Promotions won’t make millennials loyal

The holy grail of brands and advertisers is reaching millennials, that misunderstood demographic that represents the future of every brand. This is the group everyone from retailers to TV networks is trying to reach in order to gain lifetime brand loyalty.

With college students returning to school this month, retailers are trotting out specials to attract that young generation. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Best Buy allow students to sign up for a kind of wedding registry so family can contribute. Amazon is offering college students six-month free trials of its Prime membership and DirecTV allows students to access its NFL Sunday Ticket coverage without a satellite subscription.

Promotions won’t make millennials brand loyal.

I give those brands credit for at least thinking tactically. Industry experts estimate that the average family spends about $900 getting a child back to college, so the pot is big once you consider how many college students there are.

In addition, I’ve always maintained that brands should find opportunity at the point of a life event. So few do, thinking that cost and convenience will do the trick without considering when consumers are most likely to buy.

Sure, brands promote products seasonally. However, when retailers talk to consumers in a language that speaks to the current situation of the consumer, they have placed themselves within the consumer’s decision tree.

Millennials respond to brand meaning

But if those brands believe they are making life-long consumers this way, they are delusional. That is, they are delusional if they don’t have a brand that speaks directly to millennials at an emotional level. Life-long preference is not built on promotions. It’s built on the consumer’s self-identification within that brand.

Of the retailers mentioned above, I’d say only Amazon has a brand with appeal. The three retailers mentioned – Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Best Buy – are struggling to hold onto market share so any promotional fix will only be temporary. (DirecTV and NFL Sunday Ticket is a different animal. The brand carrying the meaning is the NFL.)

So, I give a nice pat on the back to those retailers for thinking about a life moment for potential consumers. To reach them earlier in the decision tree, where true preference lies, you need a brand millennials want to spend their lives with.

Urban Outfitters and vinyl records

I am a child of the 60’s and proud of it.

In fact, a greater majority of my brand beliefs are rooted in ideas that sprang forth at that time. One such belief is that some of the finest music ever made came from that era. The earnestness of Dylan pleading, “How many roads must a man walk down?” Or the boys, Crosby, Stills & Nash, singing in holy-like unison for the children to “Teach their parents well.”

I believed in words like that. Still do. They spoke to my condition and the condition of the times.

Perhaps that’s why I get so nostalgic when I look back over my record collection. I think back to the feeling of dropping the arm on my record player, the warm static of the needle first hitting vinyl, and the richness that rocked from my speakers and the way it hit me.

Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters going vinyl?

It’s also why a wellspring of emotions came to me when I read that Urban Outfitters is curating and pressing its own vinyl.

Today’s generation is seeking a brand identity.  

I look at my children and the world they are being raised in. In them, there appears to be a desire to seek (that is, when they are not on their phones or taking selfies). It’s why there is such a nod to the past; like the resurrection of the record player and vinyl LPs.

Think about it; the kids today are seeking to connect with music in the deepest way possible. Nothing comes closer to that than a spinning black circle. Don’t believe me? In 2014, 9.2 million records were sold. That’s a 53% increase. Where I live, in Greensboro, NC, there aren’t any CD stores anymore. But there are four stand-alone vinyl shops.

This means Urban Outfitters should be careful. 

Being that this is an exploratory period for the rising generation, Urban Outfitters needs to be smart about the records they produce and how they are marketed. A brand-defining moment for this generation will be lost if it is going to dive into the vinyl game for novelty reasons alone, just because it’s hip, all the while selling schlock albums and even worse record players.

Then there is the other problem. Does Urban Outfitters have the brand permission to even sell vinyl records? Is the Urban Outfitters brand about nostalgia? Who is the target audience here? Is Urban Outfitters authentic? If not, then this initiative will fail.

I’ve been tough on Urban Outfitters in the past, and rightfully so. In this instance, I will remain tough on it and make this plea: Urban Outfitters, please look beyond what’s superficial and take stock of what your target audience is truly seeking; a heartfelt need to define themselves.

The brand of Cam Newton

The quarterback matchup in Super Bowl 50 is going to be fierce, with the old guard (Peyton Manning) facing the new one (Cam Newton) in a battle of contrasting styles.

Cam Newton
Who doesn’t like Cam Newton?

And I’m not just talking about what happens on the field. No, a recent poll among industry insiders by named Newton as the most marketable player in the NFL.

That means he’s topping Manning, who led the NFL this season in endorsements with more than $12 million pocketed. That’s no surprise to anyone as we’ve all seen him in spots for Papa John’s, Nationwide, Nike, DirecTV and Buick.

Cam Newton, meanwhile, has signed deals with Under Armor, Dannon Oikos, Gatorade, Microsoft, Beats by Dre, GMC, Drakker Essence, EA Sports and Belk. That doesn’t even account for being the host of Nickelodeon’s upcoming “I Wanna Be,” an adventure-documentary series set to air later this year.

What’s interesting to me is that there has been some consternation in the media about Cam Newton’s actions on the field. Letters to The Charlotte Observer have chided him for dancing in the end zone, pointing after a first down and generally playing against the stereotype of the stoic NFL quarterback.

(Never mind that Aaron Rodgers does the championship belt move after a TD or that JJ Watt screams or that Rob Gronkowski slams the ball to the ground.)

The supposed outrage against Newton is actually small and simply a made-up storyline for Super Bowl week. However, Cam Newton is a new kind of quarterback. One who plays with joy. He is often smiling, high-fiving teammates and giving footballs to the kids lining the end zone stands.

Even though I might have some bias because I live in North Carolina, I ask: How can you not like that?

What Cam Newton means to Millennials.

There’s another part to this, and I don’t mean the race angle that has popped up in some discussions. We’re entering a new age when it comes to demographics. Advertisers are scrambling to understand Millennials, the incoming buying audience.

Like any new generation, its members have their own personality traits. What makes Millennials so different is that they are the first generation to grow up in the iPhone world.

There’s not the space here to go into how today’s world has affected them. But our research demonstrates that Millennials are less judgmental than previous generations and a Cam Newton-style quarterback is more in line with their personalities than the stoic images of Unitas, Montana, Manning and the like.

So, no matter where you stand on the Cam Newton issue today, you’d better get used to it. Cam Newton, the marketable NFL player, is here to stay.