I recently had the pleasure of attending the ASID National President’s Forum this past March in New York City. It was a wonderful experience for me and so great to be surrounded by smart, forward-thinking leaders.

During one of the many thoughtful group meetings, a seasoned designer asked the question of how does an older design firm remain relevant with a younger demographic? I do have a little bit of insight on this subject having three young adult daughters, all of whom have clear views on brand importance. That being said, I still decided to do a little research on the subject of brand relevance with a younger client.

I found that … simply put, a younger demographic values a brand, industry, or service that make their lives better and adds value. These brands aren’t always hip, nor are they targeted specifically at this younger demographic. In fact, millennials are more apt to look past trendiness and fall head over heels for brands that stand for something real.

Tesla, of course, is an automotive brand. I suspect the reason it commands so much respect from millennials is due to its revolutionary technology. Younger consumers don’t believe Elon Musk’s brainchild is just better than its electric car competitors; they respect the way it is constantly pushing the entire industry forward.

Research also suggests millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations. Sixty-eight percent of millennials say creating change in the world is a personal goal that they actively pursue, while only a minority of baby boomers feel this way (42%).

Having a global outlook and encouraging diversity are also traits that are likely to align millennials with brands or services. Seventy-seven percent of millennials say experiencing other cultures is important to them, compared to 64% of baby boomers. Young people are making brand choices —some of which will last a lifetime— in an era of dramatic political and cultural events. Those brands that stand in accordance with young people’s values will be more likely to “win the future” than those that do not fully understand them or ignore them out of risk aversion or ambivalence.

Companies cannot afford to coast on their laurels. As a brand, you must be willing to think differently about your product and/or service and experience, and constantly challenge yourself to push the status quo.

Every designer can take steps to increase relevance and deepen their connections with millennial customers. But more importantly, they’ll appeal to all consumers, including Gen X, baby boomers and the fast-rising Gen Z. Brand relevance, it turns out, resonates with people no matter how old they are.

All the best,

Jennifer Austin-McGrath