What does the change in values of an entire generation mean for brand strategy? For Generation X, the aspiration for career success was the be-all-and-end-all. Brands became status symbols, with the consequence was that logos experienced a boom. They were employed to impart explicit information about who one was or where one wanted to go. Strong brands assertively claimed that they could offer consumers orientation. They were relatively manageable in number and therefore easier to position. The parents of this 70ies-born generation, however, often shied away from the symbolic power of such branding. Socialized during the post-War years, the creation of sound circumstances was key to their way of thinking. Functionality, durability and price were the essential parameters when deciding to buy. Paying twice as much for a polo shirt simply because a reptile was sewn onto it when one of similar quality could be had in any department store was a rather far-fetched concept for adherents to such a value system.
Today’s 20-30 year-olds, on the other hand, are no longer concerned exclusively with security, profit maximization and career. For them, it’s more a matter of self-determination and self-realization, of work/life sense and purpose.
“People seek a holistic life: they want to work with intelligent people on exciting and rewarding projects where they can be creative and left alone to get the job done; values and purpose are as important as money (…). Companies that fail to respond to these trends will do so at their peril.”
GENESIS RESEARCH REPORT FAST FORWARD 2030
Such emancipation affects not only employer branding, it is also relevant for brands overall. Those who increasingly question the non-material value of what they’re doing, will not limit this solely to their job choice. It will also embrace the things they surround themselves with, what they eat, what mode of transportation they choose: for example, to share an e-roller with a community rather than owning their own car.
In this context, it will primarily be brand purpose and brand values that will attract talent and make products or services emotionally relevant for consumers. This is where they can hook in because “a brand is no longer what we tell customers. It is what customers tell each other” (Scott Cook). Studies have therefore shown that brands with a strong value presence are significantly more successful in the long run.
Why the search for meaning among Generation Y is relevant for brands beyond employer branding alone
1. Values create loyalty
Self-determination and an individual’s sense of purpose are essential to the way many now 20-30-year-olds are structuring their lives. A clear attitude that syncs with the ideal values of the target demo is thus a strategic resource that cannot be underestimated: For those sharing such an attitude, the brand will become emotionally relevant – beyond product or service alone.
2. Werte differenzieren vom Wettbewerb
Never as much selection: Products and services are becoming increasingly similar in terms of quality, and the number of competitive offerings is growing too. Successful differentiation from the competition is therefore steadily shifting to a level of ideals where the brand can be personalized and made unmistakable in its essence.
3. Values are lodestars and anchors
Brand purpose and values offer orientation both internally and externally: They serve as communicative guideposts and help focus staff in their interactions with customers. The long-term challenge here is to hold the core but at the same time remain receptive to change.
In addition, millennials are not only much more emancipated – they also have greater selection than ever before. In Germany in 2017, more than 800,000 brands were registered, with around 70,000 being added every year. In light of the increasing similarity in the quality of products and services, it’s more important than ever to recognize one’s basic purpose and inner value and harmonize them with those of the target demo – and then make this process visible and tactile at every touchpoint along the way.