When it comes to courting millennials, it’s all about how you make them feel, says Adoreboard

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By Chris Johnston, CEO of emotion analytics firm, Adoreboard

Johnston: maximising emotional connections with millennials in-store is key

If you’re reading this, then you’re clearly already more than aware of the potential of the millennial audience and spend much of your working life trying to find ways of courting them… but my question is, are you basing your decisions on what they’re doing – or what they’re feeling?

At 1.4bn strong and boasting a combined spending power that now eclipses that of Generation X, it’s entirely understandable that the fight for the millennial market is so cut-throat. It’s also easy to understand why legacy bricks and mortar retailers are so keen to emulate the techniques employed by the digital entrants who are so disrupting their markets.

Yet, as someone who runs an emotion analytics agency – one that has recently conducted an extensive survey of millennial attitudes towards fashion retail – I see an inherent danger here. The problem being that traditional retail brands all too often make sweeping assumptions about millennials, basing business decisions on their general behaviours in the online space, rather than what they want from the specific retail experience.

Our research found that far from being outstripped by their online-only rivals in terms of brand trust, bricks-and-mortar retailers still held eight of the top 10 fashion retail brands rankings thanks largely to the potential for emotional connection that face-to-face opportunities can generate.

Emotion is the key metric here for retailers, because it both drives purchase decisions and generates trust. In fact, people are more persuaded by emotion than any other factors, and if you  really understand their emotional responses, the emotional drivers, then you can design a better experience.

As former Burberry CEO, now Apple’s senior vice-president for retail, Angela Ahrendts said recently: “Retail is not dying, but it has to evolve. It has to continue to move and I think it has to serve a bigger purpose than selling because anybody can do that faster, cheaper.”

I see that the problems come when that evolution to serve a bigger purpose too closely tries to ape the online experience and fails to capitalise on the opportunities to make emotional connections in the real world.

For instance, one retailer we surveyed recently carried out refurbishment of its global stores which involved resdesigning changing rooms. The newly installed brighter lights and very severe mirrors might have been conducive to providing the crisp, high-resolution selfies that it knew its millennial audience engaged with on digital, but the average high-street shopper doesn’t necessarily have the looks and body of an Instagram starlet. Instead, we found the newly redesigned environment was more likely to give the customer a very sobering view of themselves – thus driving negative emotions.

The drive to apply engagement through digital-led preconceptions, at the expense of emotional connections, can be found on the online side too. The rush by retailers to create a better digital experience with chatbots, such as Levi’s admittedly impressive virtual stylist, was driven by an obvious desire to generate genuine brand engagement with millennials on the platforms upon which they are most active.

Yet our research found that this approach was gaining less traction than might have been hoped for, with an overwhelming 76 per cent of millennials saying they prefer human assistance online rather than a chatbot. The emotional connection they craved was still coming from the branded store – as opposed branded online – experience… essentially, they wanted to be able to ask a human being – as opposed to a robot – if their bum would look big in this.

When any legacy retailer is trying to pivot to appeal to a new audience – especially one as mystifying as these cash-soaked millennials – there will of course be the need for a different approach. Yet brands are often only too ready to make quick assumptions about customers, and by analysing what they these new audiences are looking at (on social for example), they can place too much emphasis on what they see, rather than what they feel.

Of course, the marketing mix to win the millennial audience will have to be tailored differently – in terms of touchpoints, platforms, messaging, etc – because generations operate differently in the online space… after all, in many ways people are all different.

But at an emotional level, when it comes to those one-to-one connections that physical presence allows traditional retailers to make with customers, there’s no secret new way to communicate with the millennials… because, let’s face it, in other ways people are all the same.

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)