From Target to Macy’s to Whole Foods Markets, retailers are frantically fighting for Millennial loyalty. But that rush for young(er) ‘uns risks creating a kind of demographic ghetto, argues Samara Anderson, retail strategist for Redpepper, an ad agency based in Nashville, Tenn. She tells Marketing Daily why some brands can win using campaigns and strategies that span generations.
Q. Can retailers create campaigns that work with all generations?
A. Yes and no. We like to think about two buckets, one for science and one for art. How messaging looks and feels can be very specific. For example, in our work for Claire’s, the tween jewelry store, we’ve found that Gen Z people are attracted to chaotic design, with lots of colors. Even the magazines they read break all the design rules — and they love it.
And as you get older, you want something more clean, more organized. Even though Gen X is just as familiar with technology as Gen Y or Z, they want a cleaner user experience. So on the art side of things, there is a different way to talk to them, a different aesthetic.
But as you get into the science of it, word of mouth and influencers are very much a part of all their decision-making process, for every generation. They’re all on social media platforms.
Q. Food retailers seem like they should be able to skip demographics completely — we all have to eat. Yet Whole Foods Markets has come under fire for its new Gen Y-themed concept. What’s your take on that?
A. Some brands can. We’re working with Sprouts, a regional market built on selling affordable, healthy food, with great produce and lots of private-label options. It’s very focused on attribute marketing, and instead of pushing it by demographic, it supports lifestyles, whether people are eating Paleo, gluten-free, or vegan. So it talks to people in terms of how they think about health, regardless of age or income.
Q. With so many retailers chasing Gen Y, are there some classic pitfalls?
A. A central theme in strategy is how not to alienate groups with the most buying power while trying to attract younger consumers. And certainly, at a high level, it’s a pretty common blunder to see brands move too quickly. Baby Boomers have enormous buying power, much larger than Gen Y. If brands adjust too much, conversion rates among older shoppers fall.
Q. So they need to develop different tracks of experience?
A. Yes, because it’s about providing lots of options, even if that is more expensive for stores to do. Working on an in-store strategy for one client recently, it became very evident that for that brand, Baby Boomers wanted more one-to-one customer service. But Millennials wanted technology to make their experience more frictionless, either with their own mobile device or something in the store. So it would be easy to favor technology at the risk of alienating those Boomers.
Q. Technology seems key. How else can that help or hurt?
A. It’s interesting, especially when you look at companies like Lowe’s, experimenting with robots. But I do think the technology answers are unique to each retailer, which is why we see brands like Lowe’s, Sephora, and Nordstrom all partnering with third-party innovation labs. In each case, I suspect something different will have cross-generational appeal.
Q. How else do stores alienate Boomers?
A. It’s easy to go so overboard with merchandising for younger shoppers that Boomers walk in and think, 'There’s nothing here for me.’ But smart brands don’t do that — they focus on a merchandising strategy that appeals to Gen Y, but also creates an aspirational draw to the Gen X and Baby Boomers.