By Arina Khodyreva, Director, Technology + Digital, PBN Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Russian millennials are essentially the country’s first proper “consumers.” Back in the USSR, there were no brands. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia was suddenly exposed to full-blown capitalism. International brands flooded the Russian market in the late 80’s and 90’s, right around the time Russian millennials were born. While they never experienced the deprivations of the Soviet era themselves, Russian millennials are nevertheless influenced by an older generation that is very keen to consume after years of empty shelves. As a result, the Russian millennials are quite a unique species compared to their global peers, and brands need to keep their history in mind.


Love international brands, but happy to switch
Russian consumers on the whole adore international brands, as they are associated with a level of quality domestic brands historically have been unable to provide. For a long time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, foreign brands offered a way for people to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate their social status. Nevertheless, Russian millennials’ love for foreign brands is not as strong as that of older generations, given that domestic brands offering similar levels of quality have begun to appear, particularly in sectors that appeal to younger people. On the whole, brand loyalty is not strong and millennials will happily switch between brands—as long as the quality is high and the price is right.

Hacker jokes aside, Russians love their tech and really know how to use it. Mobile is everything in Russia, and not just in the big cities. Apple/Samsung Pay, contactless technology, messengers, online services—millennials have embraced and mastered it all. Russia has produced some of the greatest tech leaders of today’s online world, from Google’s Sergey Brin through to Telegram’s Pavel Durov, and Russians take pride in their tech prowess.

“I want it all and I want it now. And I still kind of want to own it”
Accustomed to economic uncertainty and volatility, many Russian millennials value short-term enjoyment, achievement, and products over potential gains down the line. Why work half your life for something when you don’t know what will happen tomorrow?

However, not all Russian millennials are convinced; material possessions such as cars and apartments still matter, as they represent stability and social status.

Pragmatic, but personality matters
Russians love brands but are not convinced by brand “missions” and “promises” and are not keen to allow an emotional connection. More down-to-earth brands might find it easier to earn trust. A key factor in gaining that trust is the personal touch. Millennials like to see successful brands with inspiring leaders with strong personalities and human faces. Just look at Oleg Tinkov, head of the highly successful Tinkoff Bank, which works exclusively online, or Eugene Kaspersky, who started cyber security business Kaspersky Lab.


E-commerce is king

Russia is the biggest country in the world, which makes it hard for brands and stores to maintain a physical presence everywhere. Therefore e-commerce is a godsend for many millennials, allowing access to products and services they could previously only dream of. This is one reason behind the tremendous success of Chinese online marketplace AliExpress, which offers a huge variety of goods at cheap prices that can be easily ordered online and from mobile.

Internet is local, TV is still strong, and YouTube is growing like crazy
While Facebook is the largest social network in many European countries, its local rival is much bigger in Russia. Nevertheless, for want of a domestic alternative, Russians love Instagram, which actually has a bigger audience in Russia than its parent Facebook. As for the other global giants: Twitter is losing its audience and LinkedIn has been banned for not complying with Russian legislation. While millennials consume more information online than their parents, TV still plays a strong role thanks to 20 free-to-air channels and cheap pay TV. As for video, YouTube has highlighted the size of the Russian market (the biggest in Europe), and Russian millennials (backed up by the younger Generation Z) are watching more and more content there every year. This trend looks set to continue.

Trust issues holding back the sharing economy
Trust is a key element in any sharing economy, but wary of past experience in Russia from the days of communism and the volatility of the 1990s, Russians are not fully willing to trust each other. This is holding back the development and spread of innovative sharing services. Individualism is still holding strong over the benefits of the sharing experience.

Health and community are rising trends
As in the rest of the world, millennials living in big cities are overwhelmed by their daily routines and stress at work, which disrupts work/life balance. Russian millennials have embraced the trends of healthy lifestyle and community building, and they have started looking for activities that will help them stay healthy and connect them with like-minded people but which don’t require too much effort. One of the most apparent manifestations of this is the rise of running clubs in big cities, which have become an essential part of many millennials’ sporting and social lives.

Brand-Building Action Points

1. Think local
Celebrate your brand’s international heritage and stress the quality of products and services, but don’t forget the local angle—how do you fit in?
When choosing the “face” of your brand, opt for local influencers over global ones.
To win even more points, go hyper local; every region or city likes to feel unique (and, especially, different from Moscow).
For digital campaigns, don’t rely on just Twitter and Facebook. Embrace local networks like VK and OK. And yes—YouTube!
Don’t limit yourself to digital; TV is still a big deal in Russia.

2. Reward loyalty
Russian millennials tend to switch easily between brands, so reward any loyalty and work hard to retain clients.

3. Be bold and honest
Russian millennials appreciate honesty and are very tolerant of even very provocative marketing.

4. Sell the experience, not the product
Engage with your consumers and let them be part of something bigger.

5. Think mobile
Russians love mobile, and in many areas of the country it’s the only way to get online.

This piece originally appeared in the BrandZ Global 100 2017 report.

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