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David Mills
By David Mills on February 24, 2020

Millennials demand authenticity - how's your brand?

Millennials have a nose for what’s real, how is your brand story doing?

They are raising the Alpha Generation and selling to them and their parents. Their values come through loud and clear in their parenting. One value you need to know about is their strong preference for authenticity. It impacts the way they see your school.

90% of millennials say that brand authenticity is important to them. They prefer the “real and organic” over the “perfect and packaged.” They are seeing your school brand through that unique lense - and it creates a bigger impact than you might think. Their reaction can range from mild-distaste all the way to “this is obviously not for me,” and immediate departure from the website or other collateral.

Of course, authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. What looks real to the mother of an urban executive in the northeast, may not ring true in California suburbs or a Southern metro.

How to know if your brand is authentic

There are some easy ways to tell if your school brand will pass the millennial “realness test.” 

  • The simplest way is to simply ask them. If enrollment growth is important to you, then the millennials you want to hear from are those who are prospects or shoppers. Asking current parents may not get you a clear picture because they have become insiders and (hopefully) are fully committed to your mission, which means they are looking past anything that they may have found irritating or offputting. 
  • Do an image check. Check your website, emails and print materials. If you’re using stock photography or “perfect clients” in these locations, then millennials’ alarm bells are probably going off. Nationally, 70% of people are easily able to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s too perfect.
  • Compare and contrast. See how your brand stacks up against the most popular mommy blogger sites and social media influencers. If your materials look like they are from another century or planet, then it may be time to rethink your brand approach.

Upgrade from a Brand to a Brand Story

One way to address branding challenges is to upgrade your existing brand to a brand story.

A brand story is the most effective form of branding. It steps way beyond the flat and forgettable reliance upon just logo, colors and a few graphic elements into what sticks in the human hardwiring for storytelling. Brand stories are the best way to increase the impact of both marketing and admissions because it speaks right to the authenticity issue by aligning your brand with your millennial customers.

Why does marketing keep you invisible?

Brand stories demonstrate values

Your brand story is how you SHOW what your values are. Values stated are not the same as values lived out. 64% of consumers are now identified as “belief-driven.” That means that having a brand story that demonstrates what we believe and how we live it out matters. In fact, what you stand for drives buying decisions just as much as what you actually offer, according to credible research by Edelman. And what’s more, what you stand for will actually create more buzz than what you actually offer.

Brand stories that show your values are not simplistic single storylines, nor do they rely upon testimonials on your website or materials. People really don’t trust these testimonial placements much, unless they personally know the person who gave the testimonial, because they know that you’ll only post the ones that put the school in a favorable light. They prefer hearing those stories in social media or in person.

Build Brand Storytelling into Your Marketing Plan

There is a strong argument that an effective and strategic marketing plan will always include Brand Story elements. It’s very difficult to build an effective plan without including this element. Without Brand Story as the heart of a marketing plan you’ve got to work extra hard to get people’s attention, and you risk falling back into contrived or inauthentic approaches. 

If you are revising major elements of what you offer, building a new website, or shifting campaign strategies, it’s a good time to incorporate a fresh look at your brand story.


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Published by David Mills February 24, 2020
David Mills