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Unexpected brands find success with the millennial buyer

Some things are great pairings. Mention one item, and your brain automatically adds the second. Try saying the words “peanut butter” and not thinking ______? Right?

These natural fits also happen in the marketing world. When brand and audience form a natural connection, the job of the marketer is relatively simple. Helping Hasbro Toys reach parents with kids or connecting Del Webb Retirement Communities to the 65+ would not be considered an overly taxing marketing challenge.

What about the brands that market to an audience who are not a natural fit?

With the increasing size of the millennial demographic, more and more marketers are seeing the potential of Generation Y as a target audience. They see that the millennial demographic wields $1.68 billion in buying power, and offers a market size of more than 75 million with an average income of $60,000 plus; and they want a piece of that pie.1 The opportunity is driving marketers to work overtime in an effort to connect unexpected brands with millennials. And it’s working.

How does a product created for infants finds its way to college dorm room mini fridges?

Who knew that the same formula that helps small children get through the common cold can also help a young adult survive the agony of the hangover? Why would a twenty-something follow a home improvement store’s Vine account? It’s fascinating how some very traditional – and not millennial-focused – brands are finding success with millennials by repackaging their products to solve problems in unexpected ways. How’d they do it?


This maker of single-serving coffee, originally targeted to baby-boomers, made the strategic decision to market to college students. The marketing team found that drinking consumption habits were formed in college and remained well into post-college work life. This prompted Keurig to leverage its products unique selling proposition in a way that spoke to the needs and values of the millennial demographic. They showed up on campus and spoke to the lifestyle and economic benefits that millennials valued.


This maker of electrolyte solution, originally developed for infants, took advantage of an underground social phenomenon that saw young people talking about how the product helped ease hangovers. They didn’t develop a new product. They listened to every audience, heard how their product was being used, and then pivoted the marketing to leverage that insight. Because of this bold move, Pedialyte is expecting double-digit growth this year driven by the new adult usage.2


This long-established brand began to notice a change in behaviors in the restaurant: more millennial late night visitors. In response, they changed the social media tone and conversation to talk directly to the millennial audience. They took a big risk using the language and key words that resonated with the audience and it paid off. IHOP’s sales have increased more in the most recent quarter (June 2015) than they have in a decade. The sales jumped 6.2% in the same period from last year, and have gone up 9% in the past two years!3


This big box store’s Vine account is popular because it provides useful, quality content in an accessible way. The content can be digested quickly and doesn’t feel too “salesy” (68% of Millennials are less likely to buy if it is).4 Better yet – Lowe’s audience loves sharing their content. As of publication, Lowe’s Vine account had 41,963,142 loops and more than 31K followers.

There are a great many myths and assumptions floating around about millennial buying habits. Don’t let them prevent you from connecting with this powerful and influential audience.

Slow down and listen. Stop trying so hard. Focus on their reality and values.

Regardless of your brand, your product, or your service there is a way to connect to this group if you think outside the norm. When you have trouble connecting those dots, give us a call. We have a lot of fun with all things unconventional.