Millennials expect more from brands today than past generations may have. So when they take the time to cite a few that are marketing well, marketers should take note. Here are a few brands and platforms recognized by Millennials for their smart practices in a recent panel at CES. The common theme: Successful brands listen to their consumers and treat them as individuals.

Target Millennials with only highly relevant ads, and they’ll thank you
Nordstrom, Youtube

There’s a stigma that Millennials hate advertising. But that’s not truly the case – in fact, the panelists admitted that they actually enjoy ads that are personally relevant.

“I don’t mind ads if they’re absolutely catered to me, and they may help me buy something that I might like.”

“If the ads are tailored to me, I’m totally fine with it – but they really should get it right.”

One panelist referenced Nordstrom as a brand getting relevance right. He can tell the retailer tracks which product categories he shops, like ties, and then shows him product specific ads on other websites, knowing that they’re likely to appeal to him. He appreciates their effort to target him as an individual, adding,

“Personally, I think that relevance is the holy grail.”

Another recounted how Youtube shows her ads for other channels in a similar genre as the video she’s currently watching – helping her discover new channels to follow, which she appreciates.

Let them help you serve relevant ads through feedback and preferences

Millennials are happy to form quid pro quo relationships with advertisers  – they’ll give their feedback if you’ll give them relevant messages. A few panelists love how Hulu asks, “Is this ad relevant to you?” They’re more than willing to let brands and platforms know what products they’re most interested in; in fact, they’re grateful for the chance.

One panelist recommended every online platform allow users to indicate which brands they’d be most interested in hearing from.

“In the pursuit of more and more advertising relevance, I’d love to be able to opt into which advertisers [platforms] deliver me. You have this giant list of advertisers, and there might be half a dozen in there that I’d love to see what they’re up to. Give me some more choice with my advertisers and I’ll be really stoked.”

The other panelists quickly chimed in with their approval: “I second that.” “That’s brilliant.” “I love that idea.” “That’s fantastic.” And one pointed out the added benefit for the platforms:

“That also improves your relevance algorithm, right? That gives you the information to actually make [other ads you show us] more relevant once you understand their tastes.”

Showcase your biggest fans to show your appreciation
Irrational Games, Dr. Martens

In that same vein of quid pro quo, Millennials appreciate brands that appreciate them. One panelist described a recent campaign by Irational Games, makers of the Bioshock video game series. The brand found a superfan who loves the games so much that she makes her own costumes of the characters to wear to Comic Con, etc. They’re now using pictures of her in her costume in their launch campaign for the next edition, even going so far as to include her on the box art.

“It shows that the brand is listening to the consumer as well as involving us in the creative process.”

Your brand is what consumers say it is, so if they’re not saying anything… you’re nothing. Showcasing fans and getting them to talk means attracting people who will listen to them. Says one panelist,

“I really tend to love brands that kind of step outside themselves a little bit and make it more about the user.”

She cites footwear brand Dr. Martens as a good example. On Instagram, the brand encourages fans post pictures of themselves in their Docs with the hashtag #firstandforever. Fans share their stories of their first or favorite pairs of Docs, and the brand re-posts some of the best stories and photos – making the consumer feel appreciated, and letting other fans know the brand is listening.

“Engaging with the consumer and making it a collaborative environment is where the brands do best in social media.”

Embrace consumer-created brand associations, and connect with these interests
Beats by Dre

Millennials turn to each other and other consumers to define what a brand means – a product today is the people who buy it and the way they talk about it. So when the conversation around a product sparks new brand associations, brands should echo and encourage those genuine associations in their marketing.

Beats by Dre makes headphones – the function of the product is to play music at a high quality, and early ads for the brand centered on this quality. But among Millennials especially, the headphones have also become a fashion statement. They aren’t purchased/worn just for listening to music, explained one panelist, but also as an accessory, adding a pop of color to an outfit even when they’re not being used.

Recognizing this fan-created association with high style, the brand connected with influential Millennial fashion blogger in France to feature him in their campaigns – deepening that connection between the brand and fashion. And importantly, said one panelist, the association is genuine. The brand and the blogger “exist in the same world. He’s definitely someone who’d be rocking the product.”

That message resonated with the panelists’ answers across questions. Be genuine, start dialogues, truly listen to your consumers, and be relevant – and in return, Millennials will be loyal.

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