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Innovators’ insights: The power of Millennials

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Experiences lie at the core of what Millennials value, and they seek out those experiences over material things, said Stephan Jacob, founder and CEO of Cotopaxi outdoor gear.

Jacob was one of the innovator panelists joining a discussion Wednesday on the power of Millennials. His own company offers outdoor experiences as well as gear, and he said that brands need to figure out how to use experiences to build loyalty.

“What delivers ultimate happiness? For older generations, there was a perception that what delivers happiness is stuff. I think that perception as changing – the aspiration to owning a lot of stuff as opposed to living a meaningful life.”

“What you see on someone’s Instagram feed is a reminder of the cool experiences I’ve had, as opposed to the fancy, shiny things I own. Brands need to figure out a way to capture that.”

Mike Stone is founder and CEO of MakersKit, which sells DIY kits through retailers including West Elm and Williams Sonoma. One of the kits he sells enables people to make their own mozzarella cheese. “My parents would ask why someone would spend $25 on this kit if you can buy mozzarella cheese for $5,” he said. “It’s really the idea of learning something new and experience something new.”

Chieh Huang, CEO of online grocer Boxed, pointed out that the Millennial generation recently became the biggest generation in the American work force, and there could be drastic changes in how that generation will make payments in the future. He said this is the first time in human history where the majority of commerce isn’t quid pro quo, directly trading cash for goods.

“When you think about it like that, that’s incredibly powerful,” he said. “The entire social construct of which our economies are built upon is going into flux right now.”

With the Millennial population gaining traction, banks stand to face a significant amount of disruption. Les Riedl, CEO of fintech company GlobeOne, said it’s important to make the distinction between what people need – which is access to financial services – versus having those financial services come from banks.

“We’re spending over four hours a day on our smartphones. That is becoming the device for connectivity, for information, for social communities. Any industry that isn’t looking at how to take advantage not from the technology standpoint, but from the behavior standpoint, is going to be significantly disrupted.”

“I think what you’re seeing is a need for financial services and a disconnect in terms of how banks deliver those services.”

Millennials have also disrupted the way brands market themselves. Maintaining a strong social media presence is not only important, but necessary.

“Word of mouth is still very much king,” Huang said, adding that no one discovers something like Uber by Googling cab services. “If you don’t take social media seriously, at least mobile won’t be a game where you’ll be successful.”

Instant feedback is a major advantage of having a social media presence, Stone said. Brands can find out right away what customers like and dislike. “Listening to that is key. A lot of brands are finally getting that, whereas I think before it was ignored,” he said.

While the Millennial segment will continue to be important for a long time, brands need to prepare for what that generation will eventually bring to the marketplace and what their expectations are going to be, Huang said.

“Eight years ago, the App Store didn’t even exist,” he said. “I can’t imagine eight years from now where we’re going to be.”

Autumn Giusti
Autumn Cafiero Giusti is a New Orleans-based writer and editor with more than 15 years of professional experience. Giusti has covered global payments and financial services since 2006, having contributed to nearly a half-dozen trade and consumer publications. She previously served as news editor for New Orleans’ weekly business newspaper and as a daily newspaper reporter in Florida.

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