From frequent job hopping to ghosting dates, millennials are the generation with an infamous reputation for disloyalty and fickleness. However, despite these tendencies, millennials are actually the most loyal generation in another area--consumer brand loyalty.
A study by American Express revealed that 62% of millennials tend to only ever buy a preferred brand compared to 54% of the wider population. In addition, 58% of millennials say that they will buy the same brand of products no matter what.
A key driver of this notable millennial brand loyalty here seems to be loyalty rewards. While price matters (across all generations), millennials are more likely than any other generation to stay loyal to a brand because of its loyalty rewards. In contrast, the older Gen X's brand loyalty is driven by price and bargains. As a result of strong millennial brand loyalty and the loyalty rewards that drive it, 57% of Fortune 500 brands surveyed indicated that they will increase loyalty program budgets in 2017.
However, the archetypal card loyalty rewards programs have been around since S&H Green Stamps in 1896, and over a hundred years later, Fortune 500 (and smaller) brands still practically use the same methods. It's no surprise that 33% of millennials dislike rewards programs because there are "too many cards to carry," and 40% of millennials want to track and redeem rewards on a mobile app.
Several startups were founded with modern and more innovative loyalty rewards programs, from the earlier wave that focused on specific in-store item rebates like Ibotta and Shopkick to the more recent wave that is more centered around general linked credit/debit card purchases like Dosh and Drop Loyalty, with the latter wave more likely to become platforms that make a large splash amongst millennials. Nonetheless, looking to the future, there are factors that brands and loyalty/rewards startups alike should take into account to attempt to capture the millennial appetite in this space.
Having grown up in a society that is more diverse than previous generations, millennials prefer, and almost expect, customized products in general. This expectation goes beyond products and extends to offers on products. A study by American Express showed that almost half of millennials expected brands to customize offers to suit their needs, and millennials were more likely to go out of their way to use a customized offer.
For example, offering exclusive programs and unlockable programs based on a user's past history could help brands and startups differentiate itself and make users feel catered towards. Presenting a millennial sportswear aficionado with other sports-related offers makes the user feel looked after and also naturally increase the chances of him or her using the second offer.
Gone should be the days of carrying around stacks of loyalty cards and rewards gift cards in our wallets. As mentioned before, millennials dislike carrying physical cards around, and similarly, with 90% of millennials' time on their smartphones already spent in their top five apps, millennials won't want to keep track of dozens of apps corresponding to each brand as well.
Likely, the best way for brands to implement their digital programs (beyond email) will not be to offer their own app but instead to integrate into frequently used platforms like Facebook and Venmo or partner with a loyalty rewards/cashback platform like Dosh and Drop Loyalty. The idea here is not to completely reinvent the wheel but instead to take advantage of existing platforms. It's a much simpler solution for both brands and millennials-- brands can leverage the reach of an existing platform, and millennials can enjoy the simplicity and ease of additive features of something they already use everyday.
Millennials' need for instant gratification has been shaping retail, and this mentality should be applied to loyalty rewards. Asking millennials to go through a lengthy sign-up process for a program or accrue a certain amount for cash-back are examples of the opposite that are just another reason to deter millennials from participating in a program or platform.
Instead, programs and platforms should offer quicker redeemable rewards or cash-back to attract and retain millennial users. Even if each redeemable amount isn't large, like a video game, it's the frequency of rewards that matter in this case to keep millennials' attention and interest.
These three aspects are helpful guidelines for brands and startups building programs and platforms in the loyalty/rewards space. Targeting millennials' love for loyalty rewards programs is a valuable strategy to build upon and in the long run can help a brand or startup capture and retain millennial brand loyalty.