MILLENNIALS AND THEIR QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY Insights into changing consumer mindsets
By Sara Gonzalez
Authenticity has evolved over time and has meant something different for each generation. As we speak, the changes that the digital era has imposed over Millennials’ values and beliefs are drastically reshaping its definition again.
The quest for authenticity starts by understanding what authenticity means for Millennials today, so brands can navigate and profit from those changes. This paper seeks to help brands tap into this new concept and deliver an emotional competitive advantage that will create loyalty, relevance and ultimately deliver growth in an increasingly complex environment.
1. The big issue
As the world changes and the digital-self becomes part of the fabric of Millennials’ personas a new and more exciting interpretation of authenticity is flourishing for brands to seize.
Provenance, the most recurrent expression of authenticity, has always been a source of differentiation and competitive advantage, the shorthand for many of the things consumers were looking for, ‘quality, ingredients, health and environmental concerns’. For many years brands have tapped into existing provenance credentials. For instance, most of the leading Scotch and Vodka brands proudly champion their national origins, as symbols of authenticity.
This way of bringing authenticity to life has been used by branding for decades as a shortcut to trust and loyalty, but it is no longer enough. It is well known that in today’s world we use brands to not only decrease risks when buying them, but also to express and validate ourselves. Brand authenticity matters because by buying brands we perceive as authentic, we are saying something about our personal authenticity, and for Millennials this matters even more.
With Millennials there has been a tipping point on how we define personal authenticity. The values and ideas that underpin who we are at our core are undergoing a period of rapid social change that undermines the established norms, and pushes people to adopt new values. That means that there is room for a more interesting and up to date interpretation of authenticity that helps consumers with their struggle to find pillars on which to build their identity.
Authenticity has evolved and it is creating opportunities for brands to connect with Millennials well beyond provenance.
2. Why this is important now
The digital era is reshaping how Millennials construct their identities and brands have an important role to play.
The digital world has redefined Millennials’ personas in striking new ways. Social media tools have freed them from traditional aspects that used to label past generations, such as age or gender, meaning they are less constrained by facets of their personas that confined Boomers or Gen X. For example, James Charles a 17 years old teenager is the new face of Covergirl (see below).
For instance, if we analyse the selfie trend, we see that it has created an interesting mix of artificiality and authenticity. Who is our authentic self? Our digital self, or our physical self? Can the spontaneous look that has taken more than 15 photos to create, ever be authentic? While we could say that selfies are a narcissistic behaviour, they also enable Millennials to construct and validate themselves. Therefore, they are also motivated by a desire to better connect with society.
There has been a change from a rigid self-expression with clear signposting references, such as family and job, to a more fluid one, that keeps constantly changing, while trying to stay true to a core essence. While in certain ways Millennials are freer than previous generations have ever been to experiment with their identities. The sudden changes and the lack of clear and relevant pillars upon which to base their personas have left them thirsty for something meaningful and real that anchors them.
With Millennials always changing, brands have to stay single-minded and true to their core purpose in order to become a beacon that helps Millennials define different aspects of their personas.
3. How this affects you
One of the most relevant side effects of this fluidity is that a Millennial now has both a’ real life’ persona and an online one. Brands have to acknowledge this and work with it.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media/networking sites have provided an outlet for endless self-expression. Generally, these type of tools have enabled us to communicate our feelings with much less anxiety about being personally judged, as it has given us the ability to say and do whatever we like, and distort information with very limited personal consequences.
These tools allow us to shape and reinvent ourselves, to appear to be whoever we want to be. But at the same time they have increased the pressure to showcase a perfect self and perfect lifestyle aligned with the latest trends, trends that change as rapidly as celebrities are born and then forgotten. Therefore in today’s digital world, fulfilling social expectations can easily become a full-time job.
This new authenticity is characterised by consistency and continuity between the online personas and the real world one. The more congruence there is between the two, the more authentic we are. Frustrations come when the real persona falls short of expectations, triggering the pressure of self-enhancement, to always be ready to showcase that online persona that we have created for ourselves.
In an increasingly digital society, brands need to understand that Millennials are the most diverse and complex generation we have ever seen. Because of this they can’t aspire to fulfil their every need and desire, and consequently have to focus on specific aspects of their personas.
4. The solution
Brands are looking to create a more intimate relationship with consumers.
Millennials are desperate to be themselves and yearn to express their real selves, even if only briefly, but most
struggle to make peace with who they really are, and fail to bridge the gap between their digital self and their real one.
There are two ways your brand can help them to end the struggle:
The first is to ask how your brand can help them get closerto the ideal image they want to project.
We live in a perfect Photoshopped world where everything has been retouched and filtered, creating role models that are hardly attainable. Consumers struggle to live up to the standards that society is imposing upon them. The following brands appeal to Millennials’ aspirations by helping them enhance their real selves and decrease the gap with their digital selves.
‘Living proof’ A hair care brand that promises perfect hair days.
The beauty industry is already profiting from the need to be ‘always ready’ and techniques once reserved for stage performers and applied only by professionals, are being re-branded for social media-driven masses, with hopes of appearing as flawless IRL as they do on their Insta feeds.
‘The Good-For-You Dessert Bars’ A food brand that promises to take care of your silhouette while being full of goodness.
This food brand example has taken another approach, tapping into different nutritional trends, in order to not only assure consumers they will get their healthy ‘beach ready’ look, but also to help them embrace and portray a trendy lifestyle.
The second way is by asking how your brand can help Millennials celebrate their imperfections, enabling them to remove social pressures.
As globalisation triggered an enhanced desire for local products, the trend for ‘perfection’ has triggered a counter-trend to embrace our imperfections. Today the idea of being imperfect is becoming ‘cool’. This has pushed many brands to encourage Millennials to celebrate themselves instead of trying to live up to other’s expectations gap with their digital selves.
Fig.1 The Asda Wonky Veg Box is a reaction of the supermarket to fight against the waste that only buying ‘perfect’ veg inevitably creates. They contain 5 kg of ‘not-so-sexy’ fresh vegetables that normally farmers would be unable to sell to the retailers for not meeting the standard levels of ‘prettiness’.
Fig.2a Brands like Nike are normalising images of curvaceous, voluptuous women that have nothing in common with its normal stereotype.
Fig.2b The H&M New Autumn collection is a celebration of women’s diversity, and the brand in this instance has decided to portray attitude over beauty.
Fig.2c Another brand tapping into this trend is ‘Lonely’, an underwear brand that portrays real women wearing their product. This is quite a shift for an industry dominated by Victoria’s Secret models.
In a JWT study earlier this year, 85% of Millennials agreed with the statement that flaws make people more authentic and 63% even said they even like to buy flawed goods.
Imperfection kills boring.
5. The bottom line
Even though the idea of Authenticity has been used and abused, personal authenticity is still relevant nowadays, and for Millennials maybe more than ever before.
Millennials are struggling to find their place in a world that is relentlessly changing, where old values and established institutions are no longer seen as valid. Brands have to stop looking for the next big thing, be true to their core purpose and offer something real, and deeply rooted that allows Millennials to live more meaningful lives.
Millennials are more complex than previous generations. Brands must understand that Millennials are multidimensional and that their personalities will flex, meaning they might want different things for different aspects of their lives. This means brands can’t aspire to fulfilling their every need and desire. Consequently, brands must focus on fulfilling only specific aspects of Millennials’ personas.
Millennials are trapped between the illusion of the digital self they have created and their real self. Brands have to help them bridge that gap and make peace with whom they really are.
To help Millennials be whoever they want to be, your brand must remain
- ‘Real’, by staying true to its core purpose.
- Meaningfully distinctive, not ‘bolting-on’ every new passing trend.
- Single-minded and focused on appealing to a specific aspect of Millennials’ self-expressive needs.
Is your brand ready to deliver the new authenticity?