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A seismic shift is taking place and every retailer is feeling the ground move. The venerable Baby Boomer generation is no longer center-stage for marketers. Although walking away from the Boomer cohort would be a mistake for marketers — they still control the majority of wealth and discretionary spending, after all — the up-and-coming Millennial generation can't be ignored either.
To define terms, Boomers were born between about 1946 and 1964, and Millennials between about 1980 and 2000 (hence, the Millennial moniker). The overall Millennial group is about the same size as the Boomers (roughly 77 million), but much more ethnically diverse and many are still in their teens. The oldest Millennials are in their early 30s and as such, have started families and careers.
For convenience store operators, there are some significant differences between the two generations, and those should be reflected in go-to-market strategies and product selection.
The good news for convenience stores is that Millennials are happy to shop anywhere that carries what they want. Going to the store might mean Walmart, a supermarket, a drugstore or a c-store. This is also the bad news because it's tougher to find the niche role that will appeal to the group as a whole. But convenience is in, and it carries a higher value with Millennials than with Boomers or Gen Xers.
The first thing to keep in mind when marketing to Millennials is that transparency is paramount. They tend to be cynical, so any act of whitewashing is a deal breaker and will be long remembered. In addition, they will tell all their "friends" via social media, so any transgressions will be amplified. Millennials tend to rely on peer group feedback as well, so anything that hits the various social media outlets will be seen and considered — good or bad. Being open, honest and genuine is a requirement with this group.
Speaking of social media, Millennials see access as a right, not a perk. Being shut out from access while on the job is a problem for them, to the point where many would consider that a reason to change jobs. Virtual social interaction is part of life and sharing experiences is part of the deal. For most Millennials, FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real concern.
Not surprisingly, digital is also a way of life for Millennials. Rather than a toy or distraction, mobile connectivity is just part of how they roll, and seamless integration across all media is expected. But they want to engage on their terms, not the marketer's. Options are good, and more options are better.
Brand loyalty, while not gone completely, has declined with the generational shift. Price tends to be the motivating factor for most purchases. Millennials tend to be less brand loyal than Boomers, except in certain categories. For prized brands, it's acceptable to pay a little more, but that loyalty is highly conditional and subject to change without notice.
As focused as Millennials are on price, they also want an experience while shopping. They are looking for entertainment, value and information to be included in the shopping experience, whether they are buying clothing or cantaloupe.
Deciphering all of this information about Millennials isn't an easy task. What does all this mean for convenience stores and their go-to-market strategy? And how does a shift here impact marketing to Boomers? Finally, what does this look like in the store?
Here are five steps to take to be more effective in marketing to Millennials:
- Get going. Don't wait for Millennials to change into Boomers. That's not as crazy as it might sound. More than a few marketers we've talked with think that as Millennials get older, they will begin to emulate their parents. If that's your strategy, good luck, because it's not going to happen. Millennials aren't "mini-boomers." They are a unique group, just like the Boomers. Marketers need to adapt.
- Get real. Tell your story, but do it without hyperbole or spin. Transparency is valued and expected. When you screw up, own up to the mistake and then fix it.
- Get social. There's a conversation going on about your brand right now and if you're not listening in, you're missing out. Engage in social media full-time and become part of that conversation. This doesn't mean having a couple of interns scan Facebook. Develop a strategy for social media that will keep you informed about your brand and how it's perceived. Respond to concerns, questions and complaints immediately and professionally.
- Get mobile. Millennials are more likely to make a list on their phones than paper; so make sure you're using mobile in your overall media plan. Television is still important for getting some messages out, but mobile is critical for engagement.
- Get connected. Make certain that all marketing messages are consistent and connected, down to the shelf edge in the store. What's outside should be reflected inside, right down to the SKU level. Use the shelf edge as a marketing tool to drive the message home at the point of decision.
The upside for all this is that appealing to Millennials doesn't require turning off, or away from, the Boomers. In fact, much of what Millennials value will be valued by Boomers as well. They may not ask for it, but they will respond.
Millennials value relationships, connections and transparency. By engaging with them on their terms, it's possible for c-stores to build a relationship that wasn't available with Boomers. The key is to create trust via an open dialogue that crosses media and ties right to the store.
Jeff Weidauer is vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom International Inc., a Little Rock, Ark.-based provider of integrated shopper marketing solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.vestcom.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.