Millennials and Their Rigorous Demand for Excellence in Brands

Millennials. Brands. Trust. Three things that seemingly go together, yet each one has its own origin story.

Exploring each one is the task at hand for the next month and a half as we prepare for the Relate Live NYC conference on October 23-25.

How we fit these massive topics all into a 45 minute presentation, giving each one its own stage time, while connecting the dots, threading the narrative through all of them to come away with useful insights and nuggets of knowledge for conference goers will be our challenge.

Perhaps the best way to start is to break down each component so we have a clear understanding and definition and see if we can find some general theses that stem from each that cause cross-pollination.

Truly Understanding the Millennial Generation
Millennials represent 93 million people in the United States today.  This generation (1980-2001) surpasses all other generations as the largest workforce population, and by 2025 they will account for 75% of the global workforce.  Their purchasing power is undeniable and yet, they can be tough customers to crack!  One of the defining elements of  Millennial customers is their need to purchase from a brand they trust.

A good way to look at any generation of people is to look beyond their age or date range of birth, although that helps us frame the basic grouping of people, and instead look at the major world events that have occurred during their lifetime that have influenced their outlook and behavior.

Facebook, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, helicopter parents and American prosperity, 9/11, President Obama, Apple, the internet, mobile phones and the Great Recession have all been key world events that have defined the Millennial generation, who currently are between the ages of 16 and 37.

Born in an era of prosperity – one of health, wealth and living a glorified American dream – and then witnessing the destruction of that prosperity with the fall of the Twin Towers and eventually stock markets, job markets, and housing markets, Millennials are a complex and often schizophrenic generation.  Within many of the same reports on this generation you can read that they are optimistic as well as extremely cynical, hardworking but distracted, loyal to authority however not loyal to organizations.  Defined as a “fickle” generation, changing frequently with regards to their loyalties, interests, and affection, the Millennials are a hot topic being poked, prodded and examined by advertisers, employers and politicians as the next great influential generation.

As it pertains to our discussion around trust and brands however, I don’t believe they are very much different from other generations except for one major distinction, which will become our first thesis.

Having talked and studied this generation for more than a decade now, there are many nuances that we can point our finger at and say, “See this is why they are so different.”  But, from all that I’ve seen, heard, read and talked about with many people, there is really no glaring difference from one generation of people to another.

Instead, I’m a fan of this quote from Hubspot founder Dharmesh Shah, “So here’s the only major difference between Millennials and every other generation: Millennials demand a sense of purpose, demand transparency, demand access to information, demand feedback, demand inspirational leadership and meaningful work and a reasonable work-life balance. They not only demand these things — they expect them. Other generations want those qualities in their workplace too, but they generally don’t demand them.”

This statement was one of the most provocative I’ve come across.  Due to their upbringing, which focused on the expectation that you could ask for anything, the world was yours, having an unwavering optimism for something better tomorrow, they simply expect more from the world.  Ask most Millennials about their demands, and I don’t think they would say they’re making a conscious decision to make these demands.  They are simply asking for what they believe is a reasonable expectation - as their parents and mentors have always instructed them to do.

Thesis #1: Rigorous Demand for a Trustworthy Brand
Again, what we’re trying to do with this ongoing series in preparation for the conference is to figure out how do we take the core values of each major topic (Millennials, Trust, Brands) and use them to build a formula that helps our participants create ecosystems that encourage Millennials (and others) to trust brands so that brands can create stronger businesses.  In other words, the consumer gets a product they love from an organization he or she loves.  A beloved organization makes a loved product.

So knowing what we know about Millennials and with the revelation that if we get rid of all the nuances of this generation on why they’re different - you end up with "nothing new under the sun."  Which is to say, we all want the same things.  Each generation (Boomers, Xers, Millennials, etc.) wants to trust in what we eat, wear, drive, buy and use.  However, unlike other generations, who are perhaps more polite or more accepting of poor quality, the Millennial generation demands more and expects more from the brands than any previous generation. 

Could our first thesis be that for an organization to become beloved, it must demonstrate the similar "the rigorous demand" that a Millennial would have?  If we create a triangle of what each main element brings to the table - Millennials, Trust, Brands - this element would be "rigorous demand for a trustworthy brand." In this formula Millennials and “rigorous demand” are synonyms. 

Brand Titans: Apple & SAS Airlines
For example, I think Apple has done a good job becoming a beloved brand of this generation.  One of the key elements of Apple is that they demand excellence in everything they do.  From design to function, their products are arguably superior.  From the Genius Bar concept ready to solve just about any Apple problem you have, to the fleet of staff that greet you at the door with a smile and assist with your purchase (and check you out with their own Point Of Sale system), Apple’s demonstration of superior customer service within their brand and culture is Millennial-esque.  Apple refuses to walk by shoddy product and service without changing it.  They demand superiority in their product, service and from all of that, their brand. 

Years ago, Jan Carlzon of SAS Airlines identified these as ‘moments of truth.’  After studying his organization he realized that there were over 50,000 ‘moments of truth’ or areas that influence how customers interact and find out the ‘truth’ about his organization.  What was their product really like?  Did their services offer all that they said it would? Was their customer service as good as they said it was?  We all have our 50,000 moments of truth in our brand, moments when we walk by shoddy or mediocre-to-poor product, service or behavior. We can decide to keep walking or to stop and say, “How is this helping in our pursuit of running or contributing to an excellent brand?”

Being a brand that rigorously demands excellence (just like the Millennials do) is not easy, and shouldn’t be left to the faint of heart.  It is a marathon.  It is about dedication to the long-term goal of creating superior products, services and customer experiences. Marathons are not won by flashes of brilliance or speed, but on a methodical plugging away, moment after moment.

Advancing the Thinking: Questions to Ponder
So as we look at the conference in late October, I encourage you to examine your brand and really decide whether you are “pushing the envelope” on your rigorous demand of the brand, and not walking by shoddy, mediocre-to-poor product or services. If your brand wants to relate to the Millennial generation, building trust and loyalty along the way, then you must rigorously demand excellence in your products and service.  Here are three questions to explore in advance of the conference, both with your staff and your customers, regardless of the department you are in:

1.      Are we easily approachable to our customers or have we become an automated menu with no human touch points? 

2.      Are we excellent at listening to the customer at each “moment of truth”, or do we assume that everything is ok?

3.      Where do we have “excellence” breakdowns in our processes from point of customer exploration to point of customer fulfillment?  Have we addressed each of these breakdowns according to a Millennial yardstick, not our own? 

For more information about the conference in October or to join my session go here:

Check out these other Relate articles about Millennials:

The generational divide

The long-term effects of Millennial bashing