IRI research gives insight into how to market to Millennials, characterized as world's first 'digital natives'

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

IRI research gives insight into how to market to Millennials, characterized as world's first 'digital natives'
Millennials are the first generation that has been switched on since birth. So while that means they are more sophisticated digitally, they are also more opinionated, too, something that marketers must keep in mind, according to research firm IRI.

The Chicago-based company has completed a major research project that seeks to put some more granular parameters around the term “Millennials,”  which, at its core, really describes only the generation’s birth dates, from about 1981 to about 1997. But some generalizations do apply, said Donna Wydra, a principal in IRI’s consumer and shopper marketing group.

Raised on digital communication

“I think they really are different from previous generations. They are the digital natives.  They are not using digital technology exclusively for shopping by any means,”​ Wydra told NutraIngredients-USA.

Wydra said the old methods of using digital technology just don’t work any more.  Beyond being merely ineffective, some modes of messaging can be downright counterproductive when trying to reach millennials.

“We found that they would much prefer that you send them an e-mail rather than a text message. They consider the text messages on their phones to be private. It’s a matter of finding the right message at the right time delivered on the right vehicle. In gathering our data we did quite a big of stenography with these folks. I can’t tell you how many times they told me that social media is just for their friends,”​ Wydra said.

As an example of a digital marketing method that has risen and fallen, Wydra offered QR codes. It’s another case of a generalization that generally holds true for millennials.  These consumers grew up in the digital age of instant information gratification, and have been conditioned by filmmaking styles where the cuts from one point of view to another now happen on average every three or four seconds. This editing style, which 15 years ago was reserved for fast-paced action movies, is now the visual norm.

“Nobody uses QR codes anymore.  If you scan those, they take you to a website you have to navigate through. No one is going to be trolling websites on their phones in the aisles of the supermarket anymore,”​ she said.

Wydra said increasingly brand holders need to use multimodal forms of communication to be effective.  Digital communications need to tie in directly with printed materials and shelf-edge messaging.  Too often in the past brand holders seem to have produced these campaigns out of individual silos, she said.

“We need to be marketing to them through digital channels and traditional channels and we need to make those dovetail together,”​ she said.

Research specifics

Wydra said IRI’s project has dispelled some myths held about Millennials. For example, counteracting the common perception that the generation is shallow and self-centered is this: 90% of them equate success with being a good friend, 68% equate success with working for a cause they believe in (compared to 56% for Generation X and 58% for baby boomers), and 58% equate success with being of service/contributing to their community. 

Millennials are moving into adulthood in an increasingly nonlinear way compared to previous generations, Wydra said.  Whether this is partly due to the overhang of the 2008-2009 financial crash was not something the research quantified. Overall, 73% are employed, 28% are married, 37% own a home and 38% have kids. 

Generation segmentation

IRI found six broad categories of Millennials, and labeled them thusly:

  • Free Spirits:​ Thirteen percent of millennials are young, single, college-educated trendsetters who are impulsive and social.
  • Struggling Wanderers:​ Twenty-one percent are not highly educated, are struggling financially and are not strongly digitally connected.
  • New Traditionalists:​ Twenty-two percent are educated, affluent millennials who are married, are values-driven and have good financial habits.
  • Concerned Aspirationalists:​ Thirteen percent are moms who are both cash- and time-strapped. They are social media devotees and are convenience- and price-driven.
  • Conscious Naturalists: ​Fifteen percent are eco-conscious moms who desire minimally processed foods and prefer locally grown. They also are less digitally reliant and are fiscally cautious.
  • Confident Connectors:​ Seventeen percent are ethnically diverse, socially conscious leaders who are digitally savvy and shop in specialty stores.

Marketing to these segments

“Everybody in this generation knows that they should be eating healthy.  For some of these segments, like Free Spirits and Concerned Aspirationaists, convenience trumps everything.  For the first group, that’s more about how they are just very active.  For the second, that really is the most time-strapped group,” Wydra said.

“But three of these groups, the Confident Connectors, the New Traditionalists and the Conscious Naturalists, are really much more health focused than many of the baby boomers are,” she said.

This bodes well for functional food and supplement brands that have specific and in some cases highly technical health information to convey to consumers.  Wydra said many consumers in this group are actively seeking this information.

“I can tell you that OTC products, anything from pain medications to dietary supplements to cough and cold remedies, that is one of the absolute top engagement categories. People spend more time on research; the path to purchase in much longer and more involved. It is less about price and coupons and more looking for real information.  There is an opening for manufacturers in that space because consumers are looking for what ingredients are in the products and what their benefits are.  They want to know the true health benefits of these ingredients and not just what the marketing says,” ​Wydra said.

For more information on the IRI report, click here​.

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