Marketing to Millennials
At Matrix Partners, we pride ourselves on being our clients’ target demographic – we’re pet lovers, pet owners, all-around pet people who want the best of the best in every category for our furry best friends. But successful marketing isn’t just about being a pet lover; we have to understand every facet of pet consumers, including the key generation brackets. Most people assume Boomers to be the ultimate pet consumers – they’ve got the cash, theoretical stability and in some cases, the empty nest that’s perfect for a couple four-legged additions. For years, pet industry marketing has focused on this segment, with targeted efforts in packaging, visuals, messaging and even the products themselves. But that’s all changing with the emergence of the new kids on the block: millennials. When we’re talking about pet owners in general terms, we’re talking about 70% of American consumers. That’s more than 200 million people, and as a pet brand, it’s hard not to see dollar signs when you consider those figures. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing technique, and with new (younger, more critical) consumers entering the market, our efforts have to adapt to keep our clients ahead of the curve. Think about this: roughly 35% of millennials have pets. That’s a 15% increase since 2007, and while that age bracket was busy bringing Fluffy and Fido into their homes, Boomer pet ownership fell nearly 10%. Somewhere in the middle, we have the Gen Xers, but they’ve become the pet industry’s “lost generation” with the prolonged focus on Boomers and the recent shift to target millennials. A millennial, by definition, can range from a recent high school graduate to someone in their late thirties. The vast range of life stages, circumstances, income, education and interests can make marketing seem like finding a very specific rock in the Grand Canyon, but agencies like ours are equipped to make the changes needed to hone in on the best tactics to grab attention and keep it. So how does this affect our services? Let’s start with social media. Ten years ago, it wasn’t even on our radar as a major playing factor in consumer decision-making. Now, we can’t stress the importance of this medium enough when a potential client asks us how we can reach new customers and introduce their brand. Further, our design tactics have changed. Everything from fonts and color choices to the texture of the product’s packaging matter. Obviously you’re striving to stand out on a shelf crowded with competitors, but you won’t stand a chance if you don’t appeal to the discerning eye of the millennial shopper. This new shift also makes us a little pickier. Taking on clients who offer grain-free, GMO-free, free-range and MANY other product selling points is instrumental in creating a brand that appeals to younger generations. With a never-ending stream of information coming at us from every direction, it’s hard enough to be seen through the clutter, but even harder to be considered in a world where product labels are scrutinized before purchase. The shift in efforts may seem daunting, but there are a few rays of sunshine for marketers as they weather the new terrain. According to the American Pet Products Association, last year’s intake for the pet industry reached a high of $66.8 billion. There aren’t necessarily more pet owners – that number has hovered around 70% of Americans for awhile now – so reallocating what age group owns the pets shouldn’t drastically affect industry income, right? Not exactly. It’s not so much who in this case as what they’re buying. Do you know any Boomers who have an entire wardrobe for their cat? Or a different dog bed for every season? If you do, you’ve got an eclectic group of friends, but as a rule, non-essentials like apparel, themed toys and other “novelty” items aren’t flying off of shelves into Boomers’ shopping carts. For the millennial age group, however, we’re seeing an increase in non-essential pet purchases along with a pattern of spending more on their pets if they think the product is safer, healthier or more socially conscious. These patterns shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s witnessed the rise in veganism, the demand for USA-made products and the preference toward companies who give back. But it might come as a surprise to anyone who’s crunching the numbers: the average household income for a millennial is $40,000. Compare that to a Boomer household at $65,000 on average, and you have an interesting study in how millennials view the quality of life they provide for their pets. We are also seeing a downward shift in our target demographic’s age; millennials are taking pets on as a responsibility earlier on average than Boomers did (at age 21 versus 29), and it’s believed that a four-legged friend is replacing the notion of having children at a young age. This has determined everything from messaging – they’re pet parents, not pet owners – to marketing strategies. We’ve found through trial and error, research and quizzing our own millennial team members that there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to reach this age group without scaring them off.
Avoid the hard sell – millennials have trust issues with traditional ad tactics, so don’t assume they’ll believe your pitch. Third-party credibility (reviews, Instagram influencers, word-of-mouth, etc.) are your best friends in this space.
Start keeping up on social – as mentioned earlier, this is a great way to reach millennials where they’re already spending their time.
Be a customer service beast – answer questions and complaints quickly; millennials have a longer attention span than their reputation would have you believe, but they aren’t afraid to take their business to your competitor if you can’t be bothered to engage with them.
Be involved – are you an eco-friendly brand? Are you creating jobs in the U.S.? Are you donating proceeds to animals in need? Showcase your social responsibility to appeal to new consumers.