Venturing into the world of millennial research can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? Focus group? Workshops? OK, how do you know you’ve gathered a diverse representation of the population? And then, there’s the fact that so much research already exists. I’m not dismissing these research methods, hey we’ve used them and have pulled some profound insights (see for yourself through our work here). But for the most racially and ethnically diverse generation of our time, these go-to tools can take back seat…for now.
So instead, we looked at the conventional route and flipped it upside down. Why seek out millennials to then try to extract this golden nugget when we can go straight to the brands who have already seemed to find it?
To begin, we decided to steer away from looking at household Millennial brands such as Nike, Apple, or Google. Instead, we looked at younger more relevant brands which all fall into the following criteria:
- Targets Millennials
- Market disruptors
- Experiencing rapid growth
Why, you ask? Millennials are more likely to follow up and coming brands who have a genuine message. Similar to how they embrace their own differences, they want to embrace the differences of emerging brands, in fact, Millennials expect novelty and advancements. And this is just what they are getting from these booming brands:
- Warby Parker
When researching, we looked at everything that made these brands who they are — from their mission to their tone of voice and everything in between. While, their own websites and social platforms were full of rich content that pointed to why they are experiencing such success, we also wanted to get the user’s perspective. So weaved into our findings are real firsthand insights pulled from user interviews we conducted with loyalists or stans* from each brand.
*Stan is a millennial word used to describe an extreme fan of something. Yes, something we’ve learned along the way.
To deliver beauty and skincare products that are inspired by the people who use them. (Source)
How has Glossier disrupted the beauty industry?
Before Glossier, the beauty industry utilized a top-down brand-to-consumer communication approach. They capitalized on women’s insecurities (what’s new?) and told women what they needed in order to feel beautiful. Then suddenly, Glossier jumped in and decided to turn everything upside down. They created products that consumers were actually asking for. The products are meant to highlight your natural beauty rather than turn your pores into overflowing pools of foundation and goop. Ew, no thank you. Initially, Glossier operated solely a direct-to-consumer channel. This gave them the opportunity to truly stand out and target their consumers in a unique way that was never done before. Today, the majority of their sales are through the web, but they do have two permanent Instagrammable shops — one in New York, and the other in LA.
“Everyone is so excited to get a Glossier package and post it on Instagram… it’s really exciting getting that little box in the mail” — Paige, 26
Glossier has hit every checkbox when it comes to engaging and connecting with their audience. To begin, they used their very first customers as brand ambassadors to spread the word of their product. In the beauty industry especially, consumers are extremely trustworthy when it comes to reviews — in fact they rely on them, which we found out through our user interviews, “Influencers played such a crucial role before I bought any Glossier…The research is done already so I don’t have to go and try all these products myself”.
Piggybacking off the fact that using consumers to market their product had such great success, they decided to also use consumers to dictate new product. A slack channel within Glossier HQ was created which includes Glossier customers who are readily available to give feedback on existing products and share ideas for a new product. Why not give the people what they want, hey?
Now, what do stickers, bubble wrap pouches, and the perfect selfie mirror all have in common? They’re all contributors to what I like to call the ‘Glossier Hype’. Upon opening your Glossier package in the mail, one of the first things you will notice is a sheet of Glossier-themed stickers in the shapes of cherries, piano keys, stars, rainbows, and of course ‘Glossier’. Customers love them because they are playful and can be added anywhere — laptops, phone cases, bicycles, or dare we even say your purchased product? META!* After calming down from excitement over the sticker sheet, the customer will find a pink reusable, bubble wrap pouch with their purchased product inside. A quick hashtag search for ‘PinkPouch’ on Instagram will give you thousands of posts featuring this bubble wrap pouch along with Glossier product. This is without even including ‘Glossier’ anywhere in the search function! This product has become such a huge symbol of the brand. And lastly, the ‘You Look Good’ mirror you will find in Glossier stores is just a representation of how much the shopping experience is about the experience rather than the purchase. “Everything about Glossier is meant to be photographed” and if that isn’t genius marketing, then I don’t know what is.
*Meta: another Millennial word we learned along the way. In short, to describe something that is self-referential. For example, writing a blog post on how to write blogs posts is meta.
As soon as you enter Glossier’s website, playfulness finds you. If your WiFi or connection is on the slower side *insert Millennial moan*, you will be pleasantly surprised to find a mini planet icon in the center of your page spinning as the homepage loads. Playful icons continue to follow you as you browse from section to section. A cherry cursor, Millennial Pink, and customer testimonies are the first aspects to stand out on the homepage. What you’ll come to find super refreshing while browsing through the site is an array of diverse models featured in the images. Women of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones. A delightful game-like feature found on the Zit Stick page will have you entranced. A red filter lays on top of the product page that the user can remove by dragging the cursor as if it were an eraser. The Zit Stick is a product targeted at minimizing pimples. I see what you did there, Glossier — nice one. Regardless if this is increasing sales or not, it feeds into the whole brand value of the beauty and skincare company, which without a doubt is what makes them stand out.
The aesthetically pleasing and simple layout of their e-commerce site follows you on to their Instagram feed. You aren’t just following another brand that is trying to sell you their product in every post. It’s a curated arrangement of entertaining and hashtag-goals* images that has customers stating, “if my Instagram could look like that… man I wish I could be there”.
*Hashtag Goals: A millennial phrase spoken aloud or used in text (using the actual #) to describe something in which you have extreme admiration for or want to achieve
Tone of Voice
Glossier’s tone of voice can be described as playful, uplifting, relatable, and influential, but not authoritative. See below for some snippets we have pulled.
The lip-smacking 11-year-old in you is freaking out right now.
Use it after a night of junk food or that time right before your period.
Build your own duo or set, or try a new product or shade. It’s up to you.
Zero residue, zero stickiness (so you can put your clothes on now)
Soothes stressed skin (and stressed humans)
To provide an exceptional non-alcoholic cocktail when you are not drinking alcohol. (Source)
How has Seedlip disrupted the spirits industry?
With non-alcohol bars popping up in every hip city and global alcohol sales down, it’s no wonder Seedlip is seeing success. Millennials are becoming more conscious of their health and well being, and in turn are drinking less alcohol. They have tapped into this emerging trend by creating a product that contains high-quality and exceptionally delicious ingredients. By creating a product that tastes like an alcoholic drink without the alcohol, Seedlip has created an option that people can still sip on in social settings or bond over with friends. In addition to creating a new kind of social drink, they have went a step further to be fully transparent about how they source their ingredients directly from nature, a sure equation that will attract Millennial brand loyalists by the masses.
Sampling and forming relationships have been the two key drivers to Seedlip’s success. The founder, Ben Branson spent more than 240 days on the road in order to provide Seedlip samples to potential consumers. What may seem unnecessary for new brands selling sneakers or eyeglasses, is crucial for a brand like Seedlip, as its specific category is unprecedented. Not only does this spread the word of the delicious drink, but it also provides immediate feedback to Branson on what is working and what is not working. Now what really pushed Seedlip forward is getting their foot in the door with Selfridges, a chain of high end department stores in the UK. Seedlip experienced dramatic sales thanks to the shop. “The first 1,000 bottles sold out in three weeks, the next 1,000 sold out within three days and the next 1,000 in thirty minutes online.” (Source). On Seedlip’s site you of course have the option to shop their three, perfected, distilled non-alcohol spirits in beautiful packaging; Garden 108, Spice 94, and Grove 42. But what is also delightful to find is a section dedicated to cocktail recipes you can concoct using their spirits. Here you will find yourself drooling over drinks such as the Nogroni, the non-alcoholic take on the Italian cocktail: Negroni. Others featured are the Spiced Mule and the Watermelon Sour. The options are endless and far from basic*.
*Basic: Used to describe people, places or things that are standard, boring, or overly trendy (not in a good way)
Upon entering Seedlip’s website, you immediately feel enticed to explore. It’s elevated, sophisticated, and beautiful to the eye. Video footage of a bartender preparing a beverage over a mountain of ice will leave your tastebuds curious. What stands out the most, is that upon entering you have the option to choose between ‘Shop’ or ‘Discover’. This strategy subconsciously relays to the customer that Seedlip cares just as much about the product itself as the sales. When clicking on ‘Discover’, you get an in depth look at how Seedlip began and evolved. With a short clip from the founder himself, an immediate connection is made between consumer and brand.
Moving into social media — Seedlip’s Instagram account is the perfect combination of nature meets elevated thirst quenchers. The shots are simple, but expensive looking, but not in a snobby ‘I am better than you way’. With a little bit of humor and light-hearted animal facts, they are able to bring themselves back down to Earth.
Tone of Voice
Seedlip’s tone of voice can be described as informative, a matter of fact, elevated, and intellectual, with a little touch of playfulness. See below for some snippets we have pulled:
A zesty & complex citrus-forward blend of three types of orange & uplifting spice distillates. Simply serve with tonic & a twist of orange peel for a delicious non-alcoholic drink.
Orange & Mandarin peel & pith top notes, with juicy Blood Orange undertones open up to a stalky, grassy character. Clean, fresh notes of Ginger & Lemongrass with a dry finish from a subtle Peppercorn prickle.
The days of lime & soda are over, sugary carbonated or fruit juice-based drinks just won’t do.
So regardless of why you’re not drinking alcohol, you should have the choice of a grown-up, complex drink. Full stop.
To provide their customers with exceptional quality, ethical factories, and radical transparency. (Source)
How has Everlane disrupted the fashion industry?
The fashion industry is a sneaky and deceiving character. As consumers we view fashion as a way to express ourselves, a way to display a piece of our personality, a way to be comfortable or glamorous, casual or professional. It holds a lot of power when you think about it this way. What we don’t see behind the compelling and alluring branding delivered by almost every fashion company, are the unethical labor conditions, the focus on trends to push consumption, the manipulation that convinces us — in order to slay* we MUST buy the laced crop top in all 6 colorways. Everlane emerged and decided rules need to change. Their focus became about radical transparency — showing the consumer what is happening behind closed doors, and well, people love it. Not only are their factory conditions ethical and wages fair, they also focus on functionality and utilize a ‘built to last’ approach when it comes to their apparel and accessories. Everlane makes decisions in combination with the consumer by heavily using customer feedback and engagement. For example, at the start of the brand, the founder, Michael Preysman, swore he would never open a brick and mortar store. A couple of years later, more and more customer feedback was revealing that people actually were dying for a brick and mortar store to see and feel the product in person before they made their purchase. Now you can shop Everlane online or at one of their two stores located in Manhattan and San Francisco.
*Slay: A word used when someone looks stunning or succeeds at something well above the bar
I avoid fast fashion brands, I don’t want to do that anymore because I’ve come to realize I’m spending more money over time — Leah, 29
Again, Everlane promised and delivered radical transparency like never before. How did they do this, you ask? There is a page on their website solely dedicated to their factories. There are pictures, interviews with factory owners, and evaluations of the conditions. This new phenomenon of honesty from a fashion retailer is so refreshing and makes you feel more connected to the brand. It’s like meeting up with a close friend who spills the tea* on your ex-boyfriend’s new love affair. The transparency feeds a part of your soul you didn’t know existed.
*Spilling the tea: To share gossip (as simple as that)
Then, comes their relationship with the good old sale section. It’s a section frequented a lot for many consumers, as who doesn’t love to save money. For Everlane, they have decided to rename their sale section to ‘Choose What You Pay’. This gives shoppers three pricing options and a description of what is covered:
1. The smallest discount covers the cost of production, development, and fulfilment with a certain amount leftover to cover office overhead and future developments.
2. The second smallest discount covers the cost of production, development, and fulfilment with an even smaller amount leftover to just cover office overhead.
3. The largest discount only covers the cost of production, development, and fulfilment.
By providing a real description of what the prices cover further proves Everlane’s promise of radical transparency. It also allows the narrative to change towards traditional sale shopping to a culture of truly understanding the cost of what we’re buying. Now that is powerful.
The digital appearance of Everlane’s e-commerce site is a perfect reflection of the actual product in which they sell. Clean lines, simply laid out, intuitive, and a timeless design. The sections are clear and easy to navigate, it’s almost therapeutically soothing to browse their site.
While their Instagram can still be described as fairly simple (no flashy colors or designs), there is more of a personality displayed. Curated images reveal values and lifestyle — a shot of plastic waste on a polluted beach, a shot of the entire Everlane team cheers-ing over dinner at their annual retreat, and many shots of beautiful landscapes taken in nature. I applaud their risk of pushing the boundary on consistency from their e-commerce site to their social presence. For most companies, any branding move that is the slightest bit inconsistent, receives negative backlash and a callout from the consumer. Fortunately, for Everlane, they have managed to find the sweet spot.
Tone of Voice
Everlane’s tone of voice can be described as casual, straightforward, honest, and simple. From their captions revealing a new release, to descriptions listed on their website, nothing is too wordy or over the top. It doesn’t come off as lazy or boring, it actually feels as if Everlane is telling us, “We get it, you have a busy life with more important matters at stake, let’s get straight to the point.” See below for some snippets we have pulled:
Cozy, we’re coming for you. Two more days. #ReNewToday
Sophisticated details. No bad angles. Tomorrow — meet the Square Toe Flat.
Our factories — our ethical approach.
Our quality — designed to last.
Our prices — radically transparent.
To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. (Source)
How has Warby Parker disrupted the eyewear industry?
A quick 4 minute video linked here reveals the truth behind the astronomically high prices found in the eyewear industry. If you don’t have time to watch the clip, I’ll provide you with a quick summary. One company owns and controls a large percentage of the eyewear industry, from the supply chain to the stores in which they are sold. Because of this, eyeglasses and sunglasses are marked up close to 1,000%! Aside from the absurd prices, nothing else has really been associated with glasses beside the fact that they help the majority of our population see. Insert Warby Parker. Warby Parker entered the scene seeing a major opportunity. I mean, who really wants to spend an arm and a leg on eyewear? They started from step one, by making the decision to produce the glasses in the house. Secondly, they initially launched their business with no brick and mortar shops — in order to buy a pair, you had to purchase over their e-commerce site. Similar to Everlane, they eventually ordered brick and mortar shops, but starting with web-only helped with offering low prices. Lastly, they have weaved the importance of education in their brand values. For every pair of glasses sold, a pair of glasses are given to someone in need.
At the start, Warby Parker used early adopters as brand advocates and utilized word of mouth marketing, which helped them save costs quite a bit. When the founders found themselves unable to fulfill initial orders, they sent personalized emails and invited local customers to their apartment to try on pairs. This seemingly small act had a huge impact and caused these customers to spread positive messages to friends and family, and in turn, brought even more customers.
Another contribution to Warby Parker’s success has been using socially conscious business strategies to appeal to their audience. As mentioned above, their program ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’, has positively impacted so many people all over the globe. By giving people their sight back in emerging markets, productivity increases by 35% and monthly income increases by 20%. Additionally, Warby Parker has partnered with NYC Department of Education to provide free glasses and vision screenings to the children attending the public school system in NYC. Furthermore, an entire section of their website is dedicated to educating their customer — from an A-Z glossary of terms related to their product, to information on eye insurance, and even steps on how to get a prescription. As we learned through our user interviews, consumers care tremendously about outside initiatives led by companies they are shopping. This impacts their willingness to return as a shopper and provides them with a sense of fulfillment when they complete a purchase. Now, do we need any more proof as to why Warby Parker is on this list?
Sketched icons and cartoon images set a playful tone throughout their website. For some brands this may come off as unprofessional or distracting, but for Warby Parker this perfectly plays into their goal of educating their customer as mentioned previously. The bright blue that follows you throughout their website is inviting and pleasant to the eye. The navigation is intuitive and the design is clean. Clear descriptions and detailed images of the frames make the shopping experience super easy and hassle free.
The diversity of the models in age, race, ethnicity, and gender seen through out their website and Instagram portray them as relatable and down to earth. Specifically on their Instagram you will of course find a satisfying assortment of their eyeglasses and sunglasses, but showcased in a playful and entertaining manner — a chunky baby wearing oversized eyeglasses, children dancing in their Warby’s, eyeglasses beautifully laid out on some fresh looking Monstera leaves, and even a compilation of dogs licking ice cream. OK so the last one has nothing to do with eyewear, but that’s the point! Warby Parker is doing more than creating a shop for your precious eyeballs, they are creating a destination for learning, laughing, giving back, and just simple fun.
Tone of Voice
Warby Parker’s tone of voice can be described as quirky, playful, positive, and informative. See below for some snippets we have pulled:
We’ve got inboxes and mailboxes covered. Take your pick.
In the market for a cat-eye that’s not *quite* so cat-eyed? We’d like to introduce you to Madeleine, a softened riff on a spirited silhouette.
Make it your own by purchasing online and we’ll send you a fresh new pair.
A few of our favorites to kick it all off
To use a symbol of our generation, the sneaker, to tackle the issue of sustainability and ethics in the supply chain. (Source)
How has Veja disrupted the sneaker industry?
Prior to Veja’s creation, there was little to no transparency in the sneaker industry. Cost to produce was low, prices were high — yielding large profits for the execs, whereas factory workers could hardly afford to support their families. Then, there is the surprising fact that 70% of a sneaker price comes from advertising costs. Veja founders started began their journey by setting off to South America in hopes of building a new ethical and sustainable supply chain for various other companies. A light bulb went off and the idea to build a sneaker brand (a symbol of our generation) utilizing this supply chain is in short, how Veja was born. A transparent supply chain, environmentally conscious materials, ethical work standards, no advertising costs, and slow production with limited styles is the DNA for this successful and growing sneaker brand. Oh and we can’t forget the captivated audience willing to spend their hard earned cash on these socially conscious shoes.
Their built from scratch supply chain takes a huge piece of the pie when looking at Veja’s marketing tactics. As noted previously, they do not have any advertising costs, therefore, the rest of their business model needs to double as their marketing strategy and it’s obvious intent. An in depth look into Veja’s supply chain from start to finish is featured on their website in an easy to read format. You can even opt to listen instead, kind of like a podcast —one of Millennials’ new favorite way to consume media. Coincidence? I think not. There is even a subsection speaking on limitations within their supply chain that don’t allow them to be 100% sustainable. Without physically doing so, this shines a light on the shady sides of popular sneaker brands and leads consumers to question: if Veja is the first to be so honest and transparent, what are other sneaker brands hiding?
Another strategic move by Veja has been forming partnerships with elevated shops like Selfridges, Harrods, and Galeries Lafayette. This saves them the cost of owning and operating brick and mortar stores themselves. It also allows them to earn new customers shopping in any of these stores who otherwise wouldn’t have found them on social media or their e-commerce site.
Bare and simple are the first two words to pop in my head as I browse through Veja’s e-commerce site. There are without a doubt no smoke and mirrors hidden anywhere. What I like most about this uncomplicated site is that what matters most to the brand is extremely clear — the sneaker and the transparency of the sneaker’s journey from birth to sale. There is nothing distracting and nothing to interpret. For a more visually appealing experience you do have the opportunity to view their lookbooks which show the sneakers styled out in beautifully curated images, but they are tastefully located in their own section of the site. So if shopping the sneaker is the only thing on your agenda, no worries here.
Similar to Everlane, their Instagram reveals a little bit more personality to the brand. Some posts show video footage of their production and sourcing in Brazil. Other posts are breathtaking images of a styled shoot showcasing the sneaker in a way you may not have imagined — dressed up, dressed down. Overall, their account shows the versatility of the sneaker and further transparency of the brand itself. Be warned, the longer you scroll, the more likely you’ll end up with five pairs of Veja’s in your shopping cart. *Not speaking from personal experience 😉
Tone of Voice
Veja’s tone of voice can be described as straight-forward and simple on their website, but on their social it is a bit more playful and engaging.
Note to self: Chill out. Our V-12 White Berry Gold Yellow are made out of leather, b-mesh, jersey of recycled polyester and wild rubber from the Amazonian forest.
Before you wear the shoes for the first time, we advise you to waterproof your shoes and to repeat this operation regularly.
The WATA (which means cotton in Japanese) is a casual, timeless and unisex sneaker
Sneaks on. Weekend on. Our V-10 White Nautico Pekin are made out of leather, jersey of recycled polyester and wild rubber from the Amazonian forest.
1. Consistency is key
A consistent concept and message can be felt through every channel of communication for each of these brands. This allows consumers to get to know the brand like they are getting to know a new friend. There are no surprises, unless the surprises are in line with the brand’s values, but ultimately the consumer will have expected it as some subconscious level.
2. Put the user first
Each brand we researched has a certain channel dedicated to consumer feedback. By listening to the user’s wants and needs, each brand is able to problem solve quickly and efficiently. Instead of dictating the user’s future, the brands are letting the user finally have their moment.
3. Transparency creates brand loyalists
Whether it is the sourcing of the ingredients and materials used in their products, or an in depth look at the working conditions of the brand’s employees — each brand has demonstrated that transparency works. Transparency translates into honesty and consumers love honest brands.
4. Think beyond the product
Each of these brands is empowering, inspiring, and motivating their audience to better the world in one way or another. This is the last takeaway that may just hold the most impact. Each brand tells a story that is bigger than the product they are trying to sell. For Glossier, it’s — you are beautiful without makeup. For Everlane, it’s — you can make a difference when it comes to the sustainability of our planet. For Seedlip it’s — going back to the basics of the natural world holds immense opportunity. For Warby Parker it’s — everyone deserves the same access to education regardless of their background. For Veja it’s — ethical production and consumption are possible!
Now, how does your brand empower, inspire and motivate your audience to better the world? That right there is your golden ticket.