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Packaging Design for Millennials and Generation Z
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Jan 20, 2019

Like most of you, I’ve read many articles about millennials, each one describing how this generation differs from previous ones. Being the first generation to be brought up in an environment that promotes “instant gratification” through technology, millennials (born 1980-2000) and Gen Z (2000-) experienced internet, cell phones and digital communication as the norm. While this was perhaps not so much the case for ‘80s children, by the early ‘90s children growing up could communicate, explore and learn like no other generation before them.

Being a late-’80s child myself, I still remember playing with Lego, the first-ever color cell phone and the problems of slow dial-up internet. Looking back, these memories seem ancient—from a time that seems almost incomprehensible compared to the technology and connectivity we have available now. However, of all the changes millennials experienced, the one with the greatest impact was the advent of the internet. Opening this, and future generations, up to the world like nothing before, research indicates that the millennials will constitute the largest online audience and have more buying power than any other generation that has come before it, including baby boomers.

To put it into perspective, millennials today account for approximately 25% of the U.S. population and possess an annual purchasing power of $1.3 trillion. With such high spending power and as adopters of the latest technology and the first highly tech savvy generation, it is accepted that successfully targeting millennials will be a core survival factor for many brands over the next five years. As an experienced consumer psychologist, I have seen the importance of this firsthand— a failure to adapt can cause irreversible price wars, significant loss of brand equity and a total lack of brand loyalty. However, based on my observations, perhaps the most interesting changes from previous generations are the power dynamics between retailer and consumer and the importance of value drivers.

Consider the power dynamic first; the traditional model of the retailer having more power than the consumer has been diminished. Being so well-connected means that a millennial knows that if a product is inferior, the service bad or if the brand does not live up to expectations, he or she will be able to find an alternative almost instantly, using social media to publicly criticize a brand equally as quickly. As such, millennials are estimated to be as much as 70-80% less loyal to brands than previous generations, which makes targeting them less about on-shelf presence and more about global, digital, and social presence. This essentially means that a product needs to be on trend globally (as millennials are globally connected), digitally accessible and unique compared to other products (as millennials increasingly shop online) and socially sexy (have an ‘Instagram appeal’ that offers the purchaser social status). Due to the increasing importance of these factors, and prices between products, brands and retailers being ever undifferentiable, creating a unique brand that targets the core beliefs and behaviors of millennials is vital. To do so this requires first understanding their core beliefs and then designing a brand around them. Much like family values, tradition and community are important to baby boomers, I shall now discuss what we as branding experts need to consider when targeting millennials.

Instant gratification is the norm.Millennials desire speed, ease and efficiency when it comes to seeking information, communicating with others or making a purchase. In fact, in almost all areas of their lives, whether it’s ordering food, receiving messages or making a decision, the need for convenience is a super powerful factor. The millennial is therefore accustomed to expecting immediate results. Current research shows that if this consumer type doesn’t have their question answered within minutes of asking, more than half will walk away from their purchases on the spot.

What to Do: Make sure that the brand immediately fulfills a need by making its USPs clear and easy to understand. Minimalism is key - complex packaging is difficult to process and requires higher engagement that hinders purchasing.Personal connections are influential

Unlike other generations, millennials want products to match their fast-paced, connected world. It is just as important to present a comprehensive digital version of the product as it is to make something look beautiful in-store. A well-formatted digital version of the product (great photography, color spectrum and pixilation) allows retailers to show it off as intended but more importantly enables millennials to review and share it with friends. An emerging trend, especially for females in this demographic, is social buying - a form of purchasing that often requires a stamp of approval from friends or family first. Due to this multi-person evaluation process, it is equally important to ensure that while the product is easily accessible, it is also as transparent and authentic as possible. If not, informed and experienced consumers have the potential to destroy a brand at the click of a button with just a few simple words. What to do: Communicate with these consumers—tell them more about the brand in a unique way and explain the decisions you make, e.g. use a mascot, brand symbolage or even fun email signatures to add originality. Moreover, use the mediums they know and love, and ensure your brands fit these. That means having a fun, compelling social media presence that is unique and differentiates itself from the competition. Differences can make or break your product, but showing how it can benefit a user can be the winning factor, regardless of cost.

Be Aware of Consumption Habits. Most retailers or brand owners engage in some form of consumer research, but only through the consistent use of comprehensive trend analytics will one successfully target this demographic. The reason for this is simple: being so digitally connected, these consumers change their brand, style and product preferences yearly.

Alas, since millennial purchasing is based on social trends, understanding the DNA behind these trends is crucial if desiring to drive sales. While social trends can vary monthly or even daily, there are some underlying fundamentals behind ‘trendy’ brands. For instance, it’s evident that millennials prefer educational, engaging, and shareable visual content. Five out of six millennials in the U.S. connect with companies on social media networks and therefore connecting with them on social media like friends may help you reach a broader audience. In addition to shareability, you must optimize your content for the mobile experience. This means telling a compelling brand story, being genuine and interesting, keeping it visual and using a plethora of on trend design tactics. What to do: Begin by making your brand sexy for social media. Look at similar brands available and model yours around these.

The more popular a brand is, the more likely consumers of this type are to follow and engage with it. Combine this rudimentary research with more complex analysis available from tier one market research firms. The benefits will definitely outweigh the costs. Millennials are a tricky generation to crack, but if you do so, the rewards are potentially massive. Among these, none is more prominent than free marketing for well-loved and popular brands. Getting your brand ‘on trend’ can honestly make or break it in today’s market and following these simple steps will help you get there!

Remember though, it all starts with knowing who your target market is, and then developing a brand for them rather than adapting an existing one. If you must adapt, what’s wrong with keeping a brand name and doing a full redesign? Nothing! So, get moving! Trends last a maximum of a year or two, so get onto a redesign as soon as possible or you may delay connecting with millennials.

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