Millennials Want Brands To Be More Authentic. Here's Why That Matters.

01/21/2016 04:37 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2017

I honestly can't recall the last time I bought something based off a television commercial.

I can't recall the last time a billboard had a lasting impression on me.

In 20 years of using the Internet, I don't think I've ever clicked on a banner ad.

In my house, sales papers go to either the trash or the fireplace.

Right now, as I write this, Spotify just interrupted my playlist of instrumental concentration music to play an ad, and I have no idea what that ad was about.

Traditional advertising literally has no effect on me. It doesn't influence my buying habits whatsoever. In fact, I feel comfortable saying that I'm completely immune to it. And if you're a millennial like me, there's a good chance you're immune to it as well.

Here's why: Millennials don't trust advertisements.

Only about 1% of millennials claim that a compelling ad influences them. The rest are almost naturally skeptical of advertising. They think it's all spin, so they don't bother paying attention.

Now, this tidbit of information might not mean much if the millennial generation were still made up of mostly free-living college students bopping around between class, Netflix binges, and Bonnaroo.

But that's not the case anymore.

Millennials officially make up a majority of the voting age population and the workforce, and they're close to making up the majority of entrepreneurs.

Millennials are actually kind of in control now, and before long, they'll be the number one market influencer. Which means that at some point, brands and businesses are going to have to nix it with the advertisements and find a new angle--one that's focused more on authenticity and value instead of the sale.

Make Them Love You First

In January of 2015, Forbes wrote:

"62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. They expect brands to not only be on social networks, but to engage them."

Now, ignore everything but the last two words: engage them.

Like two parents harassing their daughter's new boyfriend, millennials need to know you before they'll trust you. They want transparency. They want brands to interact. Simply put, they want to know we're dealing with real humans, not faceless corporations.

So where does all this corporate distrust originate?

Perhaps it's because they grew up in an age of social media and transparency, where everyone and everything is knowable.

Maybe it's because they're buried in student debt.

Or perhaps it's because their formative years were overshadowed by the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that they're not moved by flashy ads, big promises, and "wow" factor. They want authentic messages, authentic brands, and authentic interactions.

How to Be More Authentic

If you're a business owner, there are two ways to react to this information. You could ignore it and brush it off as youthful nonsense, or you could acknowledge the increasingly crucial role millennials play in the market, and do something about it.

If you chose the former, you can stop reading now and wait for your company to collapse. But if you're smart and chose the latter, here are 4 ways you can make your brand more authentic.

1: Communicate

The great thing about social media is that it's really hard to play dumb. Millenials know you see their comments, messages, and photo posts. They know you can see when you're tagged, mentioned, or liked. Don't fool yourself into thinking you can hide away in an ivory tower. I've written about this before, and it's as true as ever. Take the opportunity to interact, engage, and communicate with your audience. You don't have to respond to every single notification, but you can't ignore them all either.

2: Be transparent

Like I said earlier, millennials automatically distrust advertisements because we think they're all spin. Of course your commercial makes your product look amazing. You're trying to make money. But how do THEY know it's worth it?

Short answer: they don't.

Open your business up a little. Show what's happening behind the scenes. You can't do all your work behind closed doors and expect millennials to trust you.

3: Be relevant

A recent poll showed that when it comes to the current presidential race, millennials prefer Bernie Sanders to any other candidate. And it's not because millennials are all socialists. It's not because they're all naïve idealists. It's because they feel like Senator Sanders is the only person talking about issues that actually affect them, namely the economy. He's relevant to millennial voters.

Your business needs to be relevant. That doesn't mean every tweet has to include current online lingo (in fact, it's probably better to avoid for the most part). It doesn't mean you have like everything millennials like. What it means is that you produce content that lines up with their needs, their wants, and their goals.

4: Care

Everything else on this list plays into this. The best thing your business can do to prove your authenticity is to care--not just about millennials, but about you and your work. Prove that you're more concerned with providing something of value instead of trying to make a quick buck. If you're going to tell people that your product will truly make their lives better, then you need to believe that as well, and then show them you believe it.

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