Our Thinking

Your customer has changed, so should you

February 2019

By Adrienne Albright, Senior Associate, and Caylin Lo, Senior Associate

With an estimated $200B+ annual buying power, Millennials are transforming the ways organizations use brand to connect with their customers. Brands that are able to find the right balance of heritage, authenticity, transparency, and aesthetics are able to build relationships with a generation that has proven its brand loyalty again and again. Many B2C brands are investing heavily to win the hearts and wallets of Millennials while many of their B2B counterparts are leaving money on the table.

According to a recent study, 74% of the people responsible for procurement of products and services for businesses are between 20 and 35 years old. These Millennial buyers are digital natives who are comfortable conducting independent online product research. Once they are ready to speak with a salesperson, they expect an authentic relationship that goes beyond a well-crafted pitch. They expect a conversation that communicates not just the brand’s product and service capabilities, but also its values and purpose.

So, what can B2B brands do to adapt to the needs of these valuable external stakeholders? To find the answer, we investigated a group of B2C disruptors who have found particular success with Millennials: direct-to-consumer brands.

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, such as Casper, Harry’s, and Glossier, are growing rapidly in popularity, increasing the demand for nimble brands that resonate with consumers. After reviewing D2C best practices, we identified three imperatives that B2B brands can employ to foster profitable customer relationships.

1) Digital strategies aren’t “nice,” they’re essential

The business world is well into the digital age, allowing companies to interact with their customers on an intimate level. D2C brands have perfected this new way of communication. They have leveraged social media to target audiences and drive conversations. Harry’s Director of Digital Products, Matthew Tully explains: “If we can package the experience, the mood, the feeling that we want our product to create and put it into customers’ hands, then they go out into the world as megaphones for our message.”

B2B brands that are willing to invest in these practices will have the opportunity to create distinctive experiences that better target individual clients. They will be able to learn more about the company’s offering, while also building a relationship to the brand. When paired with great design, a strong digital strategy allows brands to show instead of tell in an adaptive and interactive way.

2) Start with honesty, execute with authenticity

D2C brands also use clear communication to articulate everything about their company from values to pricing. They have a clear point-of-view and are responsive to customer requests and questions. This comes from a sense of purpose that permeates every interaction with the brand, both internally and externally. It also means being communicative in tough situations and owning mistakes. Millennials are allergic to fakery, and a simple press release will never appease them.

In 2017, Uber ignited the wrath of Millennials when it had its drivers continue to do business at JFK during a taxi strike that began following President Trump’s controversial travel ban. Uber continued to service the airport, and removed the surge pricing which would have resulted in higher fares due to the increased demand. In response, the hashtag #deleteUber began to trend and over 200,000 customers removed Uber from their phones. Its biggest competitor, Lyft, took advantage of the situation and pledged to donate $1M to the ACLU, which shot its app to the top of the download charts.

3) Give them what they want, a seamless experiences

Great customer experiences are the hallmark of successful D2C brands. They cultivate these experiences in several ways: 1) They ensure the purchasing channels are easy to navigate and use on all devices, 2) They offer free shipping and returns, and 3) They have great customer service that is easy to contact and interact with. All of these touchpoints are essential in building a relationship with a brand. Even a customer who ultimately returns a product, can have a positive perception of your brand if they had a seamless experience.

On the other hand, most B2B brands rely on their sales teams to be the face of the brand by facilitating transactions and driving the customer experience. However, this sales tactic will not have the same effect it did on past generations. As D2C brands have shown, Millennials want a different buying experience and to be in control of their own purchasing journey. They want to be able to navigate the brand’s website, gather the information they need, and make purchases without having to interact with a salesperson unless they have chosen to do so. Allowing this journey to happen in a seamless way is essential to attracting and retaining customers.

Brand is the sum of the interactions a person has with a company. It’s about meeting customers expectations and surprising clients in positive ways. D2C brands have perfected this model for Millennial consumers, changing their expectations of brand interactions both personally and professionally. As Millennials become the dominant force in B2B buying, they bring with them their new buying habits and brand expectations. By incorporating best practices from their D2C counterparts, B2B brands can deliver a seamless transactional experience and drive growth.


Straightline is an international brand strategy and design consultancy. We work with leaders of global and emerging businesses to develop brand strategies and creative solutions that help organizations improve their business and bottom line. To have a conversation about your brand, contact us.

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