Friday, February 27, 2009

Some ideas about Millennials and our Brands

Update: Find a more recent version of this article published on

I am in the process of writing a senior thesis about Barack Obama's campaign and in particular his “brand.” Throughout my research and writing the values and concerns of the millennial generation has been of particular interest to me. This is me, my peers and my future we're taking about after all. I've come to believe that our attitudes toward and interactions with brands are very unique from previous generations, but relatively easy to understand – yet, often advertisers and marketers miss the mark.

I've created a list of important facts/ideas about how millennials view and engage with the brands in our lives. It's a rough list and many of the ideas are half formed or need more. I would appreciate any feedback, criticism or ideas you might have.

1)We expect brands to offer us value (our definition of value is wide – a good product, an engaged community, two way communication, flexible meaning associated etc. more below)

2)For millennials’ brands are not a bad thing, just a thing.

3)Brands are used to self identify and create personal meaning. We seek out brands that represent who we are, or wish to be.

4)Individuals and groups identify similar people via their similar brand associations; this commonalty creates a de facto community.

5)If a community is not created for us by a brand we will create it. If one is created for us, it must be flexible and transparent. And, either way this community is considered to be owned by us (the users), not the brand.

6)We expect a say in the evolution of the identity of our community and thus “our” brand.

7)We demand interaction with “our” brand.

8)Like with good writing, truth is the most compelling feature of any brand – chique or punk it must be honest.

9)Brands must know our boundaries and not attempt to push into our lives, they must be welcomed and will only be allowed so far.

10)Brands are embraced only if they follow certain unspoken rules and boundaries. Even the most brand loyal millennial will abandon a brand if the conditions above (5, 6, 7, 8, 9) are broken.

11)We are fluent in brands. We know the symbols, their messages, and the communities associated with them.

12)We constantly do all this (above) with multiple brands at the same time. Moreover, we can easily construct other and larger meanings through the combination and layering of brands. (eg. Someone wearing a Red Sox hat, Converse shoes, North Face jacket, Starbucks coffee – add or subtract any element here and their brand equation or association map changes, and so does my understanding of them).

13)Thus, we use brand associations and combination of associations as a heuristics to construct an image of others and who we are. A typical millennial is both conscious and unconscious of this fact and select their brands accordingly (see #4).

14)My brand associations are important to me, but ultimately a just one of many variables in my daily life/ equation of personal meaning and value. I dislike brands that do not understand their place in this equation.

Addition 3/1:
15) From profiles to phones we demand the ability to personalize. We want to make our piece of our brand, our own.

P.S. These feel eerily similar to the principles of using social media to its fullest potential...


edwardboches said...

Jason, good stuff, would love to use and credit you. Have you been to the gen-we site? Lots of this is consistent with that. You can turn this into something. Become an expert. If you want to talk more, call me at Mullen. Or email me via my site