Partnership for a Healthier America Summit

5 strategies for marketing to millennials

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

5 strategies for marketing to millennials

Related tags Marketing

Firms need to move away from one-way marketing strategies in traditional media channels and embrace open engagement in new media outlets to capture the attention of millennials, who increasingly wield purchasing power and influence but continue to elude advertisers, according to executives at large food and wellness brands.

Unlike previous generations, millennials, who range from 16 to 35 years old, do not passively consume media or blindly trust marketers, said Matt Anthony, CEO of Y&R North America, a marketing agency that strives to resist the usual.  Rather they engage at a fast pace with each other and companies to identify trustworthy brands.

To help marketers better understand and reach this generation, Anthony along with the chief marketing officer of Chipotle, Mark Crumpacker, the VP of global advertising and digital at Colgate Palmolive, Jack Haber, and the chief commercial officer of Bolthouse Farms, Todd Putman, at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in Washington Feb. 26 recommended firms:

1. Ditch “marketing” ​in favor of storytelling. ​Millennials do not trust big companies or big advertising, which they perceive as a bribe for certain behavior, said Putman. “They don’t want to be told what to do,”​ he added, explaining that is why Bolthouse Farms does not market. Rather, it shares.

“We simply tell stories about why fruits and vegetables are better and good for you. We talk about recipes, we talk about chefs and cooking and we spend all of our time on Vine and Instagram,”​ Putman said, noting millennials “respond to stories and pictures,”​ not “sell the brand.”

They also respond to companies with visions and missions that align with their own values, said Crumpacker. He explained that for 20 years Chipotle fast food restaurants has been telling its story about trying to deliver higher quality food at an accessible price and that this message best resonates with millennials.

For example, the company tells stories that align its company values with those of consumers through nontraditional media, such as the online video series Farmed and Dangerous, which was aimed at young adults and discussed the “disturbing”​ nature of the industrial agricultural industry in the U.S., he said.

This strategy successfully reaches “100%”​ of millennials, Putman said. And it is effective, judging by Bolthouse Farm’s 5% to 17% growth across its business in the last three to four years. Chipotle also has grown 16% to 19% in the past two quarters, thanks in part to storytelling, Crumpacker said.

2. Invest in quality ingredients an talk about them transparently. ​Millennials want high quality, healthy foods, which can be more expensive for firms to source. But firms can close the cost gap without raising prices by redirecting money from traditional marketing to invest in quality ingredients, which is what Crumpacker says Chipotle does. The fast food chain spends only 1.5% to 1.7% of sales on advertising, compared to the typical 6% of sales that most food companies invest in traditional marketing. The savings allows Chipotle to spend 35% of sales on higher quality ingredients compared to the more typical range of 25-27% of sales, he said. This in turn gives the company something positive to talk about that resonates with millennials, he added.

He cautioned that if a company is going to talk about its ingredients it needs to be prepared to talk about all of them because millennials want to know about each ingredient and why it is in a product. Talking disingenuously about some ingredients will cause consumers to question the others and will erode their faith in the brand, he explained.

With this in mind, he says Chipotle is working on reformulating its tortillas to reduce the use of additives and dough stabilizers that are turn-off for some consumers who expect clean labels.

3. Be responsive, but also know when to be quiet and let fans talk. ​ Transparency cuts both ways, warns Putman, who says firms must be open and honest if they want to reach millennials but that this creates a risk that unfavorable truths or perceptions will be aired.

Crumpacker said Chipotle deals with this by responding directly to everyone that contacts it directly, but that often the firms best option for dealing with generally voiced negative news or rumors is to let the brand’s fans set the record straight with the truth. These fans are viewed as more trustworthy because they do not benefit from the defending the brand. At the same time, if the issue is complicated, such as with an obscure ingredient, it is best for the company to address the issue head on rather than allow half-truths or misunderstandings confuse consumers.

4. Recognize millennials influence other generations and go through them to reinforce messaging to other demographics. ​ Millennials know what they want for dinner and the younger ones are not shy about asking their caretakers for certain foods, Putman said. This means talking to consumers who are too young to hold the purse strings is still valuable for companies. Likewise, older millennials are shopping for their children and their parents, so it is important to keep them abreast of products aimed at older and younger people, too.

5. Tailor messages to subsections of millennials, who vary widely from each other. “People talk about millennials as though they are all the same,”​ but they range from young teenagers to middle-aged adults, which are “very different animals,”​ said Haber. To reach each subgroup, start with “core human values”​ that resonate with everyone but that can be understood on different levels, he said. For example, Chipotle’s messaging around the livestock it uses resonates with its youngest consumers who worry about animal welfare, while slightly older consumer care more about the quality of the ingredients impact their nutrition. The oldest group cares more about the impact of the livestock on the environment, Crumpacker said. 

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1 comment

Pricing to Millennials

Posted by Christopher Doyle,

Great overview of how to engage with millennials. In point #2 above you mention talking about ingredients in a transparent way. I would suggest also striving for price transparency as well. Most millennials are smart enough to know when your playing pricing games with them. Check out more pricing tips at:

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