While they’re loyal to their favorite brands, millennials reserve the right to cheat on them, says Nancy Brown, managing partner at New York-based CBX. Early adopters who constantly look for “the next new thing,” millennials want to be the first of their friends to try the latest, greatest product — and are willing to switch brands to do so.
Millennials also are savvy shoppers who love a good value, says Jennifer Gaeto, creative director for Chicago-based Equator Design. And being used to having unlimited choices among brands, they have no problem turning to high-quality and unique store brand products, which already have a large following among this group.
But retailers need to do more than develop high-quality, unique products for these shoppers. They also need to focus on designing packaging that speaks to and engages with millennials to help build a solid relationship with this consumer group.
Be unique, interactive
Previously, packaging’s only purpose (beyond product protection) was to help a product stand out on the shelf, Brown says. But today, millennials want more than just attractive packaging — they also want packaging that engages them. An engaging package persuades them to learn more about the brand.
According to Gaeto, a package that engages millennials is unique and different. For example, some millennials gravitate toward designs that have a handmade and non-mass-produced feel. Such a design can be achieved via typography that looks like handwriting or kraft paper. Millennials also enjoy limited-edition packaging, as it has a “feeling of exclusivity” and taps into their desire for discovery.
As for colors, some millennials are interested in brighter, more vibrant palettes that are less “serious,” says Glenn Pfeifer, executive creative director, Galileo Global Branding Group, Daymon Worldwide, Stamford, Conn. Some newer brands that appeal to millennials use colors that reflect their optimistic mood.
One example is Kimberly-Clark’s feminine hygiene line U by Kotex, Brown says. Young millennials told CBX, which designed the line’s packaging, that although they purchased the same feminine hygiene products as their mothers, they wanted packaging to be more interesting. The women weren’t interested in pastels; instead, they were interested in a black package with a window showing bright neon colors surrounding the tampons and pads.
Speak their language
But for millennials, a specific color palette or design style is only one important aspect. They also want packaging that is visually smart and surprising, says Tessa van Asselt, insights strategist at TrendsActive, a Dutch trend interpretation agency. “Retailers often forget that this generation is growing up in a world that is more and more visual, and this generation longs for an innovative approach to visual communication,” she explains. “Smart visual communication means really understanding this generation’s symbols, icons and visual language.”
Kees Elands, founder and CEO of TrendsActive, gives the example of two store brand concepts that TrendsActive created for a retailer in the Netherlands, each of which relies heavily on iconography. One is a package of ground coffee that features the image of a giant battery, similar to the icon found on electronic devices. In this case, the bars indicating the power level of the battery are clear and colorless, letting the ground coffee show through.
“The battery on the coffee package [immediately communicates] the energizing and recharging qualities of coffee,” he says.
The other is of a beer bottle with “play” and “pause” button icons. These icons, in particular, help to show the product proposition, Elands says. The beer allows the consumer to either unwind and relax by “hitting the pause button” or start the party by “pressing play.”
Speaking of hitting buttons, packaging for millennials also needs to be interactive, not just clever. Millennials have become so accustomed to interactivity in every part of their lives that they expect everything to be interactive, van Asselt adds.
And they want to help develop and evolve a brand. Jeff Fromm, co-author of the book Marketing to Millennials and president of Kansas City, Mo.-based FutureCast, a marketing consultancy dedicated to researching millennial trends, notes that millennials created the “participation economy.” And if a retailer reaches out to them for brand design advice or simple feedback via social media, millennials will want to respond.
Be transparent, purposeful
But just as they want to be honest to brand owners about their products, they want brands to be honest in return. So when it comes to the message on the package, millennials desire authenticity and transparency.
Instead of using typical marketing ploys, which millennials can immediately spot and will reject, retailers need to have an authentic story when creating something new and trendy, Gaeto says. For example, when it comes to photography on food packaging, millennials are not interested in seeing a “perfect-looking meal.” They want to see how the food, in reality, will look when prepared at home.
Retailers also need to clearly communicate a product’s tier on packaging, Fromm says. Is the product under a bargain brand or an affordable luxury brand? Millennials want packaging to tell them if they’re trading up or trading down. And don’t try to fool them — they crowd-source a lot of information from their peer network, so they’ll know when a retailer isn’t being honest with its brand story.
Millennials also want to understand the back story of what they are buying, Fromm says. Retailers could effectively use packaging to tell them about a product’s origin or how it is produced.
“Millennials prefer brands that have a purpose,” he adds. “The more meaningful a brand is, the more it’s going to win with millennials.”
But retailers don’t necessarily have to work with charities to make a brand purposeful. Sustainability is another area that, if linked to a retailer’s store brands, could resonate with millennials as they continue, as a group, to value sustainable packaging options.
“Sustainability is important to this group, as they were raised with the notion of recycling and making the world a better place as a normal way of life,” Gaeto says. “Packaging that is eco-friendly connects and creates a positive image for the brand.”
But an eco-friendly package does not necessarily have to be 100 percent “green,” Fromm says. The packaging just has to be “less bad” than the alternatives.