Millennials: They're More Brand-Loyal than You Think!
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Millennials: They're More Brand-Loyal than You Think!

Why is it that we always hear about Millennials being the least brand-loyal generation of consumers ever? Take one look outside of a Chipotle at lunchtime and the line out the door will tell you different. When considering Millennial consumers, you have to remember that you are dealing with the most savvy group of consumers ever. This group is not only looking for the best deals, they are actively searching for brands with values that align with their own.

Understand that Millennials have certain expectations with brands they are loyal to regardless of the category. Their favorite brands set the bar for their expectations with other brands. In that regard, we can learn a lot from restaurants that are winning with Millennials.

(For an overview on marketing to Millennials, watch my 30-minute video on YouTube.)

The new definition of brand value

Let's define brand value in today's Millennial-inspired "Participation Economy" matrix. Depending on the category within the restaurant industry that your brand competes in, the definition of brand value probably looks a lot like this:

Brand value = food quality + unique flavor profiles + alcohol + transparency + customer service + "effective" use of new technology (before/during/post meal) + consumer participation opportunities divided by price. The coefficient in front of each dependent variable will vary based on your brand DNA and the customer segment you choose to serve. Let's examine each variable.

  • Food quality. You ain't nothin' if you don't have great food: 60 percent of Millennials consider this the most important criterion for choosing a restaurant. However, Millennial loyalty goes only so deep, so consider great food as your "table stakes," and pardon the pun. From there, look at other important considerations such as good value, order accuracy, and other key basics that are "price of admission" factors but rarely differentiating.
  • Unique flavor profiles. Millennials have a hankering for affordable adventures, tasting, and sampling. Barkley's research with The Boston Consulting Group and Service Management Group found that 77 percent of Millennials enjoy eating a variety of different ethnic cuisines, which gives restaurants ample opportunities for appealing to the Millennial palate. This doesn't apply only to exotic flavors. For example, Millennials love chicken wings. After all, the variety of different dipping sauces with every order is almost as exciting as the actual wing.
  • Cocktails and beverages. We know Millennials enjoy a craft beer from time to time. They also enjoy a wide range of other adult beverages according to a recent research report from Scarborough. Add to this the fact that Millennials are far more likely than other age groups to view eating out as an opportunity for socializing with family and friends. With alcohol on the menu next to good food, you have a party waiting and available for your Millennial customers.
  • Transparency and authenticity. One of my favorite dives is Big Truck Tacos in Oklahoma City. Big Truck is home to The Fifth Amendment taco. Ask the staff what's on it and they'll plead the fifth - you have to love that! You'll find out the next day, the fun twist in the transparency represented by nutritional information on restaurant menu boards. Chipotle and McDonald's are better-known brands that have done a good job of letting consumers know more about the food products and practices of their growers. Recently, Chipotle added an "Ingredients Statement" to its online menu, flagging which ingredients are local and organic, as well as those containing GMOs, hydrogenated oils, and preservatives.
  • Customer service. Millennials place a high value on restaurants getting their orders right every time. They also value responsive and friendly employees. Quick transactions and food preparation make their experience worthwhile and memorable. Of course, this is important to customers of all ages, so improvements in these areas are winning across the board.
  • Technology. Restaurants can take advantage of many great emerging tech tools that give them the opportunity to showcase their menus and reward customers for their business.

Forkly is an app that shows "what's good" at various restaurants. Rather than offering restaurant reviews, it highlights menu items. Traveling to a city with great dives, this app provides ease and trust. I'm fond of saying, "Useful is the new cool," and this is both useful and cool!

ChowNow is a service that allows restaurants to offer online ordering using a website, app, or Facebook. Its product is focused on the brand's and operator's needs and provides enhanced consumer functionality.

Front Flip takes the place of loyalty cards with a scan-and-scratch mobile app that customers can download for a chance to win prizes at their favorite restaurants. Millennials love a little adventure, and Front Flip ensures that with every visit.

In summary, Millennials love dining out. It's a social event that often involves friends. However, they generally prefer to skip the "fuss" that older generations enjoyed when they went out to dinner in favor of the convenience, ease, and accessibility offered by technology. Restaurants that have historically targeted families with special "family-size offers" and "kid toys" will need to rethink their approach to Millennials.

Jeff Fromm is executive vice president at Barklay, a "fiercely independent advertising agency." He is co-author of Marketing to Millennials, lead editor of the blog Millennial Marketing, and founder of Share.Like.Buy, a conference about marketing to Millennials. Contact him at or 816-423-6195.

Published: January 16th, 2014

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