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For some reason, popular perception has it that millennials are particularly brand averse. In fact, the opposite is true: Millennials are more likely than any other demographic to be brand loyal. But millennials don’t choose which brands to be loyal to at random; instead, they are highly attuned to the story that a brand tells, as well as the values that the brand exhibits. Generally, millennials choose to vote with their wallets for brands that tell inspiring stories, conduct business ethically or contribute to their personal brands. At the same time, millennials have been gravitating away from established corporate brands and toward newer companies with less name recognition. It’s become less about the logo and more about the product itself.
Instead of a brand’s cachet revolving around the ubiquity and recognizability of its logo, the focus has shifted to the values the brand itself espouses, which in turn translate to a kind of quality assurance. If a brand has shown itself to be upstanding in its business dealings, the theory goes, then its product is higher quality and more worthy of purchase by extension.
A brand can be seen to be ethical in several ways: First, by announcing their commitment to the environment and taking care to remain environmentally friendly; second, by promoting the steps they take to ensure that the workers who make their product are well paid and treated well; and third, by offering their product at a lower price point than their competition, without the upcharge that a familiar brand name would charge. By incorporating one (or all) of these principles, a brand can present itself as an organization that performs a public service, instead of a company working to make a profit.
A recent Kickstarter campaign centered around a company that wanted to make non-branded CPG products (e.g., soap with no brand name on it) that would be sold at a lower price point than typical drugstore products. The campaign ended up raising over $680,000, nearly 34 times their initial target of $20,000. One of the first things you notice about the brand (called Public Goods) is how it packages its products: the bottles are sleek, white and, if you were to discount the plain black text across the front identifying the contents within, virtually indistinguishable from one another.
On its site, Public Goods proclaims that its products are “designed to complement your space,” unlike “the badly designed, bright bottles that most brands use … to stand out at the drugstore.” By rejecting traditional methods of branding and differentiation and associating those methods with the CPG brands that dominate drugstore shelves, Public Goods is positioning itself as the antithesis of those brands — or, in other words, setting itself up as a “non-brand,” a company more concerned with the quality of its products than the methods it uses to sell them.
This type of reverse branding is not new. Companies like Trader Joe’s have relied on tactics like these to sell their products for years now. In fact, it’s probably not a coincidence that Public Goods’ lead product advisor Kim Greenfeld was previously the coordinator of buying for Trader Joe’s. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, even a non-brand is a brand because it is still a way of establishing the core identity of a company and differentiating it from its competitors.
Reverse branding, therefore, has little to do with the recognizability of the logo. Instead, it focuses on the quality of the product and ethos of the brand as a whole. It’s not hard to see why brands that take this tactic can resonate so strongly with millennials, as it incorporates three of the elements that are most important to them: namely quality, social responsibility and value. As this type of branding becomes more popular and millennials become more familiar with these strategies, brands will have to become more authentic and embrace corporate social responsibility as part of their overall narrative. Millennials might be more likely to be brand loyal, but they’re also very sensitive to corporate speak; it’s all about striking the right balance.
By: Josh Ong