I am fired up. Fired. Up. Why you ask? I recently came across and shared this article on LinkedIn by Business Insider, blaming Millennials for the demise of fast-casual food chains.
Blasphemous, right? Right. The inner strategist and market researcher in me nearly screamed aloud on the subway. Did the author of this article really place all of the blame for the demise of fast-casual franchise revenue onto the laps of millennial consumers? One of the biggest mistakes in brand management, in my opinion, is forgetting to manage the brand one is tasked with guarding. While vast departures from one’s roots are often out of the question, adapting to consumption habits, flavor profiles, and service demands should not be ruled out in order to maintain significant brand relevance among a generation categorized as being indecisive and often fluid with their brand loyalty.
Rather than sit back and watch revenues decline, fast-casual brands must actively probe and predict the tastes and preferences of their largest (and growing) target audience. This is easier said than done. Simply asking for the opinion of consumers is not enough; strategists and marketers must work to uncover the emotional drivers of behavior in order to properly pivot a business model for success in turbulent times.
I was recently shopping on my favorite online retailer, and came across a simple Net Promoter Score (NPS) question displayed in a pop-up window. As a research analyst I understand the value of employing an NPS question, but in this case uncovered a fatal flaw in their methodology. By only prompting me for my willingness to promote their brand, they neglected to uncover the emotional insights that would explain my lack of purchases within the past few months.
Had they probed deeper (beyond my simple response of a 9 on a 1-10 scale), they would have potentially uncovered my implicit thoughts about the brand, or how the brand makes me feel on a deeper, subconscious level. Instead, they only asked about my loyalty to their brand, garnering only half of the picture and my response. Yes, I am a brand promoter, but I am not willing to buy the products for myself at this time.
If I was in the shoes of a marketer in 2017 and was facing declining revenues due to an upset in consumer behavior, I would ensure that my armamentarium was filled with the most effective research tools that allowed me to tap into the next hottest trends before. This is something that many brand managers and strategists lack, settling instead for the status quo.
Asking just how loyal to a consumer is to a brand is no longer sufficient. We must probe deeper. Why is this consumer loyal to this specific brand (or not loyal). A simple NPS question does a fantastic job of determining the former, but what about the latter? I promise you; it does not involve fancy fMRI machines or heart rate monitors to determine brand loyalty, rather a different approach to asking the same research based questions. Research tools such as metaphor elicitation exercises, response latency questions and facial coding allow strategists to mine insights using unconscious measurements. These tools rejuvenate traditional quantitative research methods with augmented emotional metrics.
A Likert scale will tell marketers that Millennials prefer one brand to another, but will not explain the reason why they do. Still wondering why I am so fired up? Marketing and brand strategy is a minefield. One minute you are on top, the next you are recovering from damaging failed campaign attempts. The winners of this war have already begun to equip themselves with the research tools necessary to uncover deep-seated human truths before they become well known and mainstream.
Sitting back in a boardroom chair collectively scratching heads will not bring Millennials back into the doors of the fast-casual restaurants mentioned in the Business Insider article. Employing actionable market research designed to influence in store and product experiences based off of emotional insights will be a step in the right direction.
Brands must be managed. They are not set it and forget it BBQ smokers. In times when the current “in trend” can last for as short as 3 days, brands must begin to predict and take proactive steps to ensure that their business is positioned for success amid times of fluid tastes, preferences and consumer demands.
Garrett Meccariello is a brand strategist and market researcher based out of Boston. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring a new city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.