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Millennials: The WHY Behind Favorite Brands

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Last week, we polled 150 Millennials about their favorite and least favorite brands (infographic here). First off, thanks to everyone who responded -- you came in like a wrecking ball with responses that ranged from the sophisticated to the sidesplitting. My personal faves were those who thought we said Battle of the BANDS, not Battle of the BRANDS. (Not that I don't love John Mayer, but we're really more interested in the shopping habits of Millennials, not who they really really want to see at Bonnaroo).

Anyhoo, after reviewing the responses, I was struck by a few common threads from within the data. There were patterns I found compelling, particularly given that this poll was unsolicited -- there were no dropdowns or menus to choose from.

Turns out:

1. We care about more than just stupid sh*t.

There can be a lot of player hating when it comes to Millennials. It's easy to assume we're selfish or materialistic or have our noses buried in our smartphones to the point where we don't notice the things that really matter.

Not true. We may be obsessed with technology, but we can also multitask, and it turns out that when it comes to brands, we care about things that are neither stupid nor trivial. While many people put a premium on a brand's product quality (does it hold up over time? Is it a good value for price?), there was also a strong contingent that looked at more than just personal use.

A few examples:

What's your favorite brand? Tesla.

Why? From the outside looking in, it seems like a truly global company that has a good view of the future in mind. At the risk of sounding fan-boyish, Elon Musk is a pretty big inspiration when it comes to business. Actually seems like the guy has a soul.

What's your least favorite brand? Shell.

Why? The state of Nigeria alone tells you everything you need to know about Shell and its business practices. At least BP puts forth a paltry effort when they destroy a natural habitat. Shell doesn't even care.

Respondent's age: 26.


What's your least favorite brand? Papa John's.
Why? They fund anti-LGBT superPACs.

Respondent's age: 19. He can't even (legally) drink yet, but he cares about the ethics behind the company.


What's your favorite brand? Costco.
Why? They treat their employees well, good selection of goods.

What's your least favorite brand? Walmart.
Why? They pay and treat their employees poorly.

Respondent's age: 27.

(I won't include all the other responses that Walmart received; suffice it to say that they were pretty much eviscerated with respect to their practices regarding employees as well as product sourcing.)

I'm not saying every response was a dissertation on corporate social responsibility. There was a diversity of answers, just as there is a diversity of people within this one generational bracket. The point is, a lot of us are paying attention to companies for more than just the products they offer. Heads up, brands: People take note of your corporate practices, Millennials included. We may be young, but we're paying attention, too. We want to work with and give our money to companies that align with our values.

2. We resent bad marketing.

One of the brands frequently listed as least favorite was Progressive. To put it bluntly, people are over Flo. That campaign was cool at first, but then it got old and just wouldn't die -- kind of like "Call Me Maybe." (I happen to still like Flo herself, but agree that it's gotten a little stale).

Other people listed least favorite brands as those with marketing campaigns they either thought were stupid, ineffective, or just plain lame. For example, one person's response to, "What's your least favorite brand?" was, "Anything that has an advertisement or commercial on subways, billboards, etc. Why do I need to see another Pepsi commercial? I don't drink it ... or another Tide ad. We already know your purpose; we don't need it repeated."

This is important. If you're an established brand, we already know what you do; there's no need to tell us about it again. Instead, give value (see below).

3. We like good marketing.

Several of those who responded listed Patagonia as their favorite brand, and several mentioned their Instagram as part of the reason. People said the images Patagonia posts make them want to be outdoors more; several used the word 'inspired.'

What's important here is that Patagonia is not doing is reminding people they exist with a tired ad that everyone has seen a zillion times. Instead, they're offering striking images of some of the most beautiful places on our planet, and sharing them with the world. Their marketing is inspiring in the sense that they're literally inspiring people to go out and enjoy nature.

By proximity, they're saying, "Our products can help. We can help you stay warm in Tierra Del Fuego, stay hydrated on the Appalachian Trail, stay dry on your rafting trip. We support you in your love of nature."

When I talk about Millennials wanting to be inspired, it's not that we expect some crazy magical experience; it's just that we want to be included in the feeling of whatever your brand is offering. We like good marketing.

4. Not all of us are brand loyal.

Got some good news and some bad news about this. Good news: we're paying attention to actual product quality and value. Bad news: turns out brands aren't the most important thing in our lives.

I know. Shocking. But it was definitely striking how many people said something to the effect of this one respondent's words:

Don't really care about brands -- I care about products, ethics and process.

(Speaking of ethics and process, in case anyone needs a startup idea, I'd find a way to compete with Comcast. It'd take a lot of capital, but it turns out people really hate them, and would probably switch to you as fast as something funny. Add to this Fast Company's recent chronicling of Comcast's customer service call from hell, and you've got yourself a solid business plan. Take to Shark Tank immediately.)

The point is, many people stated that they were brand-agnostic; that is, they care about the quality of items more than who makes them. Value for price was a priority, not just a label. This is consistent with this excellent article on Millennial shopping preferences, which suggests that we actually spend more time researching purchases than any other generation. Why? Because we want to make fewer purchases that last, rather than overconsuming. We put a premium on value for money, and many of our choices are based on that. Or, as one person said:

What's your favorite brand? Whatever.
Why? Whatever is affordable but NOT cheap [as in quality, not price].

What's your least favorite brand? Walmart.
Why? It's cheap and falls apart. Yes, everything falls apart, even the underwear.


To sum up, here's what Millennials care about when it comes to brands:

1. Corporate values
2. Good marketing
3. Value for price

Was this what you were expecting? Did anything surprise you? Would love to hear. I'm also giving out several prizes in terms of survey responses. I leave you with the following gems:


What's your favorite brand? Specialized.
Why? Because it makes me look like a better cyclist than I really am.

What's your least favorite brand? GoTo Meeting.
Why? I always have to DL something, something always goes wrong seconds before (or minutes after) I start a presentation. I HATE IT.


What's your favorite brand? Amazon.
Why? In a tough economy, buried under student loan debt, why wouldn't I love the convenience of buying products at a fraction of the cost with the swipe of a finger?

What's your least favorite brand? McDonalds.
Why? McDonalds is the epitome of unhealthy food and a sedentary lifestyle. They seem to be riding the wave of their success over the last several decades but Millennials are increasingly interested in healthy, non-GMO, minimally-processsed food options. Not to mention locally-grown as well. Yes I want the convenience of fast food but not at the cost of my health.

FUNNIEST RESPONSE (this was a three-way tie):

What's your favorite brand? Target.
Why? They are genuises that know you well and treat you well.

What's your least favorite brand? WalMart.
Why? They are genuises who think they know you well and treat you poorly.


What's your favorite brand? DSW.
Why? Because they like to reward loyal customers.

What's your least favorite brand? Chik-Fil-A.
Why? Ugh.


And last but by no means least:

What's your favorite brand? Anything "knee slappin" country.
Why? I'm a Southern girl born and raised.

What's your least favorite brand? Ear bleeding havey metal.
Why? uhhh my ears bleed, that's messy.