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Digital Natives: Empathizing with the Millennial Experience

Posted by: Alex Foss on January 27, 2014

How many blog posts, articles and listicles have you read recently promising to crack the code of Millennials? Most are from the outside-in, with authors observing the rise of a new kind of consumer. Today we're kicking off a blog series celebrating Interbrand's talented Millennials, spotlighting these industry professionals' perspective on branding through the lens of Gen Y.

Digital Native

We’ve been interested for a long time in technology’s ability to disrupt categories and industries. More interesting still is to think about how the cumulative effects of those disruptions can fundamentally alter the human experience. Prior to the telegraph, communication could only occur at the speed at which one could travel. It feels like in the past 25 years we’ve seen innovations of that magnitude over and over again. 

As Millennials, we’ve been saturated with this innovation our entire lives. We have never really known a time when we couldn’t get the information we needed without a quick internet search, or when overseas friends weren’t an email, IM or video call away. Getting a first smartphone wasn’t a profound experience - it naturally extended what we were doing online already. 

Technology has made instant gratification part of Millennials’ everyday existence. Consequently, Millennials expect that brands weave technology just as seamlessly into their own experiences. 

It’s especially exciting to see brands that have embraced this idea with both empathy and foresight. Lyft is a personal favorite. With a few smartphone taps, users know how many Lyft drivers are in the area, how long it will take for them to arrive, and riders are sure to have great conversations en route to destinations (all of which fix the broken experience of taxis). 

Intriguing things are happening in retail and payments as well. Apple’s iBeacon will allow customers to find what they are looking for in retail environments faster. Similarly, PayPal’s Beacon device will allow people to pay for things in stores without touching their wallets. 

These are not just cool - they will reduce how long we spend traveling, finding items, making decisions and paying. All that time adds up. 

Many brands created in previous decades seem to misunderstand what that need for instant gratification says about how Millennials think, navigate marketplaces and make decisions. It’s not that we just want things faster - it’s that our experience is fundamentally different from previous generations and difficult to understand without having lived it oneself. 

The omnipresence of technology and our fluency with it makes us assume that the brands, services and organizations in our lives are caught up with us. One only has to look at airlines, healthcare, public transportation, utilities and local government to see how much catching up there is to do. 

What does this mean for brands that want to succeed among Millennials? 

• Empathize with the fact that we have never known the feeling of not having immediate access to information. Delivering relevant information not just quickly, but transparently, is a table stake. 

• Brands cannot treat digital experiences as separate from or subordinate to traditional media and physical experiences. In our minds they are tightly linked, and brands must present a relevant and authentic experience that is consistent across both. 

• We are bombarded with stimuli and demands on our attention, and have little patience for unnecessarily complicated or cumbersome products or services. We will reward brands that make smart decisions on our behalf and help streamline our lives.

Alex Foss is an Associate Consultant in Strategy at Interbrand San Francisco.

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