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Choice and Connection: Marketing Food to Millennials

Article

by Jeff Hilton -

Millennials seek and embrace choice. In fact, they take pride in the choices available to them and like to have a wide range of product options they can select from. They want to buy products that fit and enhance their lifestyle. Products must demonstrate both relevance and value to this demographic in terms of what they are about, and what they want to accomplish.  They will not build their daily routine around products. Brands must earn their spot and actively work to maintain it.

Millennials want to connect with brands on both a rational and emotional level, and unless brands foster that type of relationship, brand loyalty will never flourish. The kind of give-and-take relationship all marketers seek to create between brand and consumer is founded on trust, which is built by allowing Millennials to actively participate in and interact with the brand. They want to customize offerings to their own particular needs and lifestyle. They may be open to listening to messaging or viewing a brand’s content, but it will be on their own terms and on their own timeline. If a brand is not willing to open its doors to them, they will most likely not become loyal customers. It’s that simple. It is not easy for established brands who seek to cultivate Millennial customers, to readily give them that type of unfettered access. That’s understandable. Brands must seek to understand the rules of engagement have shifted in favor of the consumer, and Millennials relish that control. They are not about to give it up. So, to be frank, if a brand wants to play, it goes by Millennials’ playbook.

 

Millennials Exhibit a Peculiar Relationship with Brands

To put it succinctly, Millennials speak brand. They have been inundated with brands and messaging since they were children. They understand brands. They also have a general, healthy mistrust of brands, and are looking for transparency and authenticity in the brands they purchase and tell their friends about. Even though they are somewhat big brand averse, there are exceptions. For example, big companies such as Apple and Patagonia have many Millennial consumers. Most often, however, they prefer smaller niche brands that they can adopt, adapt and customize to meet their specific needs. If you are not willing to play that game, then Millennials may not be your ideal target customer.

Millennials View Health and Wellness Through a Different Lens

They are not worried about aging, prevention or health preservation. They are more focused on living their current life to the fullest and maintaining good health to run as fast and as hard as possible now, not 40 years from now. Their path through life is much less sequential and linear than traditional Boomers. They move along a more personalized and random timeline of events including marriage, children, travel, schooling and career. They take a similar approach to achieving health and wellness, by mixing and matching a variety of strategies that work for them. They are comfortable mixing improved diet, exercise, supplements, pharmaceutical drugs, functional beverages and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to meet their individual daily health and performance needs. Natural as a marketing term or descriptor is meaningless to most of them; they prefer “authentic" to natural. It speaks to what they are looking for in the brands they trust. Before brands rush to hang out a “We’re Authentic" sign, they should make sure that is a validated statement.

Millennials Crave and Value User-Generated Content

What matters most to Millennials is not advertising or overt sales promotions, but rather what their friends, peers and families think about a product or service. They would prefer to see or hear testimonials, or read reviews from peers, siblings or close friends. They don’t want to be sold. They want to know how products can improve the way they live their lives. They use social media outlets, websites and smart phones to access that user-generated content. It holds more weight than any other single source. If you are not incorporating user-generated content into the marketing outreach, you are passing by a significant opportunity to open a powerful channel of communication. And don’t forget the most important rule about brand content is it needs to be easily shared with others. Video is ideal, followed by still graphics or a combination of words and graphics. When someone shares content with a friend, it’s more about their friendship with that person than about the brand content; however brands are now allowed to participate in that trusted exchange, and that is where the value comes in.

Why Social Media Matters

Social media plays a critical role in the exchange of user-generated content. Research results show 65 percent of Millennials are disconnected from their devices for less than one hour per day. A lot of their time is spent online with peers, friends and family in social settings. If brands are looking for Millennials, they will find them on social media. But tackling social media is easier said than done.  Brands often think, “Hey, I think I need a Facebook page." Or “Hey I need a Blog." It is a common approach to begin with the tactics rather than backing up and asking “What can social media do for my brand, and which platforms would be best for me and what I want to accomplish?" It is always wise to plan social media from a strategic perspective before jumping to specific tactics, which will get better results. The basic steps are:

  • Develop platform strategy
  • Establish social presence and map out content
  • Produce and publish content
  • Measure the return on investment (ROI)
  • Analyze and report

If anyone says social media is difficult to track in a meaningful and accurate way, don’t believe it. Smart marketers do it daily.

Millennials Lead the Snacking Craze

Americans, as we know, are shifting to eating multiple smaller meals or snacks per day as opposed to the classic paradigm of three meals per day. Millennials lead that charge fueled by 1) on-the-go convenience, 2) low price points, 3) ability to share, and 4) variety in food flavors and textures. It goes back to choice. Millennials are all about variety and options, and snacking behavior fits them like a glove.

Jeff Hilton is partner and co-founder of BrandHive, a marketing and branding agency servicing a national and international clientele. He has been recognized by Advertising Age as one of America's Top 100 Marketers and has nearly 30 years of broad-based business experience, including 17 years spent within the natural health products industry with leading companies such as Natures Way and Nutraceutical Corp. Hilton has also worked at several major national agencies, where he guided the marketing efforts of numerous recognized consumer brands including Continental Airlines, Mrs. Fields Cookies and Major League Baseball. He was awarded the Personal Service Award from Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) in recognition for his ongoing outreach efforts including editorial contributions, pro-bono work, webinars and speaking engagements within the healthy lifestyles industry.

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