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While use of technology and social media among Millennials is legendary (they've never known a time that wasn't digital), new Hartman Group research finds that their relationships with brands is less definitive and, thus, fertile ground for creating brand affinity. No longer can Millennials be viewed as young kids playing video games or texting friends between classes. Millennials are young adults, many firmly entrenched on career and family pathways. It is little wonder then that this emerging generation garners so much attention and is clearly in every marketer's bullseye. Here, a little understanding on their culture can go a long way towards influencing the path to purchase for your products and brands.

Today's Millennials are coming of age in a postmodern world—which encourages consumption with playful, carefree abandon. In 2011, two-thirds of Millennials are over the age of 21, the oldest now entering their 30s. By 2015, almost half of the world's population will be under the age of 25. Raised in a digital age, they wield a tremendous amount of influence through their use of technology and digital media. They have the power to set trends, are open to trying new products, services, retailers and brands. As we all well know, they then share their experiences with others in their social (and global) universe.

It is likely this group will be consuming at levels relatively higher than their predecessors. And, in a future where it is likely that we will all be buying more stuff, Millennials will be leading the way. What does this mean for brands?

Millennials identify with brands, but not in the same manner as their elder Boomer cohorts consume and relate to brands.

In our Culture of Millennials research, we found Millennials, when leaving home, begin to shift their brand preferences away from the brands they grew up with. Close to a third (29%) of Millennnials shift back toward their parents' brands after having children. One out of five Millennials switch almost entirely to different brands when they move out on their own.

We also found that Millennials have a different—less definitive—relationship with brands and products. As a whole, Millennials only care about brands in categories where there is a significant cost to getting it wrong (e.g., cars, computers) and few claim to be interested in popular fashion brands—or fashion brands in general.

Among Millennials who claim to want brand relationships, they are most interested in categories that contribute to their own image: fresh foods, personal care products, local groceries, and electronics. Most Millennials who don't want brand relationships (60%) haven't thought about why.

This isn't to say that Millennials are radically different from other generations. There are more similarities than differences between Millennials and other generations. Many of their attitudes and behaviors are reflections of broader culture. Households with children, whatever the age, face the same challenges.

Creating a relationship between your brands and Millennial consumers requires due diligence with regards to transparency. Be true to who you are. Be honest about your products. This means a word of caution with regard to social media: Millennials can easily spot "cluelessness" among those dabbling in social media marketing.

Connecting with Millennials is less about building loyalty and more about having fun. Don't take yourself too seriously. Millennials will relate and bond with brands they deem are less serious and dowdy and possess a great deal of integrity.

Click here for more info about Hartman Group's Culture of Millennials report.

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Melissa Abbott
Melissa Abbott, Hartman Group’s Director of Culinary Insights, dishes up the latest in food culture and its impact on the food industry. Hartman Group is a leading consumer culture consultancy and primary research firm utilizing a multidisciplinary approach to understand consumers, identify growth opportunities, re-energize brands, create relevant experiences and fuel strategic thinking.
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