Michelle Guiles explores the new shift in paradigm, the inevitable millennial takeover, and what it means to dessert professionals.
When talking about the impending millennial takeover, I would be remiss not to cover the effect of social media on business—its double-edged power to draw or repel new customers, retain or lose brand loyalty, and influence purchasing and trends for better or for worse. Still, the millennials’ flocking to social media has greater implications with regard to the way they calculate perceived value and their expectations for doing business. Continuing the theme from last issue, I’ll be exploring the significance of the ongoing shift in consumer demographic and how the millennial takeover is reshaping the consumer experience.
Now, millennials’ values are not entirely different from those of the previous generation, but their expectations for how they will connect with your business and your product are different. The social media explosion has changed the landscape of how customers like to do business, and the millennial generation has a lot to do with these changes. In an earlier Business of Dessert article, I explored perceived value as an equation of sorts which customers use to grade the worth of a relationship with your business. “Social” referencing, or using social media to gauge the worth of a product or brand, has become a weighty factor in customers’ purchasing decisions and brand relationships. Authentic reviews from friends and even complete strangers can affect a customer’s decision to purchase favorably or negatively. As customers, we used to buy products because we liked the packaging or brand image, but now we have a tendency to buy what others "like" on social media. Ultimately, customers appreciate recommendations because they allow buyers to make informed decisions, thereby minimizing buyer’s remorse.
Engagement is the New Presence
So you have a website; an email address; and business Facebook®, Twitter®, and Google+® pages. Now what? The answer: a lot more of the same. In today’s market, having a website for your business is a necessity. Not too long ago, businesses were judged on whether or not they had an online presence at all. Both new and former customers would Google your business and would make assessments based on what they found online. Nowadays, customers do the same, but expect to see a website that is technologically up-to-date and flawlessly accessible from and optimized for all devices—with well-executed design, current information about your business, and features that make sense. Simply put, consumer expectations for businesses have gone beyond a business’s simply having a website and presence on social media and grown to an expectation to actually transact business through these mediums. Online brand engagement is now as basic as having an online presence once was.
A Change in Communication
Phones are still an essential part of doing business, but rather than waiting for opening hours to make an inquiry or place an order, millennials favor options that are available 24/7 and are convenient. Businesses must be prepared to interact with potential customers on every account or profile that they’ve made available to customers (This includes email and Facebook® or Twitter® comments and private messages). Personally, I think automated phone systems have negatively affected the consumer experience, making too many customer service calls time-consuming and unhelpful, so millennial consumers’ aversion to the phone isn’t entirely unfounded. Sources have called millennials out for their phone-phobia, but businesses would be wrong not to consider millennials’ preferred methods of communication when tweaking their customer service models. For starters, email correspondence can be monitored more easily than calls and, as long as your business has protocols in place for managing this form of communication, it might even save time. Ultimately, customers will engage your business through whichever medium they find most convenient at the time, so before creating a new account, be sure you have the time to manage the profile as well as all of the correspondence it generates.
In addition to the pages that you set up for your business, third-party directories like Yelp®, Citysearch®, Yellowpages®, etc., all have local business listings. These sites help your customers to not only locate or contact your business, but also provide a platform for customers to post reviews, and, thanks to our plugged-in culture, customers can post instant feedback. Though consumer dependence on Yelp® varies from city to city, more-or-less anonymous reviewers take to the review platform to air their praises and grievances (sometimes with play-by-play detail) of local businesses. The third-party service is an invaluable tool that connects your business with potential customers and provides a neutral zone for customers to tell you what they feel your business is doing right or wrong, giving business owners a heads up to possible issues that should be addressed. Rather than speaking to a manager after a less than satisfactory visit, millennial consumers might be more inclined to spread news of their experiences through reviews, recommendations, and social media sharing. Using these sites to engage customers is something businesses should also consider as part of their customer service strategy. A plus side to the millennial penchant for feedback is that these customers are just as willing to reward a quality experience with unsolicited calls to action to their peers, becoming valuable advocates for your brand.
Sharing, A New Definition
Now that we've established that online acrobatics aren't just about keeping up with the times, but, rather, about letting your customers know that you understand their changing needs and that your business is open and receptive to this new form of communication, the next logical question is, "How do you facilitate consumer engagement?" From my experience in advertising, I can tell you that engagement isn't the result of content alone, but results from an acknowledgement of change— a proactive spark—like a conversation between consumer and business and a thoughtful call-to-action that begins with an understanding of what your customers care about.
The value of sharing is important to millennial customers. From posting pictures to sharing plates, millennials have embraced the concept of sharing as a whole and even big brands are taking notice. For example, Coca-Cola's® "Share a Coke"TM campaign, invites beverage enthusiasts to "Share a Coke with ___" and emphasizes that moments are about who we spend them with. Frito-Lay® has engaged the masses with an opportunity to share ideas in their "Do Us a Flavor"TM campaign, where users submit flavor suggestions online and vote on which flavor the manufacturer should release next. This last round yielded the eclectic flavors Wasabi Ginger, Mango Salsa, Bacon Mac & Cheese, and Cappuccino, proving that the company was willing to stretch the wings of its flavor lab and to shake up its product line, but more importantly, it demonstrated a willingness to listen.
In the same way, millennials appreciate dessert as a social experience where they can meet with friends and family and share something sweet. Business owners should understand that need and look to incorporate a “sharing” aspect to product offerings to impact sales. For example, a tasting plate of petit fours and fresh berries would be a more shareable dessert than a single, pristine slice of cake. Adding a selection of shareable desserts or plates might draw customers who are seeking a more casual and group-friendly experience. Dessert establishments could even borrow the bento concept and allow customers to select a trio from an offering of 12 mini dessert options, where the resultant plate is not only shareable, but customized as well. Sharing is an over-arching value for millennials, as they like to share in moments with people who are present and to extend those experiences digitally to those who aren't via social media.
Sharing enriches social experiences, improves the business-consumer relationship on multiple levels and, when used properly, is one way to allow consumers to drive conversions for you.