Business Branding or Customer Bonding? Marketing to Millennials and Their Parents

Branding – as it is taught today – will at best cause people to remember you and have a mild opinion.

But unlike yesterday’s branding, today’s bonding is the beginning of relationship, the essence of loyalty and the foundation of community among human beings.

Bonding, when done properly, makes people feel connected to you. It is the little-known secret of marketing to millennials* and their parents.

Bonding creates community – surrogate family – connectedness – relationship – belonging.

When we talk about “community” in marketing, always remember: We buy what we buy to remind ourselves – and tell the world around us – who we are.

I am irresistible, I say, as I put on my designer fragrance. I am a merchant banker, I say, as I climb out of my BMW. I am a juvenile lout, I say, as I down a glass of extra strong lager. I am handsome, I say, as I don my Levi’s jeans.
— John Kay

The personality you craft for your brand is essential to the bonding process.

The public will give you their time if you offer them entertainment.
They will give you their money if they feel connected to you.

In the days of the Old West, branding made a cow yours.
In today’s hyper-communicated society, bonding makes a customer yours.

Remember, it’s all about identity, a reflection of self.

Nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him. For if you know these things about a man you can touch him at the core of his being.
— Bill Bernbach

Bill Bernbach obviously understood bonding, as did my hero, John Steinbeck.

Man is the only animal who lives outside of himself, whose drive is in external things – property, houses, money, concepts of power. He lives in his cities and his factories, in his business and job and art. But having projected himself into these external complexities, he is them. His house, his automobiles are a part of him and a large part of him. This is beautifully demonstrated by a thing doctors know – that when a man loses his possessions a very common result is sexual impotence.
— John Steinbeck, The Sea of Cortez

Lest you think Steinbeck wasn’t speaking of marketing, here’s another line from that same 1941 travelogue.

These Indians were far too ignorant to understand the absurdities merchandising can really achieve when it has an enlightened people to work on.

Millennials would have loved John Steinbeck.** He had perception, perspective and a piercing wit. With authenticity, clarity of vision and complete transparency, he spoke the bonding-language of millennials 60 years before they were born.

Ed Sheehan wrote Steinbeck’s obituary for The San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle:

He was a writer of immense sensitivity in a man-shell of gruffness. The quality that distinguishes his work is an enormous compassion. He saw nobility in a hobo, felt the sadness of seasons and believed that dogs could smile.

(Of course he did, because we can. – Indiana Beagle)

I’ll be teaching bite-sized morsels of the 12 detailed steps of bonding over the next few months in a series of videos for the American Small Business Institute. Or you can come to the 2-day Wizard Academy workshop in February if you’re willing to stay in a hotel, (when the alumni got a heads-up email from Vice Chancellor Whittington a few days ago, all 18 rooms on campus filled up within 4 hours,) or you can be one of the first 18 to snag a room for the June 1-2 session.

Either way, this is stuff you need to know if you want your business to grow.

Roy H. Williams

* note from Indy – When the wizard speaks of millennials, he’s not speaking of birth cohorts (people born within a narrow window of years,) but of life cohorts (that group of people alive in a society in a specified window of time.)  This might seem to be merely a semantic distinction to some, but the wizard sharply disagrees that birth cohorts will carry a single worldview throughout their lives. Instead, he believes a new perspective is introduced every 40 years by the youth of a generation and this new perspective quickly migrates upwards through the age-ranks until all of society is colored by it. The worldview of Baby Boomers marked the beginning of a “Me” generation in 1963. By 1969, most of society had adopted that outlook. Likewise, the Millennial worldview marked the beginning of a “We” generation in 2003. Today, most of us – to one degree or another – are “millennial” in our perspective.

**John Steinbeck was just 20 years old in 1923, the year that marked the beginning of the previous “We” generation that lasted from 1923 to 1963. This explains why he speaks the language of “We” so eloquently.