Every day, it feels like a new online retailer, e-commerce solution, or mobile payment gateway launches that claims to make finding and buying goods or services easier than ever. Most people are never more than a phone tap, swipe, or mouse click away from almost anything. The fact remains that the digital world has forcefully inserted itself into all phases of the buying process, especially for the Millennial generation.

It’s no wonder then that in a set of two recently published reports on Millennial consumer trends, by Elite Daily and CrowdTwist, respectively, this group of younger consumers proves to be, by far, the most technologically engaged generation (compared to Generation X or Boomers). According to Elite Daily, nearly 90 percent of Millennials are actively using two to three devices a day, and roughly half are using social media or other internet-based tools to interact with their networks or influence buying decisions. While those stats might not be particularly surprising, one trend that came out of both surveys shows something unexpected: that Millennials are also the most loyal generation to their favorite brands, with just over half (50.5 percent) saying they are extremely loyal or quite loyal to their favorite brands. This is striking, because in a world with limitless options at consumers’ fingertips, one would think that brand loyalty would be declining. This begs the question: Why? 

Social Proof

One hypothesis for why Millennials are so loyal when faced with nearly unlimited choice is social proof. Social proof is the psychological concept that humans naturally look toward those around them to help make decisions. This used to be a uniquely real-world, analog phenomenon, but like most things in recent years, it has found many online manifestations. We can see its effects through the universal success of social media, and the fact that more marketing dollars are being earmarked for socially driven engagement strategies because of Millennials’ willingness to share their thoughts and opinions on the platform.

According to the CrowdTwist study, 43.5 percent of Millennials said they use social media to spread the word about products or services, meaning that people within any given network have more access to what their friends, family, and acquaintances are buying. This could go a long way toward explaining why consumers are becoming more loyal--they simply have more information than ever before about what others around them are doing. It also shows brands the importance of social media as part of their consumer engagement and loyalty strategies. As social has provided increased access to the personal opinions of others, consumers have essentially funneled into larger, yet tightly knit spheres of influence with a consistent set of expectations and values when it comes to the things they buy. To succeed in this environment, brands must not only be active on social networks, but also find ways to get consumers to talk about and share with them on these platforms. Whether it’s a social-centric campaign or giving incentives for sharing a brand’s post, companies must make their way into these funnels to help build long-term relationships with their consumers. 

Authenticity Sells, Ads don’t

Another interesting finding uncovered by Elite Daily tells us that only 1 percent of Millennials say they are influenced in any way by advertising. This means that what the brand has to say about itself and its products is of little to no importance to this generation. What does work, however, is delivering authentic and quality experiences every time the customer has an interaction with your brand, no matter where the encounter happens. Whether it’s in-store, online, or on the phone with customer service, proving that customers are at the heart of everything the company does will keep them coming back for more.

Of course, what constitutes a quality or authentic experience is inherently subjective, but there are some trends regarding the kinds of interactions Millennial consumers are responding favorably to. Elite Daily found that 62 percent of Millennials are more loyal to brands that engage directly with customers on social media. Similarly, the CrowdTwist study found that nearly 50 percent of respondents wanted socially conscious benefits like charitable giving or one-of-a-kind rewards and experiences as a result of brand interactions. Essentially, what customers are responding positively to are personal, authentic connections. By engaging one-on-one via social media or building in socially responsible aspects to the customer engagement strategy, brands are building strong, emotionally driven relationships that will stand the test of time. 

The line between the digital and analog worlds is blurring, and Millennials are fully embracing this shift in all its forms. That being the case, it’s important for companies to understand how this change is impacting buying decisions and how these new behaviors are resulting in an increased willingness by consumers to be loyal to their favorite brands. Loyalty, however, can’t be won easily. To earn devotion from these customers and keep them coming back, brands must use all the digital tools and unique incentives at their disposal to keep them engaged for the long term. 

Published on: Sep 30, 2015