Consumerism isn’t what it used to be, in large part due to the rise of e-commerce and social media. Consider the shopping habits of different generations: Whereas baby boomers typically prefer traditional marketing such as word of mouth, television commercials and radio ads, millennials rely on the internet for most of their purchasing decisions.
Generation Z consumers, who were born and raised in the social media era, are following their immediate predecessors, with an even bigger emphasis on online purchases and social platforms. As more and more Gen Z and millennials make up the addressable market, companies need to ensure their brands attract these customers’ spending money.
It’s more important than ever for small businesses to build a brand that stands out to millennial and Gen Z consumers. These generations are open to taking a chance on small businesses, but it’s up to you to make sure your brand quickly and effectively communicates who you are and why these consumers should learn more about your company. Business owners must prioritize these goals to acquire new customers and get to the next level of growth. Here are four tips for connecting with this essential demographic through a solid, cohesive brand.
The first step in presenting a unified, professional look that attracts younger consumers is to create a logo. Listen to your brand voice. What do you sell? What do you stand for? What feeling or message do you want people to get from your logo? An effective brand image is simple and visually appealing. Your design doesn’t have to say everything about your business, but it should at least be a good start. It also needs to be flexible enough to span all of your marketing.
To achieve a unified look and feel, you must create your own style guide, which will make all your materials, from business cards to packaging, feel cohesive. That said, they should not be replicas of each other. Stick to the same general or complementary color palette as your logo. If you introduce new elements, make sure they convey the same feeling as your logo so your brand expression stays intact and customers know everything is coming from the same business.
Your brand’s look and feel are not just visual; they have a voice as well. To identify your brand’s voice, consider your personality and that of your company, and then get a sense of your customers. Figure out who you’re selling to, what these millennials and Gen Zers care about, and how they’d like to be spoken to. A relatable tone of voice will make your business feel trustworthy and encourage customers to continue their relationship with you. Once you find your brand voice, make sure it’s consistent across all aspects of your business.
Whereas your brand voice shapes the “what” and “how” of your business, your brand story should provide the “why.” A clear, well-articulated brand purpose connects customers to your business on an emotional level. This higher-level brand purpose doesn’t just give customers something to buy; it gives them something to believe in, which is important to younger consumers. Chances are, you already know your business’s story and purpose. Look back on what motivated you to get started. Was there a problem you sought to solve?
To resonate with your audience, a brand story doesn’t have to be complex or emotionally intense. A bakery’s purpose might be to make customers’ days a little sweeter. A landscaper’s mission might be to help neighborhoods bloom. What matters is that you tell your story in a unique way. This story becomes an authentic part of your branding that is crucial for showing your desired customers who you are and what you stand for.
Branding a business to attract millennials and Gen Z consumers comes down to selling a feeling, a personality, a vibe or even a lifestyle. To truly bond with these potential customers, your brand’s story must enable a larger connection for continued experiences beyond a single transaction. This tactic is intended for selling beyond the “now”; showcasing your brand can meet needs beyond the immediate sale. When you have achieved the right branding, you can establish a relationship with your customer that lasts well into the future. [Read related article: How to Become a Better Business Storyteller]
Knowing what not to do when building a brand to attract Gen Z and millennial customers can be just as helpful as knowing exactly what will work. If you can identify weaknesses in your growing brand, you can strengthen its impact. Be aware of these missteps.
When building a brand geared toward consumers of any generation, you need to have clear goals in place for both the brand and the customer journey. If you’re struggling to hit the mark, start by evaluating your ideal customers. Who are they? What problem do they have that your business solves?
Identify your audience’s needs; then provide a solution, and use it as your core message. Consider Canva, a company that identifies four parts in its brand strategy: personality, voice, identity and values. Use that framework as the basis of your own strategy, and adjust the specific components within each category over time as you learn what makes the most sense for your brand and what can be thrown out. Through it all, make sure you’re demonstrating the authenticity Gen Z and millennial buyers crave. A genuine and authentic business vision and branding are vital to connecting with a younger audience.
Pinpointing the right audience for your brand is crucial to its success. If you fail to do so, you will have wasted a lot of time and effort.
An easy way to identify your target audience is to look at what your competitors are doing. Does their tone of voice reflect a younger demographic? What ages are the models in their websites’ photography and advertising? These images can indicate whether the brand is targeting Gen Z and millennial consumers. You should also look at consumer data for your own products to determine what type of buyer is most interested in your brand.
Even a standout product with great potential will go unnoticed if it’s not marketed to the right people. On the other hand, marketing to the right people but on the wrong platform can be just as fruitless. For example, targeting Gen Z consumers through Facebook would be a waste of time and resources; HubSpot data shows this group responds better to influencer marketing found on TikTok and Instagram. Marketing through Instagram appeals to millennials, too.
Have you ever come across a great product that doesn’t match the company’s branding? If the packaging design is off or the tone and voice of the brand’s website don’t complement those on the company’s social media pages, consumers can tell the business is being inconsistent. For many shoppers, this results in a negative association with the brand. The last thing a business wants is to be labeled “inconsistent,” because this breaks consumer trust.
Companies must establish consistency before speaking from a place of authority. A famous example of brand consistency is Coca-Cola. The company is so well-known that its red color and white typeface are instantly recognizable, and the brand doesn’t stray from that aesthetic. While most businesses don’t have this kind of long history with consumers, failing to achieve long-term consistency may devalue your brand’s reputation.
When you ignore market trends, you slowly make your business unviable in the long term. It can be hard to keep up with the fast trends in the internet age, but the potential for growth is worth the hustle. In this case, pay attention to the trends dominating Gen Z and millennial behavior and preferences.
For example, according to the aforementioned HubSpot research, “1 in 2 Gen Zers want companies to take a stance on social issues, specifically racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, gender inequality, and climate change,” and 41% of millennials feel the same way. That means businesses would be wise to authentically incorporate these topics into their brand content. A company that ignores such matters may come across as tone-deaf, ignorant or clueless – surefire ways to turn off, rather than attract, this key demographic.
Erin Shea contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.