Food Forum: Media matters

By Timothy P. McMahon, Ph.D.

Generation Y, a segment of the population born between 1977 and 1994, encompasses 80 million consumers with more than $600 billion in buying power. This generation behaves somewhat differently than the older Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. One of the biggest gaps is type and role of media each group favors.

A second gap is in the way each group interacts socially. Having grown up in an evolving digital environment, members of Gen Y, also known as Millennials, intuitively understand new media and use it to connect and create relationships. What follows is a brief look at the differences between Millennials and Baby Boomers with respect to attitudes, beliefs and media behaviors; and, how grocers may adjust their marketing practices to generate opportunities around Gen Y consumers.

Research on the more mature segment of Millennials, conducted by my colleague at Saint Joseph’s University Food Marketing Program, points to the need for grocers to adopt social media as a means to leverage grocery store patronage from this group. Dr. Richard George’s national research revealed that while only 4% of the mature segment of this group actually purchased groceries online, nearly four times as many shopped for groceries online.

On the surface, this revelation may not seem meaningful. However, this finding is indicative of the way this group embraces technology. Recent Pew Center research reports that one of the key differences between Millennials and Boomers is that the former see technology as simplifying life, while the latter believe it complicates life.

It seems that discussions around social media fail to address the context in which social media tools such as Facebook, YouTube, Google and the like operate. Perhaps the biggest difference between traditional media and new media is in the direction and creation of the message. Back in the day, media was one-way and asymmetric, whereas new media is two-way and symmetric.

Success lies in staying true to your brand while aligning with consumers’ passions so they resonate with your story. Consider these observations about Millennials:

  • They value their mobility and immediate means of connecting with one another and consider texts, emails and Facebook as critical connection points;
  • They strive to be heard and recognized and are more inclined to influence one another than to give credence to paid information; and
  • As connected, engaged participants, they evangelize and inspire the brands, products and services they perceive to be authentic and needed.

In practice, Boomers go to traditional evening newscasts and daily newspapers to keep updated, whereas Gen Ys rely on each other to keep informed. As such, information moves with lightning speed and is sustained based on the interest of participants, rather than editors.

Traditional media is still powerful, but to engage Millennials certain facts must be recognized. For example, 75% of Gen Y has created a profile on at least one social network site such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, vs. 30% of Boomers. When it comes to carrying their media with them, 62% of Gen Y is wireless compared with 35% of Boomers. When it comes to being connected with their cohort, 80% of Millennials have texted within the past 24 hours versus 35% of Boomers.

One critical finding that will present opportunities for grocery marketers is the fact that Gen Y is more than happy to promote a brand that aligns with their values and one they consider authentic. These wired users rapidly and powerfully connect in explosive consumer action, both pro and con.

Some focused sites empower Millennials. Yelp provides an outlet for any consumer to contribute a video review of a product or service. Groupon is a clever means of creating consumer commitment by offering deep discounts that must be bought by a minimum number of consumers before the deal is honored. Many savvy marketers have found that MapQuest—when coupled with GPS functionality of smartphones and the search capability of inquiring customers—is a means to literally drive customers to their stores.

The Gen Y opportunity pivots on understanding that this generation is not only connected but wants to be part of something bigger that resonates with their cohorts.

Timothy P. McMahon, Ph.D. is a visiting professor o food marketing at the Haub School of Business at Philadelphia-based Saint Joseph’s University.

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