Young brown dwarfs and directly-imaged exoplanets have enticingly similar photometric and spectroscopic characteristics, including red near-infrared colors and spectral features indicative of low surface gravity and enhanced atmospheric dust. However, the inference of physical and atmospheric properties from observations of these cool, very-low-mass objects is fraught with degeneracies and inconsistencies. While direct observations of exoplanets will be limited to very low-resolution near-infrared spectra for the foreseeable future, young brown dwarfs can be studied over broader wavelength regimes and at higher spectral resolution, allowing us to identify and calibrate spectral diagnostics of physical and atmospheric properties, constrain age and calibrate substellar evolutionary models, and evaluate inferred properties to differentiate between possible formation scenarios. I will describe current programs to identify and characterize benchmark objects and ongoing challenges in developing efficient and consistent diagnostics of atmospheric properties. Finally I will explain how a robust understanding of the near-infrared spectra of young brown dwarfs will translate to the characterization of gas giant exoplanets observed at low spectral resolution by high contrast instruments like Project 1640, the Gemini Planet Imager, and SPHERE.