Millennials don’t care about your brand

(This is the second of a two-part series about millennials — and what the hotel industry needs to understand about them. Read the first part, “Millennials: To pander or not to pander? That is the question”.) 

The Fear of Missing Out is the penultimate psychological factor for millennials when it comes to selecting goods, services and experiences. Many millennials base their choices from what is trending on social media, and we don’t want to be left behind. For example, pop-up restaurants and shops are proving to be incredibly successful because there is a finite amount of time in which we can experience it. Pop-ups will often close for business while there is still a line around the block.

These concepts are also why we are not brand-loyal. For millennials, the idea of corporatized, hard hotel brands is something with which we do not jive. Too much cookie-cutter of anything gets boring and stale, especially when you are shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars per night. Think of it as an instant turn-off during an already bad date.

The way of the future in the hospitality industry is soft brands and collections. It is about having the right product, at the right time and place. Something that is adaptable and in the moment. The only universal points hotels should have in common are friendliness, cleanliness and that at some point I am going to lie down to sleep (on a bed or maybe a hammock, sleeping bag, futon or whatever the locals might use). These days, no one wants to walk in and find the same thing they saw in Maui, Mumbai or Moscow.

Some of you are probably mumbling, “Well, my hotel caters to business travelers so what you are telling me doesn’t apply.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. You need to understand that millennials started coming of age during the Great Recession – an era when we were saddled with student debt, could not get jobs, and chastised for being “lazy,” and when we were forced to learn how to live with less. Many joined the gig economy, while others dove into the burgeoning technology sector, and some became entrepreneurs.

Start-up mindset

What this did is instill a business start-up mindset. Millennials are willing to propose alternatives to their employers if it helps their company save money and increases their personal satisfaction. This means looking for the coolest place to stay for the least amount of money (sometimes this can be a friend’s couch or the ever-feared Airbnb). Their mutual economic success is intrinsically entwined because one cannot survive without the other. This is why the taboo around hostels and shared accommodation is disappearing with younger Americans. However, when they have some extra money saved up, millennials don’t mind seeking out upgrades or other unique experiences to enhance their business travel.

(Anecdotally… having worked on developing a business hotel adjacent to a large Silicon Valley tech company, its board of directors had no desire to mandate where employees stayed for overnight accommodation. As the largest employer in the area, it was more advantageous for their millennial-focused corporate culture to negotiate contracts with numerous local properties rather than just a sole branded facility. This way their employees have choices and are spreading the wealth around the community.)

Equally important to your success and a part of most millennials’ everyday lives is judging how well a given place or situation is going to garner likes or views on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter. (Note that I did not include Facebook in that list, as its usage with millennials is declining, so use your social media capital wisely). Well-executed design and service culture are key to the experience. Though remember to keep it fresh because we get bored easily. Experience-wise, the lobby bar at a renovated branded hotel your dad used to stay at really isn’t going to cut it.

On the flip side, when it comes to business travel, if we want an upgrade or a more unique experience, then we are usually willing to pay the difference out of our own pocket.

Sounds a bit different than your traditional business model, right? If you are still struggling to formulate how one earns a return from constant innovation, think of us as investors rather than customers. We are investing in the success of your business and the livelihood of your employees through a form of crowdfunding. Like all investors, millennials are looking for a return on their investment (aka best bang for their buck). So if your property or one of its ancillary facilities is hot and in the moment, you are more likely to get groups of us spending money there.

Since we don’t care about brand, that also means we don’t care about loyalty points. Not to mention, millennials are debt-adverse and will many times use a debit card over a credit card. The whole points thing is lost on us there as well.

Please, please, please, stop pandering to us with all of these “millennial-focused” brands. It is all too forced, manufactured and corporate. Or as I like to say, they’re a bit beige (like your grandmother’s reclining chair or Buick). If you really do want to pander to us for business, then your properties should strive be an experiential destination like no other. A place that harnesses local authenticity, projects a distinctive identity and promotes integrity. We believe in breaking the mold. You should too.