The kids are NOT alright: Winning with Millennials during and after COVID-19

Jason Green, Lindsey Leikhim and Christine Wang

May 5, 2020

Winning with millennials has been on the minds of businesses and brands for the better part of the past decade. What plans, if any, will change as these consumers grapple with what may be the first major crisis of their adult lives?

Among our COVID-19 response segments, we found that “Panicked Millennials”* a group that skews heavily to the millennial generation but also includes some younger and older consumers, are the segment that is most worried about the coronavirus pandemic and are significantly changing their behaviors as a result. Among their major concerns are the impact this crisis will have on their financial, physical, and mental health. To cope, they are sheltering in place, stocking up on key items, shopping online more, and consuming more news to get updates. While some of this behavior may slowly abate as the pandemic ends, past macro shocks suggest that others will have staying power and become part of millennials’ new fabric of life. Amid all this change, businesses and brands will need to find inventive new ways to connect with millennials who have been their largest, most important consumer group for many industries and categories. 

Who are the Panicked Millennials compared to other COVID-19 response archetypes?

Here are five key implications for winning with Panicked Millennials in their new world:

  1. Align with channel shifts: As they shelter in place, Panicked Millennials are shifting more of their spending online. Most businesses will need to up their online game to find these consumers with the right messages and offers. Panicked Millennials are also very likely to shift to value channels given their financial concerns – a whopping 60% of them note their own employment and their household’s financial health as a top concern*. A move to value channels was also seen across a broad swath of consumers during the 2008 recession in order to save money. Many did not switch back as they realized offerings in these channels were better than expected. Now is the time to determine how best to enter or improve your presence in these channels going forward.
  1. Focus on value: How can you best increase perceptions of the value of your offers in absolute terms and/or relative to alternatives? Avoid the temptation to reflexively slash prices without a clear corresponding boost to brand image, loyalty or increased consumption. Effective promotions motivate purchases while driving loyalty and brand advocacy by leveraging the “free first-class upgrades” hidden in your business model. Virtually every brand has something it can offer that consumers perceive as having significant value while having little or no cost to provide. For example, can existing “value packs” be leveraged, could consumers be reminded of your current value-tier offers or can trial and travel size items that might not be selling be included for free with purchase?  Interestingly, LinkedIn is offering free learning courses with tips for staying productive while working from home, for building relationships when not face to face and getting the most from virtual meeting tools, among other valuable content. Panicked Millennials are feeling the cash crunch, facing unemployment risks and are worried most that sheltering in place will hinder their ability to work* - all suggesting value will be increasingly key. 
  1. Re-energize recognition:  Despite their concerns, Panicked Millennials are indeed still spending money - on essentials, entertainment at home, and on ‘affordable luxuries’ like clothing* – and would like to be recognized for their continued patronage. Thanking customers for choosing your brand has always been the right thing to do. But, in far too many cases, this gesture has become rote and almost meaningless. How can you add meaning and make your customers feel good by noting your local connection, your long heritage, the number of employees each purchase supports or some other unique aspect of your business or brand?
  1. Support the cause: Remind consumers of the ways you have supported important causes prior to the pandemic and your ongoing commitment to those causes now. As possible, find ways to support new causes that are of greater importance today such as healthcare systems, first responders and workers of all stripes. Dove soap has been quick to the frontlines on this with two campaigns – one supporting healthcare workers and another with #washtocare to encourage hand washing regardless of brand.
  1. Reinforce healthy habits: Health is a major area of concern for Panicked Millennials, who note family members’ health and the healthcare system in their top 5 worries*. You may not be in a category such as food, fitness equipment, OTC drugs or personal care that has obvious connections to broad aspects of health.  But you may be surprised by how many ways your brand can help address your consumers’ physical and mental health concerns. For example, a brand of paper plates we worked with helped consumers feel much better about themselves and their families by reducing the time spent on clean up and increasing the time together at the dinner table. Studies have shown that time spent together at the dinner table reduces stress, increases feelings of belonging and has multiple developmental benefits for children that result in better grades and improved self-esteem. The key is to be authentic and not to force these connections, which this paper plate brand did with great success.

While this pandemic has impacted everyone to some degree, it has had the greatest impact on Panicked Millennials who express multiple concerns about their finances, their physical health and their mental well-being. Ultimately, the ways your brand responds to Panicked Millennials and their concerns will have a profound impact on the health of your business. There is no time like the present – consider ways to shift your brands value equation, or connect with and thank your loyal customers during this trying time – addressing even one of the five implications now will put you ahead of the game by the time the pandemic subsides.

To read more about Panicked Millennials and the other Pandemic Archetypes, please click here

To connect with us to discuss how you can apply these principles to your business, please click here

For more information about The Cambridge Group, please visit

About The Cambridge Group

We are a strategy consulting firm that has helped clients find profitable growth for over 45 years. Since 1975, we have helped develop and execute strategies that are driven by a superior understanding of profitable demand. Headquartered in Chicago, The Cambridge Group’s strategy consultants apply Demand Strategy across global industries, enabling clients to align their infrastructure, businesses, and resources to meet marketplace demand in a way that is meaningfully differentiated from their competitors. As a Nielsen  “Connected Partner” we enjoy  superior access to Nielsen's data and measurement capabilities.

About the authors

Jason Green is a Senior Partner with The Cambridge Group. He has 30 years of combined consulting and marketing experience working with clients across industries. He is the lead author of Optimizing Growth and is a contributing author to several other books and numerous articles on growth strategy. 

Lindsey Leikhim is an Associate Partner with The Cambridge Group. She has over a decade of consulting and marketing experience with The Cambridge Group and now leads the firm's Brand and Sales Center of Excellence, directing marketing efforts and sales best practices. 

Christine Wang is an Associate Partner with The Cambridge Group. She focuses on leading TCG teams in developing demand-driven profitable growth strategies for clients across consumer goods, retail and healthcare sectors. 


[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]