At SXSW, Brands are Figuring Out How to Get Closer

This week at SXSW, brands had two things on their minds: personalization and social awareness. Millennials are the largest demographic in the workforce, and once they’ve paid rent and student loans, they need the (modest) leftover disposable income to buy things. As a result, brands are locked in competition for this modest pool of money more than ever with increasingly high expectations. Gone are $500-per-month cable subscriptions, coupons, and shying away from social issues such as climate change and gender inequality. Millennials want to know their brands the same way they know their friends and family: through constant communication on social media, bonded by their specific preferences and values. According to Beam Impact Inc’s CEO at an SXSW panel on March 9, a millennial is 90 percent more likely to switch brands if they feel the brand’s value does not reflect their own.

Imagine a generic tailor. You need a suit for an interview or perhaps for a job. You find the tailor in a phone book (remember those!), walk into a store, and awkwardly thrust out your arms while a stranger measures you. You get your suit in a few days and hope it fits you. If not, the awkward encounter starts all over again. Somewhere in this uncomfortable process of trying on and taking off clothes, money is exchanged; and, because the product is handmade, it’s a significant sum.

Now imagine your tailor knows if you’ve gained or lost weight in the last year, is passionate about hamsters, loves vegan food, and uses all-natural organic products. Suddenly it’s less about how the clothes fit you and more about the bond and experiences you share with this tailor (hamsters and veganism) and how well the tailor knows you (if you’ve gained or lost weight). Finally, and this is perhaps the most important part: the tailor’s choices in how they conduct their business indicates a value system that aligns with your values. Suddenly the tailor is not just a person who takes your measurements, and not even someone who knows you well. The tailor is just like you, a reflection of who you are and how you live your life.

This level of relationships marketing is increasingly what millennials have come to want and expect, and brands need to deliver on this level. It’s no longer enough for brands to bring you a glass of champagne when you’re traveling in first class — they have to know you more intimately than that, sometimes on a cellular level. L’Oreal announced its partnership with the genetics company uBiome to elevate the skincare experience.  L’Oreal literally takes cheek cells to determine the health of your skin, and makes recommendations for products that way. By looking at more scientific results that inform the consumer of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, a purchaser has a starting point on a map. Here is my skin now, and here is where I would like to take it.

This level of marketing may seem overly intimate, if not invasive. But for brands, there is no other way to penetrate the consumer’s social circle. It is becoming increasingly common for an individual to conduct the vast majority of their work online, from work to shopping to socializing and everything else in between. A millennial’s life is integrated across multiple apps, and is uniquely tailored to them. Brands must respond the same way, with a customized approach, not pushing a one-size-fits all product and just hoping enough people will buy it.

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