Which brand attributes matter most to Millennials?

Sep 29, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, a Watershed Publishing publication providing up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.

Three in 10 Millennials (aged 25-34) around the world are cynical about the way brands market to them and that figure rises above 40 percent in the U.S. and UK, finds Initiative in a new study. With such skepticism evident, brands should demonstrate their commitment to social causes and emphasize attributes such as authenticity and trustworthiness, per the study, which is based on a survey of almost 10,000 25-34-year-olds in 19 countries.

Results from the survey indicate that the top brand attributes globally, for Millennials, are:

  • Trustworthiness (31 percent);
  • Creativeness (29 percent);
  • Intelligence (23 percent);
  • Authenticity (22 percent); and
  • Confidence (21 percent).

Some of those prized attributes (such as trustworthiness and authenticity) can be seen as directly related to the skepticism that many Millennials hold for brands. But they also align with some of Millennials’ common traits: Millennials’ economic uncertainty and insecurity, for example, means that they appreciate brands that are useful to them and can emotionally connect with them in an authentic way.

Meanwhile, Millennials’ desire for intelligent brands likely reflects the fact that, per the study’s authors, "Millennials … are adults with all the expectations and responsibilities of adulthood." As for a desire for creativity from brands? That speaks to Millennials’ own creativity — one of the three themes (along with the ability to adapt and their desire to collaborate) that emerged as common traits among global Millennials.

Initiative Chart

While those attributes are most important to Millennials, these young consumers also prize brands that work for positive social change. Indeed, a majority of respondents believe that:

  • Brands should actively participate to improve causes (59 percent);
  • Brands have the potential to be a force for good (58 percent); and
  • They are more loyal to a brand that helps improve societal or ecological issues (54 percent).

By contrast, only 13 percent feel that brands should just focus on their products and services.

This social bent has been found in other research, too. Recently, a Harris Interactive survey of American adults found that Millennials are more likely than other generations to take a company’s reputation for social responsibility into account when making purchase decisions. An earlier survey fielded by Ipsos OTX similarly found Millennials to be more willing to pay a premium for "green" products than their older counterparts.

Are the theories around Millennials’ cynicism and skepticism of toward marketing pushes accurate? Which of the five brand attributes that Millennials’ value most — trustworthiness, creativeness, intelligence, authenticity, confidence — do you think is most critical for brands to address?

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16 Comments on "Which brand attributes matter most to Millennials?"

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Ryan Mathews
3 years 2 months ago

I think there is a generalized cynicism around most advertising and marketing which makes this list all the more laughable.

To begin with, you can’t advertise trust, it’s something that is given to you, not asked for. Don’t believe it? Think about your immediate reaction when someone you really don’t know well saddles up to you and says, “Trust me.”

Ditto with authenticity. It too is an attribute that has to be externally validated.

Creativity is important, but it is important to all audiences. The same is true with intelligence.

Not sure about confidence since I’m not sure what the other option is—apologetic marketing?

One of the reasons consumers are so wary of marketers is that marketers spend a seemingly excessive amount of time trying to parse markets rather than serve them.

Dick Seesel
3 years 2 months ago

I believe that Millennials are more media-savvy than their parents and grandparents, and more likely to form collective opinions through social networking, review sites and other word-of-mouth. There is plenty of data to support this, not just the numbers reported in the article. While there has always been a degree of cynicism about marketing in popular culture, it is probably reaching an apex with Gen Y.

As to “trustworthiness,” I think that is the most critical value across all generations, not just among Millennials. The idea may have multiple definitions, however, ranging from the perception of value (a combination of price and quality) to the desire to deal with companies with a social conscience.

Nikki Baird
3 years 2 months ago

I don’t know what exactly drives Millennials’ cynicism, but I think we’ve certainly seen proof that it exists. Also, that there is a much greater chance that they will do something about it—either by actively boycotting, or “occupying” or some other overt way to demonstrate their opinions.

According to the study, it was trustworthiness that Millennials valued the most. Theoretically, if a brand is genuine about who it is and what it stands for, then trustworthiness is easy: It’s a matter of being consistent over time. However, with so many retailers feeling the pressure to deliver omni-channel experiences, delivering consistent experiences across channels is only now coming off of an all-time low. Will consumers find that a retailer who prices differently across channels is trustworthy, for example?

Easy answers, but difficult execution.

Ken Lonyai
3 years 2 months ago

There is an implied message here that generations other than Millennials are not cynical and skeptical, or at least not as many as three in 10. If that were true, marketers must have been geniuses before the advent of this generation. Since we know that is not the case, I really don’t see any breakthrough insight in this aspect of the study.

The news about Millennials wanting kinder, gentler corporations is not especially new either, it just may be better quantified or delineated in this study.

Max Goldberg
3 years 2 months ago

Each generation has attributes that it likes to see from brands and retailers. Millennials want to see more social awareness. Smart brand managers and retailers respond to these trends by offering what consumers want. Because there are so many avenues to reach consumers, marketers can talk to different consumers with different attributes. As long as those attributes can realistically be linked to a brand’s core story, a brand can appeal to multiple segments of society.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
3 years 2 months ago

Cynicism and skepticism are relevant for Millennials, but remember that it was not 100 percent. Which attribute is most relevant for a brand to address? Brand managers have to make considered choices. Brands are most successful when linking attributes with their brands and attributes related to their consumers.

Paula Rosenblum
3 years 2 months ago

I have a couple of observations.

I’m not sure how many of those attributes they respondents were expected to select, since they add up to more than 100 percent, but less than 200 percent.

But the more important thing to me is that there is really no consensus on one or two attributes that are exceedingly important. Contrasting that with the bullet points that show a clear majority agreeing that brands should be more engaged in the world around them (causes, a force for good and improve societal or ecological issues), I would say that’s your real answer.

“Trustworthiness” is kinda-sorta a proxy for social goodness, but the respondents seemed more explicit on what they want. It’s just another pointer to the fact that the traditional mode of capitalism (the sole purpose of a corporation is to increase shareholder wealth) is lacking.

In other words, what they’re saying is “Put your money where your mouths are.”

Doug Garnett
3 years 2 months ago

This study makes the mistake of asking consumers to theorize about brands in the abstract. But consumers (even Millennials) don’t ever deal with brand in the abstract. They deal with brand when looking to buy a product that has that brand.

To me, that’s a fundamental logic flaw in this research.

If the study considered, for example, Apple for someone considering buying an iPhone, these attributes would sort down to the bottom of the heap.

Or if it considered candy bar brands with Millennials who are shopping in a 7-11 about to buy a product, these vague attributes would drop away and what they’d care far more about is past experience with the brand, the experience the candy bar offers (crunchy? soft? chocolate?).

In other words, brands build like they always have—by offering valuable products that deliver something the consumer wants. These secondary attributes are good for companies to pursue, but they won’t have much impact on brand value.

Cathy Hotka
3 years 2 months ago

Millennials aren’t just digital natives, they also have a built-in Master’s Degree in marketing. They’re savvy and less likely to fall for spin. They’re also poised to spend trillions of dollars setting up households and buying cars.

Millennials aren’t cynical—they’re savvy. That’s a big difference, and one that marketers will want to pay attention to. If they trust you, they’ll buy from you.

John Karolefski
3 years 2 months ago

Millennials are an interesting group whose values are different than Boomers’. Maybe it’s because Boomers, like myself, are older and wiser. But that’s another discussion.

From studies I have read and Millennials I know personally, a growing attribute is support of a cause, be it ecology, breast cancer research, Wounded Warriors and so forth.

In terms of food and the five attributes, let’s look at GMOs. The official position of Big Food is that products containing GMOs are safe to eat. But there is a growing number of consumers who don’t believe that. I suspect many of them are Millennials who are skeptical of the marketing claims related to this issue.

Ralph Jacobson
3 years 2 months ago

I have seen other surveys that show similar findings across all age groups. Additionally, I have seen studies that show 75+% of consumers in general do not trust brand messaging, while, oddly enough, celebrity endorsements actually work. Strange, since so many famous people are having so much dirty laundry aired lately.

So, I think trustworthiness is key, however, not to the detriment of the other four attributes, and beyond those five to include things like those that touch additional emotions in consumers.

Dan Frechtling
3 years 2 months ago

Professing a belief and acting on it are two completely different things, as Doug points out.

Consumers freely admit they are unlikely to act on their preference for brands supporting societal causes like the environment. Ipsos finds over 1/2 in the U.S. care about brands’ environmental efforts but less than 1/3 would pay more for them.

The same is true in the UK, Japan, France, Spain … in fact, for all developed countries. This is not news.

But there is news in developing countries — those that will drive consumption the rest of this century. Fully 50-60% of Chinese and Indian consumers care about brands’ environmental efforts and nearly 60% will pay more for them. The dynamic is true in Latin America, led by Argentina and Mexico.

Actual purchase behavior remains to be seen. But attitudinal differences in the developing economies is striking.

Kai Clarke
3 years 2 months ago

Maybe. However, if we truly knew what brand attributes Millennials value, we would be able to successfully market and introduce new products to them — and this is not the case. This example leaves many questions begging for answers, especially when we are considering product branding, introduction and growth.

Mark Price
3 years 2 months ago

Millennials are much more savvy about media, marketing and social media than any generation before them. They are able to create transparency around brands and their claims by subjecting them to the gauntlet of social media and learning from the feedback.

Authenticity is often cited as the most important attribute for a brand today. Authenticity includes trustworthiness in it. Brands must speak with a human voice, acknowledge their mistakes without trying to hide them and genuinely work to improve the experiences of their customers. Any false attempt at authenticity will be doubly punished, which is why many American brands fail to capture the hearts of this critical growing segment.

Shilpa Rao
3 years 2 months ago

Millennials have access to information at their fingertips and they do not shy away from spending time on research. With social media making available shared experiences and deeper information, it’s easy to authenticate the claims which are made in these advertisements. Hence, I agree with this article that trustworthiness definitely plays a crucial role. Yes and advertisements cannot say, “Trust me,” but the claims made in the advertisement should be trustworthy and millennials have a good way to find that out.

Todd Kozee
Todd Kozee
3 years 2 months ago
It begins and ends with trust. Unfortunately, too many companies have a long way to go when trying to earn our trust. Today, more so than any other time in history, consumers are battling companies who do their level best to roll out the latest in vague or misleading labels on food and just plain lie about the benefits of their healthcare products. Anybody remember the wireless companies overcharging customers on their monthly bills? And most recent and egregiously, a global auto company who discovers serious workmanship issues and then makes the decision to hide them, which as we all know resulted in a few people losing their lives. By the way, the firms that are breaching our trust are not the fly-by-night types who are here today and gone tomorrow. Many of these guys are from the Fortune 500. Have a look at this article and you will quickly catch my drift. 14 False Advertising Scandals That Cost Brands Millions This is one area where we might learn something from Millenials because, as marketers,… Read more »

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