Millennials & Transparency: Beyond Branding & Marketing

The millennial generation’s “self, society, and planet” ethos has had a big impact on branding and marketing practices. Their primary concern is transparency. As consumers, they want to understand how products are made, where they are sourced, and how they impact the communities that create and consume them. Brands who embrace transparency are able to build trust, convey authenticity, and gain the loyalty of this major demographic.

Gaining (or Losing) Trust

Which behaviors demonstrate a lack of transparency and cause millennial consumers to lose trust? “Social media is the No.1 communication channel of choice for transparency,” according to a study by Sprout Social, and “withholding information (picked by 69% of respondents); ignoring customer questions (68%); (and) avoiding relevant political/social issues (34%)” are all red flags for millennials. The social media behaviors that enhance trust and ultimately brand loyalty include “admitting to mistakes (61%), responding honestly to customers (58%) and discussing product/service pricing (45%).”

Why is transparency a particularly millennial obsession? As MarketingDaily notes, this generation came of age alongside the boom in social media, Google, and Wikipedia, and has “been raised with expectations for (both) instant gratification and social responsibility.” As a result, they have high expectations not just of the brands they buy, but of politicians, healthcare companies, and employers as well.

Transparency in Politics

Millennials earned a reputation in the early 2010s as indifferent to and disengaged from institutional politics (they are, however, more active in volunteer work than their predecessors). This has changed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, but their key preoccupation is still transparency – or “accountability” in the language of politics. Due to increasing distrust in traditional media, politicians’ Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts are the preferred method of direct communication.

An article in The Atlantic states that “a greater demand for transparency and responsiveness has supplanted millennials’ trust in government… and it’s as close to a unifying political philosophy as millennials have offered.” As a result, younger politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have gained this demographic’s loyalty by using Instagram to pull back the curtain during her first term in Congress.

Transparency in Healthcare

Transparency in pricing is especially important to the millennial demographic, which is price-conscious as a result of record student-loan debt and formative experiences during the Great Recession. Today’s rising healthcare costs and instability in the health insurance market have made healthcare a particular target of millennials’ desire for transparency.

Millennials are bringing online consumer behavior to the healthcare market, Stephen Miller writes for SHRM. The generation that grew up customizing their electronics and their coffee wants to be able to do the same with their health care. Price transparency helps consumers make informed decisions, and has lead to a shift towards walk-in clinics and telemedicine over traditional doctor-patient relationships.

Transparency in Employment

Millennials are also demanding greater transparency from their employers. ORC International notes that “for millennials to be engaged, they want open, authentic discussions” about everything from benefits to job roles, work impact, and performance evaluations. This shift can cause organizations to view millennial employees as high-maintenance or needy, but there are benefits to more transparent work cultures. These include improved communication, greater teamwork and problem-solving, and ultimately better job satisfaction and employee retention.

Millennials’ desire for transparency is reshaping more than product labeling and sourcing information. Diverse industries and institutions are being challenged by the mandate to be more accountable to “self, society, and planet.” As this generation gains more power and influence, we will continue to see the demands and the benefits that transparency brings.


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