CultureQ research continues to show Millennials rely on favorite brands to feel more emotionally balanced and psychologically fulfilled.  Our latest insights reveal five ways brands can develop more valuable relationships with Millennials.

1. Fill the leadership void

Millennials top five concerns continue to indicate they’re a generation that’s ill at ease, as uncertainty is a permanent feature of their lives. Younger Millennials (16-18) still in high school express concern about weighty global issues (the global economy, political instability, terrorism, environmental sustainability). And are fearful about how the permanent state of uncertainty impacts them personally – preserving their quality of life, achieving longer term security and/or giving their families what they need. As Millennials age and transition more into adulthood, the lack of access to affordable healthcare is a growing worry, despite the launch of Obamacare. They also express increasing concern about the environment and the lack of visionary leadership in government, overall.

More and more, Millennials will gravitate to brands with propositions that empower them to feel more secure and confident about their future and that of the planet. Their loyalty is strongest toward brands that fill the leadership void and embed solutions that solve societal issues into their promise. Brands that center on healthcare, education, financial security, and personal wealth are exceptionally poised to do this.

2. Be safe enough to be real

Many Millennials are struggling with social media dissonance; the term we use to describe the gap between their off and online identities. As this syndrome becomes more widespread, and exacerbated by legacies of helicopter parenting and over scheduling which have left Millennials little opportunity to discover who they really are, Gen Yers will increasingly turn to brands that make them feel safe to be their genuine selves.

Millennials invest more time in brands that reflect their real values, genuine interests and true passions. Mainstream social media such as Facebook has become a utility, used for connectivity and to share significant milestones, rather than connecting on a deeper level. Instagram’s popularity is rooted in its thematical proposition. Brands that interact with Millennials sincerely and help them escape the pressures of keeping up a facade, even momentarily, will become favorites.

3. Friend first, consumer second

At the end of 2012, Millennials of all ages were most concerned about the global economy. As living with uncertainty has become the new normal, the youngest Millennials are concerned with safeguarding their privacy. More so than other age groups, this cohort will become less tolerant of brands that do not act in their best interests (sending too many sales messages, mis-using their private information or putting their identity at risk). We’re seeing signs that brand loyalty may be more fleeting as longstanding favorites no longer surprise or delight users (think Apple). In December 2012, all Millennials identified “I can’t imagine my life without my favorite brand” as the second most important attribute. Although this attribute is still among the top listed, it has slipped lower down in the chart.

To be a favorite with Millennials, a brand must place the consumer firmly at the center and view data as a relationship building tool rather than a sales platform. Favorite brands nurture relationships more akin to friendships than the dynamics of producer-consumer. Drive greater meaning by engaging through individualized dialogue reflective of individual interests and deliver segmented experiences which integrate the real values of precisely defined segments.

4. Employees as the ultimate sincerity test

Millennials of all ages identify “treating employees fairly” as the most important characteristic of a good corporate citizen. Over time, this attribute has increased in importance as a key identifier of leadership brands as well. In part, these shifts can possibly be attributed to Millennials in the workforce sharing experiences of the inner workings of the organizations behind brands through various social media.

Millennials are experiential by nature. Their ultimate test of sincerity is when a brand’s promise, policies and real life experience align. As “cares about things important to the average person” increases as a defining attribute of leadership brands, Gen Y consumer behavior will be more strongly influenced by knowledge of an organization’s culture, processes and actions.

Importantly, our learning continues to show a convergence in the role of leadership brands and good corporate citizens. As brand leadership becomes synonymous with attributes more universally associated with citizenship (treating employees fairly, ethical business practices and caring about the average person), Millennials will increasingly prioritize relationships with brands that are sincere about their promise and involve them in shaping product development, policy and operating procedures.

5. Brands as guardians of well being

Brand Hierarchy

Brand Hierarchy

As the criteria Millennials choose to define leadership brands and good corporate citizens converges and the relationships they have with favorite brands grows, the roles brands play in their daily lives is evolving. Our research indicates to be a favorite with Millennials a brand must forge deeper, more meaningful connections than it had to with Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. In a world where friendship is often more virtual than physical, this may not be surprising. The products and services brands represent are tangible. Gadgets – which are often named as favorite brands – accompany people throughout their day and often are coping mechanisms more than friends and family.

It’s been long known that brands can fill psychological needs, sometimes literally and others symbolically. Through the products and services they represent, the operational policies they practice and the philosophy and outlook they embody, successful brands move through a hierarchy of outcomes that meaningfully fulfill and enrich consumer’s lives.

To be successful, brands need to blend excellent product and service delivery with “human” interactions, using social media and other digital tools to link more directly to the motivational need-states that drive people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. All with an aim of nurturing deeper friendships with Millennials that facilitate their well-being.

For more about what our research revealed about Millennials, their characteristics and expectations of brands as good citizens watch this conversation….