7 Potential Growth Strategies to Revitalize Harley Davidson


Harley Davidson, A struggling icon

Harley Davidson is a brand that has always fascinated me. Its history is rich, its equity and heritage are amazing and it has established itself as part of American culture, just like baseball and apple pie. It is one of the very rare brands people have been willing to tattoo on their skin and has an iconic, almost religious status most other brands envy and lust after.

And yet: the brand is struggling badly. According to analysts’ reports, people seem to prefer buying used bikes or the recently relaunched Victory and Indian brands (owned by Polaris) rather than a new Harley. As a result, overall market share and sales are down versus a year ago, and so is the brand’s stock value.

But declining market share isn’t the brand biggest problem. Its biggest problem is its positioning and eroding brand equity. Historically, a brand’s sales erode first and faster than its brand equity. But after a few years of declining sales, the brand equity start to erode as well and that’s when the brand’s death spiral starts and it becomes very difficult to recover.

And I think Harley may be approaching the point of no return.

Now, it does look like the brand is feeling the pressure and has a sense of urgency to change things. In fact, the company intends to increase its product development budget by 35% in 2016 (versus 2015) and it marketing budget by 65%. And that’s great. However, I believe that this increase in resources and spending will only throw gas on the fire if it isn’t also accompanied by an evolution of its brand positioning platform, the only way to secure the brand’s long term success.

A category of one

Harley, over the decades has established and created for itself a “category of one”. Nothing out there really compared to a Harley Davidson. That is until the recent revival and relaunch of the Victory and Indian brands that have started to successfully nibble at Harley’s market share. However, the Victory and Indian brands aren’t the real medium term and long term threat Harley is facing.  Sure, they may be (and are) winning short term, growing quarterly sales and eating some of Harley’s cheese (good for them) but in the midterm they are running the risk to fall into the same trap as Harley.

In fact, the real problem Harley needs to solve is that this category of one it has created is slowly but surely losing relevance and eroding value. What has made Harley successful for so long is now working against the brand and I believe is acting as a major barrier to purchase.

So what can Harley Davidson to get out of this precarious situation? Well, for one it can learn from our best practice research on how to succeed with young adults and apply the “Ten Habits of Successful Millennial Marketers” to its own marketing. The second thing it can do is to seriously reexamine its positioning platform, identify the core values it wants to preserve to stay true to its history but also understand what values need to change and evolve in order to thrive again. Harley’s brand equity needs to evolve if it wants to survive.

An agile strategic thinking framework: Positioning-Roulette

First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. uses a unique methodology to analyze brands and create compelling brand stories called Positioning-Roulette (PR). PR is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of effective brand building which helped us identify the 26 universal approaches to successful brand positioning, which represent the core of our methodology. We can apply these 26 universal approaches to analyze a brand’s current situation and to help identify potential strategic solutions that will help the brand evolve and move forward once validated.


For fun, we’ve spent an hour or so doing just that, i.e. look at the Harley brand through the lens of Positioning Roulette. Here are some of the opportunities we’ve uncovered.

  1. Value-Proposition based on intangibles: People don’t buy Harley for rational reasons. They buy Harley because of the brand mystique, not because it provides a better value proposition (what consumers actually get for your money) than Japanese or German motorcycles. It doesn’t.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


Also, Harley bikes are expensive (even though it introduced the Dark Custom line of bikes a few years as a point-of-entry line starting at $11,000 to appeal to younger buyers) and therefore out of reach for most riders under 35 years old. This is particularly important since Harleys are usually bought as a weekend toy rather than as the primary mode of transportation. Outside the US, the situation is even heightened, since the majority of bikes bought outside the US have a utilitarian purpose, for which a Harley is not suited (try to ride the dirt roads of India with your wife and two kinds in the back on a Harley).

While Harley may have to address this value proposition issue over time mainly through product innovation (and it looks like it will), the immediate implication is simply that Harley needs to continue to maintain its edge through emotions and intangible assets. It is in that space that Harley will find its salvation. A Harley, in other words, may not always do more, but they can endeavor to make owning a Harley mean more.

2. A fertile cultural context:


Culturally, Harley Davidson couldn’t be in a sweeter spot. The US is at a crossroads. People are tired of the establishment and are nostalgic for a past ‘greatness’ again. Americans want to be able to feel proud of their country again and long for better times, which helps explain the rise of presidential candidates like Trump for the GOP and Sanders for the Democrats, both seen as outsiders to the system and therefore an appealing alternative to the establishment candidates. This cultural sentiment is at a tipping point and might be worth further investigation as a way to help reposition the brand. In fact, Harley Davidson represents the epitome of Americana- a muscular, pure, powerful brand that cues everything that’s good and aspirational about this country. Therefore, Harley may have the opportunity to take a leading role in this movement and capitalize on this collective sentiment.

The brand has therefore the opportunity to tap into this cultural tension and become an instigator of cultural change (while staying away from politics) and thus regain relevance by helping people feel personal pride and pride in their country again. Dodge has done it with Detroit, Harley can do it with the USA. 

Defining brand attributes:

From our perspective, two brand attributes stand out for Harley. One could help the brand, but the other is hurting it.

3. An unappealing user imagery: 

People nowadays define themselves more by their behaviors rather than by their appearance. The stereotype of the Harley rider is (culturally) still this bad ass and slightly intimidating rider at best (thank you Easy Rider), but also (based on people’s every day experience on the road) the OWGs, the old white guys trying to reclaim their lost vitality or youth. And frankly, this second stereotype doesn’t represent someone most people aspire to become (sorry OWGs, don’t skin me yet, just read on).


However, what is interesting and aspirational about Harley riders is not their looks (or the way they are stereotyped) but their characters and their actual behaviors. When you start to interact with bikers you quickly realize that they are actually really successful, nice, every day people who love their country and their families. Those are people with a very strong sense of community and a sense of duty, all highly relevant values nowadays, all values most people can identify with. Also, when you dig a little deeper one also realizes that a lot of biker clubs do a lot of good, community focused, deeds. Who hasn’t heard of the bikers against the Westboro Baptist Church or the BACA group (Bikers Against Child Abuse) who are dedicated to helping, protecting and providing a safe haven and a “family” to abused children. In that context, the intimidation factor actual helps to help the kids feel safe and protected. Besides these two highly visible efforts, most bikers clubs also do regular fund raiser rides, something most people will support, identify with and aspire to.

Harley should change its brand user imagery by emphasizing that Harley riders do rather than what they look like or are stereotyped. These Harley riders’ behaviors are highly relevant and appealing to many young adults nowadays and might be worth further exploring as a way to help re-position the brand (i.e the brand for people that DO…rather than for people that LOOK like…). This approach would also help the brand become more “inclusive” rather than “exclusive”.

4. A unique product experience and brand experience:

People increasingly define themselves by the experiences they make and the stories they collect rather than by their material possessions. Harley has several distinctive brand attributes but one that really stands out is that it is the epitome of an “experience brand”, something more and more people crave. The design of the bikes, the unique sound and rumble of the engine, the feeling experienced when riding the bike are all highly relevant sensory benefits when expressed and brought to life properly and in the right context.

Another opportunity for Harley Davidson would be to embrace the fact that it is an experiential brand and extend this unique attribute beyond its product experience to encompass the whole brand experience. In other words, maintain one of its core attributes and equities but translate it into a broader brand promise around experience seeking, something most consumers out there crave. 

5. Category drivers in need of evolution:

From a communication point of view, Harley seems to be stuck in a pattern. Historically, the brand seems to have built its communication on the insight that many people dream of one day owning and riding a Harley but tend to delay their purchase –the emphasis being on “one day” and “delay their purchase”. In other words, the brand has tried to activate “dreamers”. Recently, they’ve focused on a slight variation of this insight, the fact that most people buy a Harley to ride with their significant other, a family member or a friend. People often become riders themselves because of a family member. I am not sure how well these approaches work but I suspect that it may have helped to get some of the lower hanging fruit. However, I don’t think that it will help the brand long term as both approaches just help reinforce the brand’s current platform. This approach merely reinforces Harley’s equity rather than help evolve it. It doesn’t tell consumers anything new about the brand, anything that would get them to reconsider the brand.

Harley needs to tap into a different set of consumer motivations and category drivers if it wants to evolve and appeal to a broader audience. The ones it has used in the past may have helped short term sales, but they haven’t helped shed a more relevant light –and therefore consideration- on the brand.  

6. A shift from the brand (exclusive) to the consumers (inclusive):

One of the key problems Harley faces is that the territory it occupies is very well defined and very strong. But it is also a little too dominant and overbearing. Harley was put, purposefully or not, on a pedestal. From a branding perspective buying a Harley is like joining, embracing and submitting to an exclusive church. When buying a Harley, riders buy into a cult, something people start to get increasingly reluctant to do.

MensRidingJacketsThumbTo illustrate this point, just look at Harley’s line of apparel, symptomatic to a bigger brand problem. Harley’s merchandise looks actually pretty cool and is of high quality but expensive. However, the problem is that all this merchandise is very heavily Harley branded. When you buy a Harley jacket, or pants, or shirt or gloves, you basically accept to become a walking (or riding) Harley billboard. This is probably something that attracts the OWGs. The problem is that this was a very popular in the 80s (wearing heavily branded merchandise and fashion), but not any longer. Nowadays people instead prefer to mix and match various style and brands (new and classic) to create and express their own individual personality. And that’s kind of difficult with Harley.

Another opportunity for Harley might be to come down from its pedestal, become more inclusive rather than exclusive and allow its consumers to use the brand as fuel to express their own individuality rather than just amplify the Harley brand. People today want to have the option to “participate” or even “lead” but with Harley they are merely given the option to follow. People also still want to “belong” to a group or community, but Harley’s version of “community” doesn’t seem to have the traction it used to have any longer. Shifting its focal point from itself to its consumers will provide the brand with a broader appeal.

7. An evolution of the brand’s archetype:

Another way to look at Harley is through the lenses of its archetype. Harley’s brand archetype has always been the “Outlaw”, the rule breaker, the brand that helps you (or rather the 55 year old white guy) feel like a misfit and a bit of a “bad-ass”.

easyrider_3078291bThe problem however is that this archetype (or at least its current expression) seems to have lost relevance in its current form. Society has evolved towards a more accepting and inclusive structure. The people we look-up to and admire aren’t necessarily reflecting the outlaw archetype any longer. The 1%er has a totally different meaning nowadays. So as a result Harley could either re-examine what it means to be an “outlaw” today and find a more contemporary and relevant interpretation of it. Alternatively, it could explore the opportunity to evolve the archetype into either a Hero archetype (a brand that helps you be a better self) or even better into an Explorer archetype (the brand that helps you experience new things & ultimately independence), both of which better fit today’s consumers core values and aspirations better than the “outlaw”. Evolving or changing a brand’s archetype is not an easy feat or something that should be done lightly. But in Harley’s case it might be worth exploring carefully (a shift from the Jester archetype to an Explorer archetype for example helped Taco Bell turn around its business and gain a renewed relevance with consumers).

This evolution of the brand’s archetype would have a deep impact on everything the brand does and therefore how it is being perceived by consumers.

To conclude

So what is the right answer for Harley?  Based on the little information we have, it would be presumptuous to make an actual recommendation. The point of this article wasn’t to solve Harley’s positioning problem but to illustrate how Positioning Roulette can help uncover new opportunities and ways forward by providing the strategic agility to look at the brand from various, very different perspectives, something most positioning development methodologies aren’t able to. In the hour or so we’ve spent thinking about the brand we’ve been able to identify 7 very different perspectives on how to approach Harley’s branding problem. Imagine what a more informed, rigorous and collaborative process that would explore all 26 universal approaches of Positioning-Roulette would yield.

I believe Harley can turn around its business situation if it manages to evolve its unique position, maintain its core equities while adding new, more relevant and more contemporary equities that help better align it with today’s consumer base. Our model illustrates that there are many opportunities to do so. Further, the brand still has a tremendous amount of goodwill. Harley Davidson belongs to this exclusive club of brands that people really want to see succeed. Not many brands can claim that.

The big questions therefore are “will the brand be able to overcome its own internal culture and evolve?” and “will it be able to strike the fine balance between the stability and consistency that the brand’s current OWGs want and what new consumer segments and society at large aspires to?” The opportunities are there. They just need to be explored and validated.

P.S.: A Word On Indian & Victory

In the introduction we mentioned the brands Victory and Indian and the fact that they seemed successful in stealing share from Harley Davidson recently. In the short term, and after having been absent for a while, both brands needed to re-establish their credentials and their brand heritage. Attacking Harley, and positioning themselves as an alternative in the same iconic sub-segment may have been the right way to do so in the short term. It gives this core consumer segment a choice. However, both brands will soon start to suffer from the same problems Harley does, because those problems are symptomatic of the subcategory in which all three brands are operating.

Both brands would be smart to change and evolve their positioning platforms and marketing approach soon if they don’t want to face the same issues Harley is now facing. The advantage both have is that they are new still fairly new, i.e their equity doesn’t weigh as much on them as it does for Harley Davidson.

What do you think? What could Harley do to get out of the situation it is in? And feel free to contact me to find out what Positioning Roulette and First The Trousers can do for you.

The Drunkard’s Search Effect In Positioning Development And How To Avoid It!


Most people suffer from an observation bias called The Streetlight Effect (also sometimes referred to as the drunkard’s search) where they only look for the solution in the easiest places, rather than the ones that are the most likely to yield results.

The name of this principle is inspired by a joke about a drunkard searching for his keys (or sometimes wallet) under a streetlight rather than where he actually lost them, because that’s where he has more light.

This principle also applies to strategists and corporations. In fact, we tend to look for the solution to a positioning or strategic problem by looking in the easiest places. This can be the strategist’s own experience (this approach or model has always worked for me, so I’ll stick to it), an over-reliance on rigid brand frameworks or research methodologies or by focusing exclusively on the available and existing data (instead of asking the right questions first and then trying to find the right data to answer them).

For example , who hasn’t witnessed a social media strategist deriving an entire brand strategy (including new product ideas and marketing tactics) solely based on one social media listening exercise. This drives me crazy.

Your agency tells you, you first need a brand purpose (without knowing what your brand problem is)? Drunkard’s Search effect. You are a proponent of cultural branding? Drunkard’s Search effect. You believe in the need for hardcore functional benefits or purely emotional benefits only (I’ve had clients in both camps)? Drunkard’s Search effect. You believe that big data is the cure to all a marketing problems? Drunkard’s Search effect. You answer all your research questions through focus groups? Drunkard’s Search effect. You use news headlines to come up with a brand strategy for a pitch (don’t laugh, I’ve seen this happen)? Drunkard’s Search effect. You’re a fan of design thinking? Or neuro-science? Or behavioral economics? Drunkard’s Search effect.

Now here is the thing. None of these assumptions, beliefs or methodologies on how brands can succeed are necessarily wrong. In some cases, they are actually the perfect solution to solve your brand problem. But these beliefs, assumptions and schools of thought are like streetlights. They shine a light around them, making everything very clear and easy to spot within their parameter. However, this doesn’t mean that they’ll be the right solution to addresses your brand’s specific problem. If you lost your keys two blocks away, those streetlights won’t help you, no matter how bright they shine.

The best way to avoid falling victim to the streetlight and the drunkard’s search effect is, in my opinion, to use a model that enables you to focus on what is right, relevant and proven successful rather than on what is easy, convenient or readily available. A model that “forces” you to explore options that aren’t necessarily the most obvious ones, or the easiest one to follow, a model that basically turns every single streetlight in the city on. If the whole city is illuminated, all you have to do is remember the corner where you’ve lost your keys and go there. The lights will be on. Or wander around the illuminated city until you recognize the right street corner, knowing that it will be lit.


Positioning-Roulette, our unique methodology for positioning development and storytelling is that model. It identifies and captures the 26 universal approaches to successful brand storytelling and positioning development and is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of effective brand building. Each of these 26 approaches represents a streetlight. All 26 approaches together illuminate the whole city, i.e. represent the whole spectrum of potential solutions.  This enables you to wander around the illuminated city until you come across the right corner, i.e. the most promising perspective on how to solve your business problem or brand challenge.

Street corner brand heritage? Check

Street corner consumer rituals? Check

Street corner brand purpose? Check

Street corner brand archetypes? Check

Street corner category conventions? Check

Street corner usage context? Check

Street corner category paradox? Check

Street corner brand weakness? Check

Street corner cultural trends? Check

And so forth, until you’ve worked your way through all 26 “corners”.


Once you’ve identified the right corner and are confident that it is the one where you’ve lost your keys, you can get on your knees and start looking for them.

If you want to avoid the Drunkard’s Search effect next time you are positioning a product or brand or are crafting or re-crafting your brand story, reach out and let us tell you more about how Positioning Roulette can help you illuminate the whole city and find the right solution. Our clients who have used this methodology loved it, leading to a 100% referral rate.



Positioning-Roulette: What Is Your Brand Story?


Welcome to our homepage and thank you for checking out our positioning development methodology.

First The Trousers uses a unique and proprietary methodology when developing positioning platforms and creating brand stories: Positioning-Roulette. It is more comprehensive and leads to more relevant brand positioning platforms and brand stories faster than any other methodology out there. And here is why.

The Positioning-Roulette methodology is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of successful brand building which has enabled us to identify the 26 universal approaches to successful brand positioning platforms and compelling brand stories (We offer to donate $500 to a charity of their choice to anyone who can come up with a 27ths approach. So far no one has been able to take us up on our offer). No other methodology provides this depth or substance.

26 areas

Each of the 26 approaches enables us to explore a brand’s uniqueness from a different and fresh perspective, is proven successful in building brands and is rooted in a deeper understanding on how people think, feel, learn, choose and behave.


Systematically exploring these 26 areas when doing a brand audit or when crafting a brand story and positioning platform enables us, usually in collaboration with your teams, to provide a fresh perspective on your brand, the category and your consumers. This comprehensive exploration of all potential positioning options makes it easy to identify the positioning territory that will best reflects your organization’s DNA, establish a distinctive and successful position in the market place and connect with your stakeholders at the most compelling level.

Our process is data driven, combines strategic rigor with creative problem skills and leads to better, more relevant results, faster than any other methodology out there.


First-The-Trousers can assist you with Positioning Roulette to:

  1. Position new products and brands
  2. Re-position existing products and brands
  3. Craft and fine-tune compelling brand stories
  4. Add more texture and depth to existing brand stories
  5. Develop (and research) new product concepts
  6. Train your marketing teams through corporate training seminars

A growing number of companies are already using our methodology (in one form or another). They include among others Facebook, Google, Kimberly Clark, Hewlett Packard, Reynolds Consumer Products, Vice, Siemens, Land O Lakes and Bacardi.

We pride ourselves of a 100% referral rate. Here is some of the endorsement our methodology has received:  

This all-encompassing approach had us explore every positioning option without bias, and with Ulli’s guidance allowed us to distill the ideas into a truly unique place in this increasingly cluttered category.”

Ulli and the First the Trousers team helped us with a fresh approach to create a compelling story for a new (global) product through a Positioning-Roulette workshop. Positioning Roulette proved to be a very effective method to explore all potential options to build a clear and distinctive brand and product message to conquer customer loyalty and new customers. Very recommendable! 

The Positioning Roulette methodology led to a deep team discussion and new insights around how to optimize our brand positioning and also gave the team confidence that we had explored all potential options. I would highly recommend Ulli and look forward to working with him again

Want to hear more about Positioning Roulette and how this methodology can help your organization grow its business? Then do not hesitate to contact us.

First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. (First The Trousers or FTT for short) is a brand strategy, research and innovation boutique dedicated to helping start-ups and established corporations realize their business potential and grow their brands. Feel free to check out our menu to see the type of problems we help solve, a list of our clients, some of our case studies and what our clients say about working with us.  

What Every Brand Can Learn From Dos Equis & The Lake Wobegon Effect!


As human beings, we tend to over-estimate our abilities and achievements, particularly in comparison with other people. In other words, we tend to view ourselves as being better than others (smarter, better drivers, more responsible gun owners, better lovers, better marketers, better strategists, etc.) and above average. According to ChangingMinds, “this happens largely because we derive our sense of self-worth in contrast with other people. Thus, rather than considering ourselves ‘good’, we actually seek to be ‘better’.

Ironically the Bell curve challenges this perception, but that’s not the point here.

This phenomenon is (also) called the Lake Wobegon Effect, based on Garrison Keillor fictional Minnesotan town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

One brand that in my opinion perfectly exemplifies the application of the Lake Wogebon Effect to brand management is Dos Equis with its famous, and now retired, campaign “The Most Interesting Man In The World”.

According to the 2009 Effie Gold case study (www.warc.com) two important truths of the brand’s core audience, 20-something males who reportedly drank as many as 12 brands in a month, lead to the creative idea: “First, what these guys wanted more than anything, more than hot girls and designer toys, was to be seen as interesting. And conversely, that they were terrified of being seen as boring”.

In other words this campaign idea tapped into the audience’s belief and self-perception of being “more interesting” than average (other beer drinkers) and its desire to be perceived as such. Welcome to the Lake Wobegon Effect.

The campaign ran for almost ten years and is credited for growing Dos Equis business year after year during this period of time (tripling the size of the business in Canada actually). And it became part of (pop) culture.  Its strength, I believe, is that it did it with a slightly sarcastic sense of humor (and exaggeration) making it easier for the audience to digest and accept the message. A more serious approach would have backfired with today’s more cynical consumer.  For sure.

Heineken, who owns Dos Equis, has decided to retire the campaign this year after a successful run of almost 10 years. So it is going to be interesting what new campaign idea they will come up with and what insights this campaign will be built on.

Another brand that taps into the Lake Wobegon Effect is Advanced Auto Parts in my opinion. Its latest campaign tries to appeal to “car tinkerers”, people who see themselves as more fanatic and better “car tinkerers” than the average car owner.

What brands can learn from Dos Equis & the Lake Wobegon Effect:

We all know that many brands in many categories are purchased mainly because of their social badging value, rather than the functional or emotional benefit they promise. Often, a consumer will associate him/herself with a brand as a way to communicate something about him/herself, usually a better version of oneself, that is also a reflection of how they perceive themselves. This is true for most consumer segments, except maybe for women in general and moms in particular, who generally tend to not view themselves as “better” (as a marketer, you quickly learn to be very careful with generalizations about women and moms).

The question therefore worth asking for most brands is then “how can my brand tap into the Lake Wobegon Effect as a way to differentiate itself from competition and help its consumers feed their self-worth and reflect their self-image? And how can it do so in a way that will not come across as patronizing? ”

Feel free to share your thoughts in the “comments” section below.

3 Myths About Millennials Marketing You Need To Stop Perpetuating (HuffPost Business)

This article was originally posted on The HuffPost Business.


If you buy into the myths circulating around the advertising and marketing industry, you’d think marketing to Millennials was just the easiest thing ever- or if not easy, a matter of just following simple steps. In fact, all the “typical” Millennial brand needs to do to succeed is to be authentic (whatever that means), use a mobile first (and social media second) approach, align its values with the values of its consumers (behind a powerful purpose), and promise to make the world a better place.

And then, strategy in hand, you’re ready to create! All you need is a group of early Twentysomethings, preferably from various ethnic backgrounds with a few hipsters mixed in (after all they are one of the most ethnically diverse and tolerant groups) having fun on a road trip, jumping off a cliff into the ocean fully dressed (they love nature but they value style as well), doing some cool artwork with some recycled material (after all they are all about creativity and self-expression but also care about the environment) or enjoying a rooftop party in Brooklyn with the Manhattan skyline in the background. As long as you’ve done that, your creative will turn indifferent Millennials into eager brand fans that will willingly torment their friends into buying your brand as well.

Yeah, right!

To address this issue and turn the stereotypes, half-truths and generalizations about Millennials into specific and actionable insights, First-The-Trousers decided to analyze 76 North American case studies of effective marketing to Millennials. We wanted to focus on brands and campaigns that successfully engaged Millennials in ways that led to business results, rather than on what experts claim or the research learning that usually tries to identify a (lowest) common denominator among the 80 million consumers. For the data, we relied on WARC and its case studies database which includes Effies, Creative Effectiveness Lions, MMA Smarties awards, etc. and covers the last ten years. A summary of the learning can be found at www.first-the-trousers.com).

As part of this analysis we identified three myths about Millennials that were not supported by our data. They are:

  1. Millennials are one homogeneous consumer segment. One of the major appeals of Millennials as a target audience is that there are 80+ million of them out there. That’s a lot of wallets and future consumers. The only problem is that there are many different types of Millennials with very different needs, aspirations and life circumstances: the college kids, the 20 year old blue collar worker, the video game player, the young graduate looking for her first job, the young couple about to get married, buy a house and expecting their first child, the single working mom with 2 children, the freshly divorced 34 year old man re-entering the dating market, and so on. The only way to appeal to all those different segments as one is in our opinion to identify the lowest common denominator across these sub-segments, an approach that never really leads to success or to a truly differentiated idea. Interestingly, 79% of the case studies of effective marketing to Millennials we looked at went beyond the generic criteria used to “capture” Millennials and instead identified sub-segments better suited for their marketing efforts. These included everything from specific category-relevant behaviors (“beer transitionals”), life stage (new home owners) and big life events (young parents delaying potty training), social-demographics (men in their early 30s with higher HH income), gender, ethnicity, geography, passion points (Zombie fans) and interests, etc. In other words, successful Millennial marketers do not target Millennials as one homogeneous segment or as a generation, but instead focus on sub-segments defined by more useful and actionable criteria and variables.
  2. Millennials are digital natives. While this statement is technically correct, in that they don’t know a world without internet and smartphones, the implication and conclusions drawn from this fact usually are not. In fact, talking about Millennials as digital natives usually implies that they need to be targeted online (using their phones as access point) first if not exclusively. However, this implication is not consistent with our learnings either. In fact, out of the 76 cases we looked at, 80% used a combination of online and offline channels to reach millennials with their brand message. Further, two thirds of the campaigns we looked at also interacted with their audience through live events that were built into their marketing plan. It appears that the analog world is still the best place, even for digital natives, to experience the world and create stories that are then worth sharing with social media via smartphones.
  3. Millennials are all about Do-Good marketing. A third myth about Millennials is that they are all about do-good marketing, that all they need is to be aligned with a brand’s higher purpose and values to be turned into avid brand ambassadors. And while I have no doubt that they are socially responsible (maybe even more so than the generation before them), it doesn’t mean that they’ll buy anything and everything at a premium simply because the brand promises to save the world. Do-Good campaigns were actually the exception in our sample of 76 effective case study of Millennial marketing, rather than the rule, with maybe the most prominent exception we looked at being the Pepsi Refresh campaign from 2011. On the other hand, 80% of the cases we looked at included some sort of give-away to incentivize participation. Our conclusion therefore is that a brand is more likely to engage a Millennial by giving them free stuff than by promising them a better world.

Millennials are often thought of as a generation for which the conventional principles of effective marketing and communication do not apply. And the large amount of Millennials research out there, as well as all the Millennial experts out there, seem to perpetuate this myth. Our research and experience shows that instead, they are a group of very pragmatic consumers that demand value and substance from the brands they chose to interact with and that responds to sound, insightful and creative marketing programs just like any other consumer segment. Millennials just happen to have grown up in a digital world and therefore are way more familiar with the digital and social space than most marketers trying to appeal to them.

On a different note, if you are looking for a better, faster, more insightful and more effective way to develop brand positioning platforms and brand stories, please check-out www.POSITIONING-ROULETTE.com, our proprietary approach to positioning development. Some call it the Creative Whack Pack of positioning, others describe it as the “ludicrous mode” of positioning development methodologies. Our clients love it and recommend it.