The new measuring stick for millennial brands

Let’s say you want to start an apparel brand. Your goal is to create a series of versatile athletic shirts that will take college campuses by storm. You’ve got great product ideas and fall more in love with your 99 Designs logo everyday. You found a killer manufacturer and your first samples turned out better than you imagined. You’re in the process of polishing the Shopify template and as a whole, could not be more excited about your progress thus far.

But wait…what did you forget?

Answering this question: “What do you stand for?”

Anyone can make a great product, design a beautiful website and hack their way to a solid following on Instagram; what separates brands today is their story, their mission, and the “why” behind the brand.

Be people that care, not a business that sells.

So what do you care about? And why should I care? For me to purchase from you and most importantly evangelize your products, I need to be sold on your reason for existence. Are you contributing to a cause that I can rally behind? Is there a mission driving the brand forward (ex: to inspire people to live healthier lives and explore the world around us)? Am I somehow doing my part to make society a better place by participating in your brand? What kind of community will evolve from your brand values?

We are hands down the most socially conscious generation the world has ever seen. According to the 2012 millennial report, over 85% of millennials correlate their purchase decisions and their willingness to recommend a brand to the social good that company’s doing. So your company values are not just the foundation of your brand…they are your ticket to building real, lasting relationships with people who share those same values and who will inevitably share your brand with others.

In order to get people participating in your brand and telling your story, they must believe in what you stand for.

You don’t necessarily have to be donating to charity or empowering artisans in third world countries, but you do have to stand for something. State these values as your reason for existence and make them a part of everything you do.

“Values are an incredible opportunity to cement real lasting relationships with consumers who share similar values” — Bayard Winthrop, CEO at American Giant

The future of marketing is participatory

It’s no secret that messages coming from real people resonate with millennials at a much higher level than any branded promotion. Your customer’s authenticity is worth more than anything your marketing department can create. People are no longer recipients. They are co-creators. The future of marketing is participatory, and this is what separates brands in today’s world—their ability to build a community that lives the brand and that shares their moments created with the brand.

When it comes to marketing to young people in today’s world, it’s no longer about what brands can create — it’s about their ability to inspire real people to create for them.

What should keep you up at night

The question: “how can I build an emotional connection with my customers so that they evangelize my brand?”
The answer: build your brand on an idea, not your products.

Take STAY WEAR below for example…they built a brand on a simple idea — staying true to who you really are — and that idea stemmed from the founder Shane’s story going all the way back to his high-school days. He developed the reason for existence and the story behind the brand a year before he started making products. This is exactly how it should be…and as a result STAY has built a thriving community of content creators who evangelize the brand and what it stands for on a daily basis.

The notion of staying true to yourself is nothing out of this world, but STAY has been able to rally a community of people who support this idea because every aspect of the brand comes back to this simple reason for existence. They have a mission—a higher calling than merely selling products, and this is the new measuring stick for millennial brands.

4 things to think about…

1) Do you have an ‘About’ page on our website? Does it actually give a reason for why you exist? Or are you just another company selling products?

2) Is there a story at the heart of your brand?

3) What are you doing to build a community around your brand?

4) Do you take pride in the quantity and quality of the photos you have been tagged in on Instagram? What can you do to get customers regularly sharing their experiences with your brand on social media?


Great products and aesthetic are required…but they don’t separate you from the pack. Anyone can whip up a Squarespace template and start selling some adventure-themed shirts. But can you inspire a movement and build a community around what your brand stands for?