young male consumer making direct purchase on mobile phone with credit card

Direct to (New) Consumers: DTC Brands’ Millennial & Gen Z Appeal

young male consumer making direct purchase on mobile phone with credit card

“Less is more.” In our world of on-demand shows and same-day delivery, the spirit of this sage advice feels far away. After all, one-stop-shops like Amazon and Walmart attract customers by embracing a “more is more” philosophy – everything you could possibly want right at your fingertips.

Flying in the face of these all-in-one juggernauts is a growing industry of direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies specializing in targeted products and providing luxury feel at an accessible price point. From bed sheets to luggage and mattresses to vitamins, the DTC landscape is growing fast. The secrets to its success lie in lifestyle-focused and social-savvy branding as well as specialization within the affordable-luxury market, resulting in continuously deepening appeal among Millennials and Gen Z. Zeroing in on these elements helps DTC and non-DTC companies succeed with selective shoppers from these generations.


The Anatomy of a DTC Product

While DTC products are often sleek, pared down, high-quality versions of ubiquitous products, the most appealing aspects of these companies are their aspirational brand experiences. Branding and marketing strategies that go to the heart of identity particularly appeal to Millennials, who seek out brands that feel innovative and modern and that communicate something about them as consumers (e.g., being unique). Gen Zers take it one step further, using brands as platforms for their public selves, thoughts, and philosophies.


Beyond creating high-quality specialized products, successful DTC companies create lifestyles to go along with their products. They craft a wider brand experience that transcends the vertical and draws on the values and aspirations of their audience. Instead of simply purchasing the product, consumers are invited to take part in a movement.

Millennials use brands to create a more personal, “internal” identity, so they gravitate towards brand experiences that communicate an aspirational identity. DTC companies that do not explicitly label their products (i.e., Everlane and Warby Parker) help Millennials cultivate that identity while making them feel savvy and in-the-know. Gen Z, a generation shaped by the ubiquity of social media, uses brands to bolster their public persona. They feed off of brands with strong public personalities like Glossier, participating in brand communities and incorporating them into their own external identity.


Escaping the traditional retail model gives brands freedom and flexibility to engage with their customers in fresh new ways and across all aspects of their lives — from walking down the street to perusing their phones. Sometimes they forego traditional marketing platforms in favor of social media and influencer campaigns. Others make traditional platforms their own with eye-catching billboards or ads in the New York City Subway.

Additionally, DTC brands know that online is key when reaching Millennial and Gen Z shoppers. Carefully curated and inviting marketing pulls customers onto design-savvy websites that introduce shoppers to the look and feel of the products. As experts in native advertising, they create visually striking social media content that feel more like consumers’ “cool friend” than an ad. Even when DTC brands opt for brick-and-mortar shops, they leverage them as tactile brand experiences rather than just a sales channel (e.g., Away, Birchbox, and Casper).

Finally, DTC brands are careful to price their products right. Instead of making a play for the luxury or budget ends of the spectrum, they focus on owning the middle. There they make the case for a high-end lifestyle at attainable prices, accessible to a much broader range of buyers.

Extreme Specialization

Millennials and Gen Zers experience a daily onslaught of stuff in their lives, which is why they increasingly value innovation and simplicity in products. Combined with a growing affinity for a minimalist aesthetic, this landscape creates prime territory for new DTC brands to move in and challenge existing behemoths with products they pitch as essential. Of course, this does not preclude customization. In fact, core to many DTC brands is a commitment to deliver to all their customers, from cosmetic shades for every skin tone (e.g., Glossier) to sophisticated tweaks that add a personal touch (e.g., Away).

Millennials, who tend to be driven by technological advances, see an added benefit in products that deliver superior technical engineering and innovation. Personalized vitamin packs, high-tech luggage, and sock-less sneakers — all speak to the Millennial drive to seek out and incorporate new technology into their every day.

Savvy young shoppers know when they’re being taken for a ride, so they gravitate towards brands that do one or two things really, really well. This in turn leads to a higher level of brand trust. After all, if a brand stakes its entire portfolio on a single idea, it’s a safe bet they’ll deliver on their word.


What’s Next: How Gen Z Will Tackle DTC

 Thanks largely to Millennial consumers, DTC brands have made a lasting mark on a wide range of industries, and they show no sign of slowing down. However, whereas Millennials have gravitated towards DTC products’ purity and minimalism, Gen Zers may have other needs:

  • DTC brands must cater to the individual as well as the generation, providing modular and customizable experiences that give Gen Zers a chance to differentiate themselves within a brand.
  • As the boundary between digital and physical becomes ever thinner, brands must work to develop fluidity between digital and physical platforms and make themselves accessible in all parts of their consumers’ media and lives.
  • Gen Z looks for brands with purpose that speak to important social causes. While immediacy is important, Gen Z also demands transparency and authenticity from its brands in everything from pricing to business practices.
  • Some DTC brands have created a community of consumers, but others have some work to do. For Gen Z, brands have the chance to become family members. But with intimacy comes a responsibility to listen and adjust. A one-way relationship won’t work for this generation — the conversation must go both ways.

Millennials have driven the rise of DTC brands, and Gen Zers are growing into their purchasing power. Each has distinct needs and drivers that affect their relationships with their chosen brands. As a team of social scientists and consumer behavior experts, Insight Strategy Group has closely followed both generations as they’ve grown and continues to dive deep into the inter- and intra-generational differences.

With a new cohort of shoppers taking the stage, we can provide the generational insights to shed light on these budding consumers. Coupled with our deep expertise across lifestyle brands, Insight is uniquely positioned to help all create lifelong bonds with Millennials and Gen Z alike.


We’d love to share more about how our unique expertise and solutions can help your business move forward. Drop us a line here, and we’ll be in touch!

August: Trump Tweet Boosted LeBron’s Image

1. Recently, Donald Trump posted a disparaging tweet about LeBron James. As a result of this incident and the circumstances surrounding it, LeBron James’ image _________.

…received a boost – 62%
…was unaffected – 32%
…received a blow – 4%
Not sure / No response – 2%

2. Which of the following will be the biggest story during the 2018 NFL season?

Anthem protests – 51%
TV ratings – 23%
Player safety – 19%
Affordable experience trend started by the Falcons – 2%
Rams and Chargers gaining support in LA – 2%
International games / potential expansion – 1%
Not sure / No response – 2%

3. In your opinion, how does the controversy surrounding the NFL anthem protests alone affect TV viewership among the following segments of NFL fans?


Negative effect / lower ratings No Effect Positive effect / higer ratings Not Sure
Fans under 35 years old 16% 71% 9% 4%
Fans 35-54 years old 58% 33% 2% 7%
Fans 55 and older 87% 7% 3% 3%


4. As a whole, which potential expansion market presents the biggest upside for the NFL?

UK – 38%
Mexico – 29%
Canada – 24%
Not sure / No response – 9%

5. Which of the following is most likely to happen in the next five years?

There is no NFL franchise in London – 55%
London is awarded an expansion franchise – 24%
An NFL franchise relocates to London – 14%
Not sure / No response – 7%

6. Which of the following presents the biggest challenge to an NFL franchise based in London?

Scheduling and logistical concerns – 53%
Concerns about sustained support from local fans – 18%
Players’ / NFLPA’s stance on the idea – 11%
Time zone’s effect on TV viewership – 11%
Tax implications for ownership and players – 4%
Not sure / No response – 3%

7. This person deserves more credit for the Patriots’ success in the last 15 years:

Belichick – 60%
Brady – 31%
Not sure / No response – 9%

8. Improvements in which area would most enhance the experience of premium seating customers in sports?

Experiential benefits (e.g., field passes, mascot visits) – 49%
Venue access / logistics – 18%
Food and beverage – 14%
Ticket transferability – 10%
Service on non-event days – 4%
Not sure / No response – 5%

9. In your opinion, which attribute in each pair should be included if designing the “optimal premium seating concept”?


Field level seats Suite on second or third level
62% 38%


In-seat F&B service Dining area
55% 45%


Traditional ballpark fare High-end dining options
12% 88%


Pre-game field access Talent meet & greets
58% 42%


All-inclusive F&B (built into cost) Pay-as-you-go F&B
84% 16%



10. What grade would you give businesses which buy premium seating on their efforts to measure ROI?

A – 4%
B – 19%
C – 30%
D – 16%
F – 6%
Not sure / No response – 25%

11. In ten years the NBA’s partnership with MGM is more likely to be seen as…?

A trailblazing move – 52%
Inconsequential – 29%
A move in the wrong direction – 5%
Not sure / No response – 14%

One Question on the Lighter Side:

12. Which of the following is your go-to summer cocktail?

Margarita – 41%
Mojito – 18%
Daiquiri – 5%
Gin Fizz – 2%
Cuba Libre – 2%
Not sure / No response – 32%

13. Thinking about your own particular business, what best describes your confidence level regarding the next 12 months for your own business?

7 – Extremely optimistic – 12%
6 – Very optimistic – 36%
5 – Somewhat optimistic – 32%
4 – Neither optimistic nor pessimistic – 10%
3 – Somewhat pessimistic – 8%
2 – Very pessimistic – 2%
1 – Extremely pessimistic – 0%
Not sure / No response – 0%

The Turnkey Sports Poll is a monthly survey of 2,000 sports industry executives representing teams, leagues, governing bodies, facilities, media, events, agencies and brands. The poll covers current events and topics affecting sports business and takes 2-3 minutes to complete. Results are published in the SportsBusiness Journal and on Turnkey’s website. To be considered as a TSP panelist, please click here and enter your business contact information.

MarketCast Group Acquires Turnkey Intelligence

MarketCast Group – A Global Leader in the Consumer Insights Industry – Acquires Sports Research and Advisory Firm, Turnkey Intelligence

LOS ANGELES (September 10, 2018) – MarketCast Group, a global leader in the consumer insights industry, announces today that it has acquired Turnkey Intelligence, a preeminent sports research and advisory firm. Turnkey Intelligence has been providing best-in-class research, consulting, and analytics to teams, leagues, agencies, and brands for more than 20 years, offering a full suite of data-driven services – including fan experience tracking, sponsorship valuation and efficacy, ticketing strategy, and creative/media optimization – to hundreds of sports clients. Their solutions range from full- to self-service and are led by industry experts with more than 100 combined years of experience.

Turnkey Intelligence, headquartered in the Philadelphia area, joins the MarketCast Group alongside global social media analytics and insights firm Fizziology, which was recently acquired by MarketCast last year. The two companies will work in collaboration to provide their sports and brand clients with even more robust and timely sponsorship and fan experience insights. MarketCast Group is a portfolio company of Kohlberg & Company, a leading private equity firm headquartered in New York.

“I’m excited for the future of Turnkey Intelligence with MarketCast Group,” said Len Perna, selling shareholder and founder of Turnkey Intelligence. “For over 20 years, Turnkey Intelligence has been a trusted partner to some of the biggest names in sports. Combining with MarketCast Group and their family of best-in-class companies will allow the team to offer even more to our 250+ clients.” Mr. Perna will join the newly-established Turnkey Intelligence Advisory Board, while Turnkey Intelligence will continue to be led by its current executive leadership team consisting of talented experts in the fields of sports research, analytics, branding, and sponsorship evaluation.

“We are thrilled to welcome Turnkey Intelligence and this talented management team to MarketCast Group,” said CEO Henry Shapiro. “We are media and entertainment research experts, working across film, TV, and video games. Adding a data-driven leader in the world of sports research and analytics gives us a 360-degree view into how people spend their free time and invest their passion.”

“We are pleased to support MarketCast Group’s acquisition of Turnkey Intelligence, and look forward to continuing to support the company going forward,” said David Lorch, Vice President at Kohlberg & Company. “This acquisition, our second add-on in the past year, provides a significant step forward in MarketCast Group’s goal of becoming the global leader in the consumer insights industry.”

JEGI, a leading independent investment bank for the media, information, marketing, and software sectors, served as financial advisor to MarketCast, and Ropes & Gray LLP served as legal counsel to MarketCast. Antares Capital, Madison Capital, and Ares Capital provided debt financing for the transaction.

About Turnkey Intelligence

Turnkey Intelligence offers customized, informed, and actionable solutions to a wide range of sports, live event, agency, and brand-side clients. Turnkey’s areas of expertise include sponsorship measurement and evaluation, advertising effectiveness, customer experience management, brand tracking, pricing optimization, customer segmentation, and more. Turnkey Intelligence’s self-service platform – Audience Portal – is used and trusted by hundreds of sports teams of all sizes. Since 1996, Turnkey Intelligence has been the sports industry’s leading provider of full-service research and data analytics.

About MarketCast Group

MarketCast Group ( consists of three integrated consumer insights businesses: MarketCast (, Insight Strategy Group (, and Fizziology ( These companies work in collaboration with makers and marketers across industries throughout the product and content lifecycle, from brand health deep dives to early concept exploration to campaign development to distribution. MarketCast is a leading provider of data-driven marketing research services and data analytics for the global entertainment industry. Acquired in 2015, Insight Strategy Group is a consumer research and strategy agency that leverages deep social science expertise to fuel brand growth, new product introductions, and service and content innovation. Fizziology, acquired in 2017, is a provider of social insights and analytics that uses real-time global conversation to create actionable insights for marketers and creators. MarketCast Group is a portfolio company of Kohlberg & Company, a leading private equity firm headquartered in New York.

About Kohlberg & Company

Kohlberg & Company, L.L.C. (“Kohlberg”) is a leading private equity firm headquartered in New York. Since its inception in 1987, Kohlberg has organized eight private equity funds, through which it has raised $7.5 billion of committed equity capital. Over its nearly 30-year history, Kohlberg has completed 72 platform investments and over 150 add-on acquisitions, with an aggregate transaction value in excess of $15 billion. For more information, please visit

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Jenny Matkovich