How millennials are re-defining branding in a cause-driven world : Vipul Mathur

If the brand sticks by its cause consistently, a strong community can ultimately generate meaningful commerce says Mathur


When the term ‘millennial’ was coined in 1991, little did the inventors of the word (two American historians by the name of Neil Howe and William Strauss) believe that it would stand the test of time. The core concept behind coining the term in the context of generations was that every generation shows drastically different personality traits than its immediate predecessors. Today, the term has become more than just a buzz word, and while it features across myriad conversations in different contexts, it has become the most deliberated and dissected word in brand marketing board rooms. The reason I’m saying this is that while branding was always a stiff challenge in terms of standing out in an immensely competitive and cluttered landscape, branding for millennials and doing it meaningfully has emerged as one of the key factors that contribute to creating a successful brand today. 

The much sought-after ‘cause’

To put things into perspective whilst not restricting to any particular product category, millennials are bombarded with a plethora of options today. While marketers are vying for their attention, the addressable millennial community is increasingly becoming averse to direct selling. The ‘brand conscious’ millennial today has moved beyond logos and snob value, drifting away from traditional brands and getting drawn towards brands that have an inspiring story to tell. And more often than not, the story stems from emotions and values, both centered on a cause. Today, brands are choosing to chase this ‘cause’ in a bid to win the millennial attention, before eventually going on to win their loyalty. 

From ‘Being Human’ to being honest

Let’s start with ‘Being Human’ as an example. The brand positions itself as one that supports the dual cause of healthcare and education for the lesser privileged. Initially operating in the apparel category, it has branched out to venture into different verticals today, by keeping its focal cause intact. There is no doubt that the brand benefits greatly by virtue of being associated with arguably India’s biggest superstar in Salman Khan, but the communication seems to suggest that the brand tries its best to not place the celeb before the cause. Whether or not they are successful in doing that is another debate. In fact, the celeb factor, which is a common denominator in most of my examples, is a separate point of discussion altogether in the world of branding today. Another example that comes to mind is ‘YouWeCan’, a cancer foundation set-up by cricketer Yuvraj Singh, which eventually broke into the apparel space, and unsurprisingly so. The cause that the brand supports is derived from the purpose of the foundation itself, which is to create awareness around cancer and aid people who are diagnosed with the disease. The Hrithik Roshan backed ‘HRX’ stands for the cause of fitness, while Virat Kohli’s ‘Wrogn’ wants to promote the thought of challenging accepted norms by being bold and different, a cause in itself. 

If I have to present an example from the West, the Jessica Alba founded ‘The Honest Company’ validates the cause marketing phenomenon effectively. The company was founded with the purpose to create a “non-toxic” universe, when it came to consumer goods. Jessica was once quoted saying “Honest is in our name and everything we do”. Valued at more than $1 billion today, the company essentially thrived on making honesty as the primary layer of its cause itself. While the celebs do play an important role here because each of them are millennial icons in their own right, it is important to note that there is a clear demarcation between the celeb and the cause they are supporting, as each of these brands venture out to win their audience and stand out from their peers.

The Cause-Community relationship

Given the backdrop that I have attempted to build above, I am of the firm view that marketing budgets are best spent (or not spent) based on a brand’s organic growth, which arises from an emotion attached to a cause. This further snowballs into the organic formation of brand specific communities. Deeper the emotion, deeper is the association with the brand and its community. Millenials today are willing to spend their money to be a part of these communities. They do not want to only come across as looking good, but they also want to come across as concerned and contributing citizens. If the brand sticks by its cause consistently, a strong community can ultimately generate meaningful commerce.

Come to think, just reflect on what the millennial behavior has done to branding today. As complex and intertwined as it appears to have become, the key for emerging brands is to keep it simple. Circling back to the start of this piece, Neil Howe and William Strauss would’ve never imagined that the ‘millennial’ would go on to re-define branding among other things, a little over two decades after the birth of the term. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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Vipul Mathur virat kohli yuvraj singh being human

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