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Need to Know

June 30, 2015

Catherine Salfino

The millennial generation’s thirst for knowledge apparently knows no bounds. Take, for instance, the story comedian Aziz Ansari told Jimmy Fallon recently on The Tonight Show comparing his life to his parents — their arranged marriage, in particular. He related how his father met and talked to his mother for just 30 minutes before proposing marriage.[quote]

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so crazy. That’s the biggest decision and he spent 30 minutes talking to my mom,” he said before adding, “I spend way longer than that researching where I should go get tacos for lunch. I will sit there and look on Yelp, and [read] every article, and text every person I know that’s ever eaten a taco like, ‘Where should I go?! I have to have the best taco!'”

Therein lies a prime example of the millennial consumer’s quest for knowledge — about anything and everything. And connecting with this generation is critical as there are now more millennials in the U.S. than Baby Boomers, according to the U.S. Census. The Gen Y group — born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s — numbers 83.1 million — one quarter of the nation’s population. That compares to 75.4 million boomers. They’ve been called the “always connected” generation. And since 84% own smartphones, according to GlobalWebIndex, brands should be prepared to inform and engage them at any time.

Chelsea Krost, TV and radio talk show host, is chief creative officer and co-founder of MPulse, a digital marketing agency that targets millennials. The 24-year-old exec says two main things spur this generation’s need for information.

“Think about it — there are a lot of options,” she states. “Take jeans. Back in my parents’ day, there were a few main brands with some designer brands thrown in. Now, there are a hundred thousand brands for everything! Millennials need to know how to cut through all the clutter — especially because we also have a lot of debt. The average millennial comes out of college owing $30,000. So when we spend money, we want to be savvy and make sure we’re getting the ‘right one’ of whatever it is we’re purchasing. We’re not silly spenders.”

That “need to know” involves apparel as much as anything else. Louis Purple’s YouTube channel shows men how to fasten a bowtie. ModCloth tells girls how to wear a headscarf.  It makes sense to show these young shoppers definitive how-tos because almost 6 in 10 millennials (57%) say they would be more loyal to apparel brands and retailers that took the time to educate them on their products, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey. This is significantly higher than Gen X (35%) and Boomer (42%) generations.

For an item like activewear, millennials are more likely than the older Gen Xers and boomers to say they would be “very or somewhat likely” to shop from a store that educates them on performance features (53% versus 42%) or provides education or training on how to participate in athletic activities (39% versus 26%), according to Cotton Incorporated’s 2014 Sports Apparel Survey.

Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast, a millennial trend consulting firm and author of two books on millennials, says best-in-class brands understand the importance of great content.

“The ones that are doing well, that have extraordinary performance, understand content enhances the products and services they sell,” Fromm says. “Millennials are comfortable using content and technology to solve what they need to know. They are early adopters of the snackable content movement, where they consume information in short content form.”

But marketers need to consider the tone of their delivery as much as anything else, says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist, author and Golden Gate University professor.

“Don’t push,” she says. “Marketers very naturally want to push information out to millennials. A more effective technique is to inspire and empower consumers to do the talking for you. Sponsoring competitions, highlighting great users, stoking pins or posts with inspirational content, encouraging ratings with contests — these sorts of mechanisms that champion the consumer are most effective.”

Fromm says this younger generation is influencing older behavior and attitudes based on the fact that it’s found more effective ways to get things done.

“This is the first time we’ve seen that,” he states. “I didn’t influence my parents. But millennials have a better model. So the purpose of content is to inspire, inform and engage a ‘prosumer’ who wants to co-create with your brand. And they bring an end to the era of traditional target audience marketing.”

Despite their strong digital acumen, millennials actually prefer a mall (37%) to ecommerce (27%), according to OpinionLab research. This means that for 70% of millennials, shopping is not a chore but a fun, social activity. That’s significantly higher than the perspective of Gen Xers (56%) and Boomers (44%).

Micah Solomon, customer consultant, speaker and author, says stores would do well to have their employees “project an attitude that everyone is in this together, the server and the served.”

“Take a moment and picture the great department stores of the past, the grand hotels — tea at The Plaza and so forth; the white-gloved, French-accented, towel-over-the-arm restaurants,” he writes in “Your Customer is the Star; How to Make Millennials, Boomers and Everyone Else Love Your Business,” a Forbes Signature book. “This model of service, design and atmosphere doesn’t really resonate with millennials. It’s too imperious and stifling, too mothball-scented. It’s also a bit nerve-wracking for the customer.”

Krost maintains stores and brands can no longer only be about the products and services they provide.

“Every brand has to be a content creator,” she says. “And it needs to make people come to the store or site, engage on social media. It’s like a brand is a source of entertainment. This way, the consumer doesn’t think about handing over money. That’s how you get into the millennial’s wallet.”