Millennials are buying your values not your products

Companies miss the mark when their marketing campaigns revolve around a specific product or discount

Milwaukee Bucks forward and NBA's Most Valuable Player for the 2018-2019 season Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves a Nike store after attending a promotional event, at the Syntagma square in Athens on June 28, 2019. Speaking at an event in Athens to promote his line of sports shoes, "Greek Freak" Giannis Antetokounmpo said on June 28, 2019 that he would play for Greece at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China this summer. / AFP / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS
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One of my clients is a services company whose core value is to empower underprivileged women to join the workforce. Their business is changing hundreds of lives. To me, that is their selling point and from a marketing perspective is more important than the actual service they are offering. The problem was, not many of their customers knew about their values.

Companies often want their marketing campaigns to revolve around a specific product or the discount they are offering, but that is not the only thing a business is about. Some entrepreneurs I work with are still surprised that their customers, especially millennials and those even younger, are no longer just buying a product or a service. They are also buying what the business stands for: its values and mission.

Nike’s recent ‘Dream Crazier’ ad campaign — with some commercials featuring Emirati female figure skater Zahri Lari — are a prime example of stepping outside a traditional direct sales approach to emphasise values. The ads encourage people to follow their dreams. These commercials communicate Nike’s values and not a particular product.

British skincare company The Body Shop is another example of putting core values before product promotion when communicating with customers. Step into any of its more than 3,000 stores around the world, and you learn that they are all about supporting the communities they source their product ingredients from — it is front and centre in their stores and on their packaging.

Emerging Emirati e-commerce site Boksha is choosing representation that it hopes will resonate with more customers. Instead of only working with fashion bloggers, models or designers as brand ambassadors — which is typical of shopping sites — Boksha has collaborated with women in more diverse fields, from branding managers to fitness enthusiasts and film directors.

These three companies are communicating their brands’ values by being intentional about their messages and who is hired as ambassadors.

But beware, as more and more customers have unprecedented access to information online, messaging can backfire against a business if customers feel that their values are not aligned. A regional publication came under fire on social media because it featured Hollywood celebrities on a recent cover instead of a regional figure. Customers felt that this publication was not staying true to the region it is representing. Customers are also cutting ties with brands when the influencers they hire disrespect the brand’s target audience.

We hear these kinds of stories more and more nowadays, because customers have larger platforms to sound off on their concerns than ever before. If a customer wants to buy a pair of shoes for instance, they are not only bombarded with options to choose from, they can also instantly access product reviews, customers’ comments on their social media pages, and, in the case of public companies, their annual reports and what shareholders are saying in the media and online.

Millennials have more access to information and want to improve the planet and their quality of life.

What you stand for should be so clear that it should be synonymous with your brand’s name. Are you all about improving the lives of people in your community? Great. Do you customers know that? Is it ingrained in your branding, store layout, packaging, and stated on your website and stationery? If not, then you should do something about that.

Businesses looking to retain millennials and younger generations must put values, and communicating those values, in high regard. With the accessibility of information and other people’s opinions about your business, it is crucial to your brand’s reputation and sustainability in the long run.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi