Using Food to Understand Deeper Human Truths about Millennials

Millennials-EatingOur love of food is an experience that we all share. Food, however, can also be used to help understand broader generational differences in attitudes and behavior that can impact a company’s marketing effectiveness. In this case, how millennials think, feel and act toward food can help understand how they are different than previous generations and what that means for marketers.

It was thought that conducting a research study using food as an exemplar would help understand broader millennial consumption and shopping behaviors. What was the result? Sure enough, how millennials think, feel and act toward food does help us understand how they differ from previous generations.

How about a few examples?

Take the fact that millennials are portrayed in the media as being adventurous. This is an observation of the generation as one that likes to try new things in general, to try new foods specifically, and to be generally “adventurous” in all that they do. The deeper human truth, however, lies beneath this broader observation. Millennials are actually collectors of experiences. They approach life as an opportunity to collect different experiences to help form their own identity through the collection of experiences built on their personal passions and interests. They are, in fact, “experience collectors.”

Consider for a moment the idea that millennials are portrayed in the media as always “on the go”. This is an observation of the generation as always moving onto the next thing, the next experience, etc. The deeper human truth, however, indicates that millennials are those who seek freedom in their lives. They want control over how they live, how they work, and yes, even how and what they eat. They are in reality “freedom seekers”.

Another example is how the media portrays the millennial generation as anti-mainstream in how they live their lives, what and where they choose to eat, etc. The deeper human truth, however, is that millennials are not so much anti-mainstream as they are future focused. They are looking to improve the world not only for themselves but also for others, and that includes supporting causes they believe in, different food they purchase and eat, etc. They are truly “future focused”.

I would encourage you to see the deeper human truths when considering millennial consumers.

Is Your Brand Millennial-Ready? – A Framework

Second Blog Post PicWhen I speak to various audiences across the country, I sometimes like to pose this question in an effort to get them engaged: Is your brand millennial-ready? In fact, sometimes I like to use that as my talk title.

How do you begin to answer that question? I suggest that there are three basic follow-up questions that I essentially use as a framework or outline for these talks. They go as follows:

  • Do you understand the millennial consumer mindset and impact?
  • Do you know how to strategize effectively based on that understanding?
  • Can you execute the strategy to reach and engage them to act (call to action – typically to buy)?

Foundationally, it is critical to understand the millennial consumer mindset and the impact this generation of consumers is already having on marketing (and subsequently, the marketplace) – and will continue to have in the decades to come as they age and gain even more buying power..

Of course, it is not enough to just understand the millennial consumer mindset and impact.

As marketers, we must take the learning and the knowledge gained and transform it into marketing strategies that leverage that understanding. Where I see most companies fail to be effective in their marketing to millennials, interestingly – and perhaps surprisingly, is not in understanding millennials, but in strategically utilizing that often newfound knowledge. I admit – this may be due in large part to my typical clientele – consumer products manufacturers and retailers – that have been strong investors in consumer research.

Even with deep understanding of the millennial consumer mindset and impact, and strategies developed to effectively market to them – that does not necessarily mean that a company can execute that strategy with millennials to reach and engage them to act. Like an idea, a strategy is not great unless it can be executed well.

All of these questions must be answered in order for a company’s brand to be millennial-ready. Otherwise, it is practicing wishful thinking in the marketplace, and that will prove unsuccessful with millennials.

The Evolution of the Millennial Consumer

Marketing-to-MillennialsIt is now widely accepted that the millennial consumer has become a prize customer for marketers. This makes obvious sense, given that millennials represent a large consumer segment and have significant buying power. In a sense, the millennial consumer has evolved in terms of how marketers view them. As the generation has aged, the segment has grown and become more worthwhile for marketers’ attention.

So, naturally, we have read many articles about what makes millennials different in the marketplace than previous generations and how to effectively market to them as a result. We see articles published that suggest that there are “keys to unlock” to understand the Millennial consumer, that the Millennial consumer is a “puzzle to be solved,” or other such metaphors essentially promising that there is something about millennials that will easily provide what a marketer will need to effectively market to them.

Unfortunately, these articles – and the information they share – rarely deliver on that promise. Instead they typically tell marketers what they already know about this generation – things such as how much they like technology, so marketers better give it to them in their marketing. There is rarely any meaningful depth of understanding of millennials as consumers; information that marketers can actually use.

When considering the millennial consumer, please know this: They are not all the same. Generational marketing, in a basic sense, is for convenience. It is human nature to “categorize” people so we can more easily think of them in certain ways. Most obviously, we do this when we consider various demographic considerations. We have affluent vs. non-affluent, male vs. female, etc. The problem with categorizing millennial consumers in this way – or any generation really – is that is dangerous for marketers.

While a generation shares the same societal changes as they grow up and underlying values as a result, that does not necessarily mean that someone in their early 20s and someone in their low-to-mid 30s (the widest ends of the millennial generation age spectrum) will respond similarly to marketing messages. We must consider their life stage within the generation to better understand millennial consumers, much like we have needed to do with previous generations. Even further, beyond life stage, we also must consider the product or service category that the marketer is selling. That can also make a difference.

Not only is the millennial consumer evolving as he/she ages and becomes even more powerful from a buying perspective in the marketplace. Marketers are also evolving along with this generation in terms of our understanding of them as consumers and as shoppers. I would advise you to be careful in accepting the “quick fixes” with millennial marketing. Those promises typically do not deliver results. Instead I suggest you rely on more insightful research to become effective millennial marketers.