On screen: A man purses his lips, crosses his arms over his chest and tilts his head, “I want to ask you: can you walk for me? Give me a good strong walk. Think Helmut Lang.” A toddler crawls out of a stroller and teeters toward him unsteadily.
The Fashion Forward audience laughs as Julie Anna Quay, founder & CEO of VFILES, explains of the VFILES clip, “That’s what we do!” She’s opening the afternoon’s segment focused on understanding the modern millennial, and frankly shares her confusion around what exactly constitutes a “Millennial.” After some extensive desktop research (born between 1983-2001) and soul-searching (“I FEEL like a millennial!), she insightfully concludes that “the concept of millennial has nothing to do with age; it’s about cultural and technological awareness.” Julie Anne’s company, VFILES, seems to have cornered the millennial market through a thorough understanding of the all-encompassing way the world now uses and consumes technology, as well as being an honest brand they’re really proud to stand behind. Echoing the values of transparency and authenticity that resonate so soundly with millennials, Julie Anne describes the VFILES attitude, “A brand must be a good friend, a good member of its community, supportive, tell the truth, and listen.” With such a thorough understanding of a brand’s ideal role in today’s world, it’s no wonder VFILES has such an active and engaged community, comprised of global “millennials at heart”.
Following Julie Anne, Neil Blumenthal, Founder & CEO of Warby Parker, and Orit, President & CEO of The O Group take the stage for a conversation about connecting with millennials. The O Group works exclusively with luxury brands whom, as Orit shares, “Are constantly asking us how to reach millennials, how to modify their platform in order to connect with them.” Both Orit and Neil are hyper-aware of the importance of capturing the attention of this sizeable (80 million strong) demographic. Referring to Warby Parker’s success amongst millennials, Orit comments, “Brands with digital flagships NEED to engage millennials because, just like the brand, they think and act differently!” That thought prompts Neil to touch upon the fact that it’s not just “brands” that need be concerned with understanding millennials, it’s companies: “Talking about millennials is critical because they’re a growing customer base and a growing part of your team.”
They discuss the evolution of a brand, specifically brands that begin digital and then move into brick-and-mortar; of Warby Parker’s own evolution Neil explains, “We never thought about e-comm as a means to an end, just as something that allowed us to interact with our customers directly.” Warby Parker is an excellent example of a brand that understands its target audience, many of whom are millennials, and is able to translate their wants into a physical atmosphere precisely because they listened. When their offices were flooded with walk-ins wanting to try product, they simply opened a showroom. Referencing a challenge voiced by luxury brands, Orit asks Neil how Warby Parker faces the challenges of continuing to grow and innovate while holding onto your core customer: “It’s really hard to grow a brand with integrity,” Neil offers, continuing, “How do you build an organization that scales and does good in the world and doesn’t rip people off?”
Neil voices a concern that’s really insightful when it comes to pinpointing why Warby Parker is so successful at connecting with millennials. Aside from the function of their business model and the quality of their offering, they’re truly a brand who’s trying to do good in the world, to prove that businesses can make money without being “evil”. Whether that manifests through purchasing carbon credits, donating glasses or creating an enviable corporate culture, it’s in their brand’s DNA.
Overwhelmingly, each of the speakers agreed that being a brand that cares resonates with millennials: brands that do their best to do good, to connect with and support their communities, and at the end of the day, remain true to their DNA truly understand the modern millennial.
Kristen Dillman is the resident millennial at The O Group, a boutique luxury branding agency in New York City. You can follow her on The O Group blog.
Photo credits: Ni Qin