Monday, May 30, 2016

Selling Millennials Through Myths & Lies (Part 1)

Authenticity. Only for millennials?

Just the Facts

Millennials are the most engaged and socially connected generation of all cohorts. They demand sustainability and authenticity in their products. Socially responsible and transparent companies rank high in importance when it comes to their purchase decisions. They demand customization and wide selection. They consume more wine per occasion than all the other cohorts combined.

Thirty-three percent of Millennials say they are motivated to buy more frequently when a friend recommends a wine, but 99.8% say they like any wine better when a friend buys it for them. 

One hundred and fourteen percent agree with the statement that feeding one's animal spirits premium wine is better than hitting your toe with a hammer. The remaining percentage believe morning-after flat party beer is good for hydration, so long as there are no cigarette butts in the bottle. When there are butts in the beer, their preference to consume falls to 0.4% with a statistical error rate of +/- 0.4%

Lies and Misdirection

This post started off pretty much like all the other useless crap you see on millennial psychographic traits but quickly degraded. Yes, it's all a lie including the first paragraph, but I wanted to express what I hear in wine marketing presentations regarding our youngest drinking cohort. 

Making the newest wine-drinking generation seem like they're Vulcan's has been the work of media and researchers who have now tattooed an indelible mark on the subject in the public narrative. (And to reiterate, millennials aren't close to being the largest consuming cohort of wine in the U.S.) Apparently, the generation is a Unicorn - unlike any young generation in history. Thank god we aren't yet talking about the i-Generation or as it's otherwise called, Generation Z

Why would researchers produce all this drivel?

I think the marketing world has gone mad and is leveraging the fear of consumer product companies who are acting out of a survival instinct, concerned that they will miss out on the millennial train; the largest cohort since the boomers who drove retail spending for the past 50 years but is hitting retirement age.

So desperate is the market for the secret Rosetta Stone to engage millennials, billions are being spent to find any consultant with the answers. 

To give a sense of the desperation, the Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece on consultants who charge $20k an hour just to help you understand millennial employees. That kind of frenzy is producing a gold mine for consulting companies who are tripping over each other to offer the newest methods and observations so you too can cultivate these consumers of the future.

Question the Motives of Marketing Researchers

Researchers try to make sweeping generalizations and homogenize millennials, squeezing their defining characteristics into neat boxes so you can come out with a marketing strategy. Today they are often pegged in the press as being lazy, narcissistic, entitled, and addicted to social media, and their preferences are described with evolving terms that have almost no meaning now. 

For instance, if millennials value sustainability, can anyone really tell me with precision what 'sustainable' means anymore, or how I can use that knowledge to sell them wine? I need a little more transparency here! 

I can get a little closer to understanding the meaning of the over-used 'authenticity' term, but are either of those product attributes descriptive only of millennial needs as reports suggest? Don't we all want to have 'The Real Thing,' to coin a very successful marketing campaign from the time when boomers were millennials?

I don't want to hang a bad wrap on all marketing researchers or findings, but I think many times conclusions are delivered with glossolalia spewed sound-bites that appear impressive on the surface and catch headlines. They are just interesting enough to get you to buy their research or read an article. Then when you are done reading, you wonder what you are supposed to do with the findings. For instance, what do you do with the knowledge that millennials consume 0.4% more wine per occasion compared to boomers?

News Flash: There is no Average Millennial

The current narrative suggests millennials have many unifying traits. But far from being able to define overarching behavioral commonalities for this generation, the truth is that millennials aren't close to giving up any kind of a useful common psychographic profile that you can use to market fine wine. Today there is even wide disagreement about when the cohort should even start or end!

That said, no matter which definition we use to start counting the cohort, one undeniable fact is millennials are the most ethnically diverse of all generations, with a good mix of first-generation immigrants. There are lots of Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians to go along with the almost equal-sized White population. 

What this means is all the discussion that links together this cohort based on the common experience of 'digital nativity' is useless hogwash when it comes to marketing. You think otherwise? I challenge you to show me a current reputable study showing a significant difference between Gen X and older millennials in their use of digital technology. What is more obvious is that the young cohort is just growing up, gaining greater financial freedom, and those changes are really impacting their choices.

Millennials Are An Arbitrarily Defined Group

Culture and family experience - how and where you were raised, normally that will trump any other defining common experience unless we are talking about a world war, or some other universally shared national experience - such as the Great Recession or abusive student debt, and that is a long conversation in and of itself.

Leading-edge population researchers are just starting to delve into the possibility the Great Recession is more of a defining characteristic than digital nativity for the youngest wine consumers. Consequently, many research firms are now breaking out the cohort into older and younger segments, which is also consistent with the older edge of the cohort now in their 30's exhibiting different spending habits. They have jobs, and that makes a difference in your marketing and their spending!

Interestingly, in almost a catch-22 type of an infinite logic loop, we are told millennials themselves don't like to be stereotyped and they don't trust marketing.

So if there is no unifying behavioral profile for this amorphous cohort, how will we market to this now seemingly arbitrary range of young consumers who will soon be an important buying segment of premium wine?


What do you think?
  1. Do you disagree with my conclusions? Please weigh in!
  2. What is your experience with the cohort? The older are beginning to be meaningful wine consumers. Are they that different from Gen X? Are they different from younger millennials?
  3. Have you evolved your own marketing program based on the public perception and behavioral research on millennials?
  4. How will you market your wine to this soon to be important wine buying cohort?
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  1. There are a lot of assumptions in your piece regarding how researchers approach this topic, many of which apply to some researchers but hardly all. ("There is no average Millennial researcher.") No-one is saying there's an average Millennial. No, the age cut-offs for Millennials are not arbitrary, though of course there will be disagreement about the endpoints. And yes, they are different in significant ways from Gen Xers. You make many accurate points about Millennials, but you're wrong when you imply researchers don't know these things. (Here's an exact quote from my own most recent report: "Millennials relationship with technology is hugely important, but it doesn’t define them.") You're right, it's culture and family experience, and the Great Recession, that define them, and many researchers (myself included) have documented this process quite thoroughly.

  2. Mike - Thanks for logging in. I appreciate it! I totally appreciate people willing to push back as well so thanks for that.

    While I place "researchers and the media" to blame for the cliches that are now embedded in our minds, I don't hold all researchers responsible. In fact, the lower part of the post I talked about real emotional connections that can be used to speak in generalities within a sub-set of millennials. That's enlightened research.

    When I looked at your site I found the following quote "We're as tired of the stereotypes and sound bites as you are. It’s not about social media or digital marketing. Those are table stakes. It’s not about holding a mirror up to their lifestyles. That’s just uninspired marketing. The path to brand affinity among Millennials (or Xers or Boomers) starts with understanding the intangibles that motivate them to buy..."

    It sounds like we are much closer to agreement that not at least based on that comment from your site. If you'd like to post a URL to research you've done that is relevant to the discussion here, I would love to read it with thanks.


    1. Rob - I'll send you something soon. I have a proprietary report that I'm making available for $399, so I don't want to share that. But I have some presentation decks that should advance the discussion. Let me figure out which would be the best to send.

    2. This article may be of interest -- some trends changed dramatically when Millennials started coming of age.

  3. Because the digital world is 100% measurable, everyone can measure its social impact. As a consequence, the “traditional” cohort analysis (i.e.: defining a cohort uniquely based on its date of birth like “Millennials”, Gen X, Y, Z, etc.) is also a statistical analysis tool from the past. While it can provide useful simplification and trend, this is clearly an “over” simplification of each individual.

    Millennials are a consultant dream that can be highly monetized given the fact that most of the current marketers and C level executives do not understand the power of social networking and how to exploit it from a marketing point of view. They are used to TV/Newspapers/untargeted ads that generate “things” almost impossible to measure like “brand awareness” and “brand positioning” and other funny marketing words. These marketing campaign effects in the real world are very difficult to prove. I believe they will disappear in favour of targeted, tailored and specific actions in the social space.

    Current direct marketing technology are the real enablers for DTC and I think we can all agree that selling to connected people will rely on different channels (Facebook, Snapchat, youtubelive, Facebook live, etc. ) than the legacy ones. Real opportunities, for wineries, occurs in this specific space where major marketing/branding agencies are not yet active and where the younger (more technologically educated) generation spend most of their time.

    This is a great opportunity for genuine and boutique wineries : they now can exploit direct channels that large players can not control. They can promote their uniqueness, their personalities and unique (not mass produced!) products without the need to spend huge marketing budget on inefficient mass media (TV, radio, newspaper).

    Everyone can measure the ROI of a social campaigns. As an experiment, I really urge wineries to spend a 10$ advertising campaign on Facebook and start measuring the result of this campaign : new people to your winery ? new people subscribed to your newsletter ? New club members ? New sales ? Learn from this and repeat.

    1. Benoit - thanks for logging in with your name. I always appreciate it! And thanks for your well-considered comments. I can't agree more with your perspective. I'd just add one comment.

      You said "selling to connected people will rely on different channels (Facebook, Snapchat, youtubelive, Facebook live, etc. ) than the legacy ones."

      Again - totally agree with that. Where I see red is media describing the use of technology as being solely a millennial trait. The whole of US society is connected today, so part of that comment references the evolution in technology that we all have experienced. It's not isolated to any generation.

      The other part of that comment does have legs with respect to generations. My 89 year old mom uses a flip phone and her desktop. Her only social platform is FaceBook and she communicates with her friends with long emails. I use a smartphone extensively and have my own social platforms I use, and still use email particularly in business, but don't monitor my personal email much anymore. My kids use platforms that I don't like Snapchat and help me discover new apps that are useful for me.

      So while technology and connectivity impacts us all, the way we use it and the frequency with which we use it does seem to vary by generation. That does allow marketers to segment a population and create campaigns that have a higher likelihood of hitting a target segment.

      But thanks for the enlightening post. I sincerely appreciate it.


  4. THANK YOU! As a millennial, and one who happens to work in the wine industry, I get beyond frustrated with all the news headlines-Millennials now the top wine buyers, etc etc. The worst was with one-who claimed that millennial wine drinkers have "grown significantly since 2000". Well, yes, of course that is true. I was in the Sixth Grade! My peers and I certainly weren't reaching for a glass of Rose on a hot summers day-we wanted the Kool-aid!

    That being said, marketing has changed, for everyone! When we run a social media campaign, I can tell you that most of the "likes" and comments are certainly not from Millennials. They're often from the generations before us. I think it is quite fascinating how quickly social media has changed marketing and advertising, from mailing list campaigns to wine club events, there is a shift in how to capture an audience's attention. Looking less at millennials as a whole, and more at the digital social world could be beneficial. Making websites simple, easy to use. Captivating photos, information that is relevant and interesting, but to the point. We're a generation of "skimming" content to find what is most intriguing because so much data and information is thrown at us everyday. One millennial trick I have been seeing-not a lot of us care about scores. Because not a lot of us are reading those publications anymore.

    But we all do want to know-Is there an app for that?

    1. Jennifer - great comments. I am so grateful you weighed in.

      In other posts in the past I've been accused of being "anti-millennial" which couldn't be further from the truth. I reference one of those quotes in Part 2 of this post. I think I am pro "selling to people who are buying your wine," and pro "getting the information correct."

      Going against the grain with the flood of media reporting misapplied facts about your generation in the past several years hasn't always been very well received. I have to say at this point, it's a relief for me to report that the millennial is actually starting to move into the mainstream as fine wine consumers and becoming relevant ( 16% consumption share and growing).

      Now I can start to join in on the chorus that pitches your generation as the next group to impact the wine business and we should discuss the right scalable path with which to communicate. I don't know if there is quite yet an app that's fully useful for that purpose but there are many who are taking on the challenge!

  5. "One hundred and fourteen percent agree with the statement that feeding one's animal spirits premium wine is better than hitting your toe with a hammer"

    I'm sorry Rob, but I just have to take issue with this statement. You really need to define "hammer" here or else the entire rest of the statement is meaningless.

    1. Tom - Hammer: Derived from the Latin Ham or 'of the pig' and the word 'mer' - of the see. It means see? You're a pig! :o)

  6. This is a great article! I am a brand executive at a nationally-recognized brand and I have been singing this song for the past 12-18 months. You are right - this generation is often described as if they are wholly unique in human history. AND they are described as if their current tendencies (renting not buying, urban not suburban, low car ownership, etc.) is permanent, rather than arising out of the circumstances of the economy. I want to remind everyone that the "turn on, tune in, check out" generation that grew up in the 70's turned into the BMW-buying, Reagan-voting crowd in the 1980's.


    1. UNK 1:12 - Thanks for the comments.

      I have to warn you that there are people who will tell you "past results are not a guarantee of future returns." Just because you have observed others evolving from The Summer of Love to becoming The Establishment - that doesn't guarantee this generation will sell out like the boomers. Fair enough. There is no guarantee, but I have a theory:

      I believe we are a nation of immigrants. Nobody denies that. Our forefathers left their native lands, many sacrificing their lives on a voyage to have a chance at something better. That could have been in the 1700's from Europe, the 1800's from China, the 1900's from Italy and Europe again, the 1980's from Vietnam and Cuba, or the last 50 years from Mexico. Point is, there is a lot of repeating history of people making that sacrifice.

      I think that intrepid DNA is resident of all of us today and is an important component of what defines us *and why we have no cuisine of our own but some of the best food in the world... but that's a different discussion.

      While there is no guarantee this generation will change like the last ones, I think Americans as a whole are aspirational just like their immigrant forefathers. The aspire to "have enough to get by for themselves and family" and then aspire to "find a place of belonging." I think those two desires often collide in work and I see the young generation as being able, and likely will take up the challenge to assume the mantle of making this country run and work, just like every generation before.

      So I am with you. I believe this generation will grow up, find a place to belong, and add to our society in a way that allows them to have enough and find purpose.

      Financially to your comment, I always say people have to have the desire and the ability to buy. You might want to buy that $125 Napa Cabernet, but you might not have the ability. I believe while there is no guarantee this generation will follow the evolution of those who came before, it's far more likely that they will do that, than expect see them stagnate where they are.

  7. Hi Rob, Donn Rutkoff here. I agree basic premise, no unifying trait, and I am grocery store selling in San Diego 8 yrs now, in a biotech meets surfer locale. Other then gender, I have no clue until customer starts talking. Some like A, some like Z. Gender tilts a bit to white wine for the dames and red for the gents, no other traits come with the human in any pattern. But professional marketers will still convince wineries or brand managers to say nothing important, useful, or close to actual truth, on the back label. Spin The Bottle did not make much of dent in sales, nor did Monogamous, Seducer, Promiscuous or Handsome Devil. The big 4 New Zealand Sauv blancs sell to those with or without fat bundle cable tv bills. I see few apps. I see few score chasers, the truly big money guys don't shop in grocery for wine. Sequoia Grove and Mt. Veeder Winery Cabernets sell without any advertising or marketing. There are over 100 breweries in San Diego county, most making 3 or 4 IPAs with IBUs in the 80s and higher. Gold Medals and scores are mostly meaningless in beer.
    I would be willing to bet that at least half of wine consumers of this millenu "cohort" will rotate every five years among Cab, Zin, Chianti, Pinot noir etc. just like all the previous humans who drink wine. But what ever happened to the Bud Light guy who used to say "I love you man"?????

    1. Donn - Thanks for logging in and commenting.

      I have a slide from a research company that shows declining beer consumption and increasing wine consumption over a person's life. I think consumers will do that again as they grow up.

      The largest disservice has been the way the young generation has been characterized - and not much leeway given to their ability to evolve. Are they entitled? Wait until you are working for a living. Are they lazy? Wait until you are living in an apartment and can't turn on the A/C when it 110F.

      People evolve and locking down the younger cohort in their present condition is likely going to be a mistake. At someone point, millennials will be a different version of boomers. They will drink wine, craft beer, and probably have some other characteristics that will be different from the boomers .... more green, fewer cars owned, lower home ownership rates ... but they are going to increase wine consumption over time, and decrease beer consumption - maybe retaining an element of craft beer over prior generations. Of course nobody can prove that but it's as good a guess as anyone's.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Craft beer may be the difference between Millennial drinking patterns over time and those of Boomers. Craft beer wan't very relevant as Boomers aged. Millennials may not switch to wine the way Boomers did, because craft beer occupies a similar place emotionally.


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