprehensive survey and report by BCG, Millennials reported that the number one way that brands can engage them is to have an “authentic purpose.”  In the same study several consistent attitudes were discovered, including the following three:

 “I trust my friends more than ‘corporate mouthpieces’.”
Millennials tend to seek multiple sources of information, especially from non-corporate channels, and they’re likely to consult their friends before making purchase decisions.  Messages that resonate are quickly spread and are reinforced through user reviews and on social channels.

“I’m a social creature—both online and offline.”
They use social-media platforms more than non-Millennials (79 percent versus 59 percent), and they maintain significantly larger networks: 46 percent have 200 or more “friends” on Facebook, compared with 19 percent of non-Millennials.  They frequently comment about brands they like or dislike, and over 50% have made comments online about the company they work for.

“I can make the world a better place.” 
They want to be good citizens of the world, and believe that collective action can make a difference. Millennials believe that working for causes they identify with in is an integral part of life, and are drawn to big issues.  Instead of making a one-off charitable donation, they’re more likely to integrate their causes into daily life by working for, and buying products from, sustainable brands that they identify with.

Accordingly, brands that want to sell to this next generation will do much better if they stand for something good, and that isn’t something that can be faked.  In fact, fake brands will soon be a thing of the past due to the growing influence that consumers and buyers have on a brand’s messaging and reputation.

Millennials Working

Trend #2 – Brand are shaped by its people.

The reality of branding has evolved from being carefully crafted and controlled by the executive and marketing teams, into a living, breathing and often uncontrollable reality. Happening daily, the brand narrative changes based on live and online conversations between customers, employees, media, and the general public.

Messages to internal and external audiences are continuously crafted by different groups inside an organization and, as a result, the audience is often exposed to different messages.  Employees and potential recruits might get one impression through internal communications, while customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders might see a completely different picture.  Today mobile and social technologies quickly shine a spotlight on brand inconsistencies, and the result can be confusion over what the brand stands for, or even worse, completely conflicting brand messages.  In the past such discord may have existed without much exposure, but today inconsistencies are immediately brought into daylight and cause brand dilution and conflict.

According to a recent study by BCG:

“People have become an essential component of branding, a field that was once highly product oriented. Brand experiences are now largely shaped by the people on the front lines who interact daily with customers and must meet their rising expectations. Employees have become, in effect, brand ambassadors. Brand management of the future requires, therefore, even fuller and more consistent engagement among the people inside and outside the company—both those who experience the brand and those who represent it.”

The challenge is that many companies still focus on only one or two aspects of their brand image. Many ignore employees as brand advocates or delegate communications for employees and recruits to the human resources department. A lot of companies assume that a strong product or corporate brand will attract candidates and customers, and don’t pay enough attention to the employee side, often resulting in brand inconsistencies.

Conclusion- Branding alignment is essential.

We have a new generation of consumers and buyers that care deeply about the purpose of the companies they buy from, combined with a landscape in which brands are increasingly created (or exposed) by the people that represent them.  In this market companies must take note and focus on building one authentic and consistent brand across the entire organization in order to appeal to the emerging millennial market.  Increased collaboration among all stakeholders is imperative, not only between marketing and procurement, but also with HR and every department, in order to drive one united brand that engages all employees as brand ambassadors.

author bio

Did you catch part 1 of Henrik’s transparency series? Read Here!