Millennials are a strange beast and I’m allowed to say that because – technically – I am one. We’re the ones that ranked both Forever 21 and Target in the same top-20 brands “Love List” as Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Blasphemy! The same generation that voted in American Eagle’s Live Your Life campaign and then complained when the prettiest/skinniest contestants won. The same generation where 60% are willing to switch the brands they buy, if it means getting more benefits.  We want it all – authentic brands, on-trend messaging, social responsibility … all at a good value!

We’re not known for our brand loyalty.  Millennials are the quintessential comparison shoppers, and with 2015 marking the year when we’re to surpass the outsized Baby Boomer as the nation’s largest living generation, retailers are looking for new ways to utilize social media to market to this fickle audience. One thing brands must realize is though we may be younger than the traditional customer, we’re not stupid … millennials are actually the most educated generation in American history. Far more members of our generation are going to college than of past generations, which leads me to my first observation:

We must be approached on our own terms.
When mentioning the rise of advertisement within social media, a Regional Director at a popular teen clothing brand warned me, “Our teenage customer is very wary of how companies engage through social media and there can be a lot of backlash if they don’t like what you’re posting or how you’re posting it.”  We are a generation of DVRs, Netflix & OnDemand … content is king and we don’t have a lot of patience for unwanted advertisements. If your brand is causing a millennial an inconvenience, it doesn’t matter what you are selling. Banner ads, pop-ups and product placement don’t resonate and are often seen as ingenuine or manipulative.  Generating content that is engaging, shareable and informative is the best way for companies to reach this customer segment. With users complaining about the number of Facebook ads now, its no wonder the newest social network, Ello, is touting its ‘no-ad’ platform.

Make us laugh.
It doesn’t just have to be funny – but genuinely appeal to our emotions. We want brands to be real and not to take themselves too seriously. A survey found that 88% of millennials believe humor is crucial to their self-definition, and this belief was especially high among the males surveyed. In fact, 63% of millennial males would rather be trapped in an elevator with Jon Stewart, over Eli Manning (at 15%… and keep in mind this survey was completed in 2012, when he was actually a top-tier quarterback).

Dollar Shave Club – a start-up launched two years ago on the strength of a single, funny viral video, now has over 1.2 million active subscribers with 40% of them signed up for more than one product. At its current pace, Dollar Shave will ship 44 million cartridges in the coming 12 months.

American Beagle Outfitters – What started out as a cute and clever way for AEO to engage consumers (all while supporting the ASPCA) for April Fools Day, became a full-fledged campaign. The outpouring of support for the endeavor was so great, American Eagle decided it had to go through with it, selling a limited edition line of  dog clothes in-stores for Holiday 2014.

ae, american beagle campaign

Price isn’t everything.
We are savvy shoppers that are just beginning to climb the corporate ladder. We are perfectly willing to trade up and trade down, depending on the perceived brand value. We are skeptics of everything around us, we like to search out and make our own decisions about companies and products. Like many, I am an avid Amazon shopper (Amazon Prime is a dangerous black hole of spending…), but the first thing I do before considering a purchase is read the reviews.  In many cases the overall product experience can be more important than price. In our mindset, a cool brand can be both a $1 tube of Burt’s Bees or a $50 face cream from Sephora—price is not the determining factor of a brand’s value. It’s the same reason I have an affinity towards Rent The Runway, the reviews not only contain customer feedback but they include photos of the actual dresses on women (not models … real women). In addition to their online presence, their customer service is universally celebrated and the attention to detail with their packaging are all aspects that go into making a complete experience — without even taking price into consideration — its a brand I highly value.

Be authentic.
A new generation of brands have been created to fill this void by millennials themselves — brands that resonate because they produce a quality product and remain dedicated to some set of socially conscious core values; brands like The Honest Company, Sweet Green, and Warby Parker. And while social media campaigns and partnerships can be a great way to promote your brand, it’s important not to force it and come off as insincere and fake. It’s much easier to lose a millenial’s loyalty with a bad campaign, then gain it with a good one. Let consumers initiate the conversation.

While it’s impossible to generalize an entire generation, millennials revel in the experience of it all. We don’t want to be ‘sold to’, we want to be an active part of the conversation.