When life turns upside down, so do your loyalties

People are creatures of habit. We’d much rather buy something we know and love than try something that might disappoint.

There’s no need to be overwhelmed by the 153 types of milk in the store (in both fridge and aisle) each time you run out. You just get whatever you’ve bought and liked before.

But there are times in our lives when our loyalty is up for grabs. It’s at these times when brands up their ‘life stage marketing.’ They sense your vulnerability like sharks detect blood or dogs smell every dog pat you’ve ever given in those jeans.

Millennial dollars are pretty valuable. We’re the largest living generation and we’re moving into our biggest spending years. We’re ticking off milestones and making huge changes in our lives—even if we’re not necessarily doing it in the same order as our grandparents.
So, when are brands really looking for your loyalty?

Your mum doesn’t cook for you anymore

Despite many millennials living with parents for longer, we’re also quite good at moving out—we do it more than once. Dubbed ‘the Boomerang Generation,’ our brand loyalties may be different from our parents’. When we move out of home (especially for the first time), suddenly we’re the ones strolling the aisles in Coles, Woolies or independent supermarkets. We find ourselves standing in the toothpaste section, deciding whether to buy what our parents have always used or making our own preferences known. We put our money where our values are when we choose whether to pay 80 cents more for paper towels made from recycled materials or $1.80 more for a non-generic brand name. With loyalty programs free and easy to join—and regular reminders from the self-checkouts—supermarket brands start to build a profile of our buying habits.

The dollars start rolling in (or out)

When have you experienced a change in financial situation? Most millennials have gone through the broke student phase and some of us have transitioned to a full-time income. A change in disposable income means you’ll be buying the cheapest brands available or switching them out for brands you perhaps couldn’t afford before.

You posed in front of a ‘Sold’ sign

Although you wouldn’t believe it from the headlines, some millennials buy property. New homeowners are swamped with advertising for insurance, furniture, hardware and homewares. Once you have a mortgage, every dollar counts. While some brands offer loyalty program discounts (like Ikea), others go for simpler offerings like the possibility of a voucher if you sign up for their newsletter. While you might think you’d go for any cheap, good quality product, you’ll find yourself circling back to the brands you know and trust.

The likes roll in on that engagement or wedding photo announcement

If you’re newly engaged or married, don’t be surprised by an increase in travel, legal, banking, financial planning, real estate and weight loss services (urgh) in your feed. And if you’re part of the small percentage of those living together for the first time, whose brand loyalties win out if you use a laundry liquid and your partner uses a different brand’s powder?

The pregnancy test comes back positive

Just found out you’re pregnant? In 2011, an angry Minneapolis man complained that Target was sending maternity advertising to his high school-aged daughter. It turns out, Target knew she was pregnant before anyone else—all thanks to a clever statistician’s pregnancy-prediction model. Brands know that pregnancy and the birth of your first child is a huge time of change and when you’ll start buying a whole new array of products. You’ll be swarmed by pregnancy and baby products—from maternity clothes and prams to ‘babymoon’ holiday packages—before you ever post the announcement on social media. Your Google searches will quickly reveal your new status.

But, it’s not one-sided

While brands look closely at our lives and values, we’re staring right back at them. Public image problems account for about 32% of brand loyalty switching by millennials. We’re seeing backlash against brands like UltraTune, who have a habit of running sexist ad campaigns featuring problematic individuals. Ethical fashion is starting to take off and the worst offenders (particularly fast fashion brands) are being called out online; brands like Victoria’s Secret and Boohoo.

We’re driven by our values and experiences more than any generation before us. With the rise of online shopping, it’s easier than ever to compare products and get access to an impossibly wide range.

All this choice and affordability means we can buy brands with environmentally sustainable packaging. Brands that are fair trade and anti-animal testing. Brands that decorated their stores or social media feeds with rainbows for marriage equality.

It means that brands need to offer an experience—from personalisation on their websites and social media messaging, to events like Mecca’s Meccaland festival or Lululemon’s in-store yoga classes.

How many of us have accidentally swiped a Woolworths loyalty card at a Coles self-checkout? We’re part of so many loyalty programs that it’s no surprise to see we’re swapping out the cards in our wallets for webapps like Incent.

Although loyalty still has a place, we want our brands to earn it. And we’re watching closely to see whether they do.

Guest author

Sarah Gates is a marketer, freelance copywriter and the author of Love Elimination (HarperCollins Australia). She teaches writing and publishing workshops and has appeared on panels at National Young Writers Festival and Sydney Writers Festival. You can reach her via her website or Facebook.