The following post was contributed by Beth Lauck, Senior Brand Strategist at HiveMind Marketing.


How consumer brands reach socially conscious millennials is the question du jour. Recent research shows that, right now, this group represents 50% of the workforce, and by 2020, they’ll account for 75%. In response to these somewhat surprising findings, brands are working hard to remodel their marketing and advertising to reflect the interests, values and motivations of this younger generation. Some big brands are doing an excellent job (e.g. Taco Bell and Oreo), others are scrambling to keep up, and a few are missing the mark entirely.

how oreo engages millennials

Branding for millennials might send you back to the drawing board to crack the marketing code. Since millennials know exactly what technology can deliver, they expect brands to give them personalized, authentic experiences. (They know you have your hands on their data and expect you to use it wisely.)

But they don’t want your ads so much as they want to hear stories about your brand. Digital prophet David Shing revealed in a recent Adweek piece that, for millennials, “It’s all about content. Nobody wants ads. … 70% of people would rather read about a brand than be advertised to. … They spend all their time in feeds, meaning news feeds, message feeds and photo feeds. And it’s not that they don’t like advertising – they don’t like bad advertising”

All the while, millennials are holding their favorite brands to higher standards. They like knowing that you’re giving back to the community, minimizing your carbon footprint and treating your employees well. Interestingly enough, despite being criticized as “selfie-obsessed,” this is probably the most socially conscious group out there. In the millennial mind, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice style for quality and transparency. And on a personal level, millennials want to be valued for their customer loyalty and given incentives to keep the good times going.

Several notable favorites and upstart brands that are doing an awesome job with millennial branding and marketing, and giving back to the community, include: Tom’s Shoes, Zady, Imogene + Willie and Warby Parker.


Tom’s donates a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair sold. Zady identifies itself as a “lifestyle destination for conscious consumers” with a mission to “combat the fast-fashion craze by providing a platform for only those companies that care about timeless style and solid construction.” Imogene + Willie is revitalizing the denim industry in the United States utilizing old selvedge looms that add a distinctly hand-made touch to their product. And Warby Parker is the only eyewear company to go carbon neutral, and like Tom’s, they’ve made a commitment to donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair purchased.

Millennial Messaging: Language is Key

Mastering the lexicon is an essential piece of the millennial marketing puzzle. A recent Forbes’ article reveals that, beyond being do-gooders, the brands mentioned above have taken the time to carefully craft “millennial messages” that ditch the “jargon of sustainability and even the word ‘sustainability’ itself.” (Forbes also notes that for consumers “who favor purpose-driven organizations – ‘sustainability’ can be a counterproductive term. It is disconnected and is often perceived to be at odds with what consumers want: well-designed, stylish products that make them look good and feel good.”)

The same article notes that the trick is to communicate “sustainable practices in terms that connect with an audience’s values and motivations.” Warby Parker, for example, demonstrates a commitment to “sustainable production” and “meticulous craftsmanship.” And with branding phrases like, “Doing good is in our DNA,” sprinkled across its website, Warby Parker creates a brand experience that not only reinforces its commitment to philanthropy, but also extols the benefits of buying a product crafted with care.

Creating Brand Ambassadors

Millennials can be your brand’s best friend and best ambassador, if you know how to engage with and market to them on social media. Mary Meeker’s latest trend report names Instagram the king of social networks for this generation. Meeker reports that 87% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who own smartphones say they never separate from their mobile devices. And about 75% of 18- to 34-year-olds report that they use their cameras to post pictures to social media. Meeker concludes that millennials are most interested in “taking pictures of the world around them, and injecting those photos into and across the screens that consume their mornings, days and nights.”

Leveraging a social platform like Instagram to create #instagood brand ambassadors also begins with building a great brand. Effectively building and managing your brand means realizing that everything you do or say communicates something about who you are. Even what you don’t do or say sends a message.

Every photo, blog, tweet or snap can either strengthen or weaken a brand experience.

Instagram is also an excellent place to curate cross-industry relationships and partnerships that speak to and engage multiple audiences. Whether it’s developing a hashtag that asks viewers a question (and encourages a response) like, “Who made my clothes?” or using slick typography to both educate and motivate better choices, consumer-conscious brands are tapping into bigger social events and causes, and connecting with other do-good brands to propel their own messages, style and philosophy.

One great example: Warby Parker teamed up with Barkbox for an event they named Warby Barker (which still has its own Instagram account just for dogs wearing Warby Parker spectacles).


This type of cross-industry, collaborative content is a smart mix of information, humor, style and entertainment – and it connects very sophisticated dots in the minds and eyes of an audience. Tapping into several different values, interests and motivations at once (i.e. Warby Parker and BarkBox’s cute animals, great sunglasses, great cause and clever photography) tells a compelling story and builds a strategic brand matrix of devoted followers who are eager to participate and share this kind of multi-interest and multi-cause content.

#Instagood content creates reasons for millennials to engage with your brand.

The result is a collaborative economy that dovetails nicely with a generation that sees the value in sharing and co-creating.

Establishing Long-Term Relationships

One of the things millennials love most about social media is that these channels provide an unprecedented level of portability, immediacy and intimacy between people and brands. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s quite a rush when a big brand like Sephora favorites and retweets something I’ve shared. But it’s not just the affirmation and personal contact that’s exciting; it’s the accessibility to previously untouchable channels of communication that keeps me coming back for more. There’s something pretty powerful about posting photos of “everyday people” using your products.

Whether through contests or hashtags, empowering and connecting with consumers is a great way to inspire brand loyalty. When a brand goes the extra mile to connect with me or thank me for my loyalty, for example, I’m twice as likely to buy from them again. In addition, I’m inspired to post and share fun, well-choreographed photos and videos with my friends and followers of brands that I trust. User-generated content really is worth its weight in gold!

Thinking Beyond Product

Branding for millennials is as much about experience as it is about product. Beyond selling beautiful, well-crafted shirts, shoes or sunglasses, your brand needs to sell an experience. You must ask and answer questions about your brand including:

  • What does my brand feel like?
  • What does my brand look like?
  • What does it stand for?
  • What value does it bring to my customers’ lives?
  • How is my brand different than the competition?
  • What problem does my brand solve?
  • How is my brand giving back?
  • If someone knew how my product was made, would they still respect my brand?

Millennial marketing doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating, but it does take additional time and preparations to understand what motivates, inspires and influences this generation.

Beth Lauck is a Senior Brand Strategist and Trend Forecaster at HiveMind Studios. Her motto: Eat. Sleep. Shop. Repeat.