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3 Ways to Create the Meaningful Stories Millennials Crave

Posted By: SGK October 31, 2016

A top priority in the minds of many brand marketers today is connecting with millennials. However, one thing millennials are constantly struggling to find is an understanding of a brand’s heritage and story — a real, meaningful connection.

Before a product even hits the shelf, the way designers strategize and achieve millennial brand engagement is through analyzing codes. While decoding and recoding meaning is actually not a concept that is new to design, inspiring consumers, especially millennials, is more about being thoughtful in the way brands create stories that are both memorable and deliberate.

Don Childs, chief creative officer, of Brandimage recently presented a BrandSquare webinar on the subject — an intoxicating journey into the world of craft bourbon, exploring the designs and stories that are introducing new brands and young consumers to an age-old heritage of quality.

Watch the entire webinar here: A Taste of Bourbon Branding: Telling Authentic Stories with Design  

In design, finding meaning starts with anthropology — the idea of looking for deep (and sometimes hidden) meaning, decoding the meaning, and then recoding it to bring it to life through design. When we think about meaning, we think in terms of an iceberg. The reason we do this is to start with the deep, emotional connection and the non-conscious perceptions of what consumers feel. This is the idea that you start at the thought of what it is you want to convey, and for millennials, it’s an emotional connection.

Brands must identify the meaning of instinctively and culturally accepted, ubiquitous visual language cues, or signs, and then recode those signs in combination with each other to create universally understood meaning.

Start with a leader, and a support archetype that brings depth to the personality and makes a more meaningful and focused expression of the brand. Then, look at the subconscious perception, and that’s how you feel it. This is a manifestation that’s just under the surface, just below the conscious level. And then there is the rational level, and there’s the why you should feel it. Rational is important, but we want to ladder up to the emotion.

Oftentimes, marketers make the mistake of starting with the rational and eventually get to the emotion. Design codes and semiotics play into starting at the bottom and working your way up. And out of this is called a meaning framework, or the center of the story — where brands can evoke desired emotional reactions.

But, how do you tap into the desire of millennials to explore and learn, leading consumers to brands they’ll identify with and evangelize for a lifetime? In order to attract this popular market, here are 3 ways to create the meaningful brand stories millennials crave:

Be authentic. According to Bazaarvoice, millennials want to award their dollars to brands that reflect their values and personalities. When developing positioning for millennials, think about wisdom, generosity, and humbleness, while staying away from automation, dishonesty, pretention, and irreverence.

“When we use a lot of archetypes in the development of brands, and in the revitalization of brands, we find that it’s a wonderful shortcut to help us define values and behaviors and attributes around a brand and its personality,” says Childs.

Upon cataloging things like color, textures, and materials, similar codes comes to the fore with the design codes that help to tell the story in an authentic way. All of these elements are recoded and brought together in a unique, memorable, and meaningful way that is a wonderful springboard to other touch points. Remember, it’s not just the design that has to demonstrate authenticity; it’s the entire marketing mix from advertising to other communications.

Maintain relevance. Millennials are nostalgic — a cultural shift brands must take into consideration. They enjoy craftsmanship, sustainable products, and are thriving to be unique is a world of sameness. Brands can leverage this by modernizing and reinventing their products, focusing on the nature of the materials and highlighting the people behind the brand.

By 2017, millennials will have more spending power than any other generation. Brands must be aware of the unique preferences of the millennial generation to create stories that resonate with their need for trustworthy, authentic, and relevant products with a powerful story to capture lifelong loyalty.

Encourage sharing. Millennials desire to discover and learn, and since they are always connected, millennials tend to learn on the go. When motivating a generation where knowledge is a badge, and conversation is currency, brands can add value that enables consumers to share their knowledge and experience with their peers. In a technological age, millennials are highly motivated by social information, and tend to share what they learn to their social networks. While 51% of millennials claim consumer opinions found on a company’s website impacts their purchase decisions, brands have much to gain from this consumer-generated content.

In order for millennials to share brand content, it must be inspiring. Use meaning-based storytelling and leverage design codes to create a brand consumers see as truly unique and better — a contemporary, shining star. A brand they will ask for by name, seek out specifically, and recommend to others. A brand they will adopt for the lifetime of their engagement with the category.

READ: The New Luxury Codes: Four Ways Venerable Brands are Reinventing their Allure  

Putting it all together, the pattern is what we’re taking note of. Find all of the hidden meaning that’s right before your eyes, and always think about the why, the who, and the how around brands. Catalog all of these things, assign meaning, and apply them to the strategy. The whole point of this is to be a bridge between the strategy and the consumer, by doing that through a design language built around semiotics and codes to create a rich, deep, meaningful story.