Market View: Think of the Consumer's Life Cycle, not the Product's

Can your brand follow the consumer throughout his life cycle?

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

Oreos is not only creating new and unusual flavors but is offering a significant amount of money for consumers to send in new flavor ideas. The brand already offers flavors such as waffles and syrup, cinnamon toast, s’mores etc.

The idea of different and exotic flavors is certainly not new. Frito-Lay has been offering a variety of “strange” flavors. In a previous column I said Nabisco/Mondelez – which also owns Oreo – may have gone too far with Triscuit flavors. Oreos, Triscuits and Frito-Lay all are proliferating flavors to target different audiences.

There was a time not too long ago that the original flavor of the Oreo or the Lay’s potato chip was sacred, never to be modified or extended. They were great and successful products that found a large audience: baby boomers. Back then, boomers were still young and the biggest demographic. There was no need for a bigger audience and that cohort would never change, would never age.

But we did age. And now we’re dying off. And changing, too.

Back to Oreos. The brand is a household name. However, who is the real target for these new flavors: old baby boomers like me or kids? It’s kids. Do you believe those kids are saying “I really like those vanilla cream Oreos”? Maybe they do, but they also crave excitement, newness. Just look at the variety of flavors of candy and other sweets that are available.

What you or I might think is an outrageous flavor is likely to be just ordinary to kids. Jones Beverages makes birthday cake soda. Faygo makes cotton candy soda. There are beverages being sold called Rain, Earth, Sun, Fire and others – Voodoo Rain! SoBe makes Tsunami.

It’s not just kids that like exotic flavors. According to Foodadvice.com, some of the most popular flavors include citrus varieties, such as lime, grapefruit and Asian citrus. They’re popular among all age groups. Then there’s ginger in its many forms – from ginger beers, ales and teas to the revived Moscow Mule cocktail of vodka, lime and ginger beer. Other popular choices include light floral flavors, such as lavender, rose and jasmine, and sweet-and-spicy cocktail pairings, like Bloody Mary.

It is clear that today most food companies are targeting millennials, as they are considered the next big market after the baby boomers. Millennials are quite different from the other groups. While generations Y and Z changed incrementally from their predecessors, millennials changed dramatically. Hopefully, food companies take this as a lesson, that future generations will require significant changes in the mindset of food marketers.

Today’s kids are tomorrow’s consumers, and they may not be the same as the millennials. In the past, the kids were often influenced by family decisions; that is, they would eat what was in the pantry, such as Oreos. Today’s kids are asking for, or should I say demanding, the products and flavors that they like. This means that companies will have to create brand awareness and brand preference before these consumers become adults. Today’s companies must see kids not as just the market for the products, but the genesis of brand awareness when they become adults.

One option is for companies to not just think of targeting a specific age group such as generation X or millennials, etc., but to develop a “lifetime marketing strategy.” This strategy is focused on the same consumers from childhood to retirement. In many cases our marketing strategies are too focused on a specific age group without a clear strategy as to what happens when those in the targeted age group grow older.

This should be nothing new to marketers; we have done exactly this with products but not with consumers. The product life cycle is well known and it takes the product through various stages, from introduction to decline. The product is the same but how it is perceived by consumers is hypothesized to change. A consumer lifetime marketing strategy should take the same consumer through various stages of his life (from childhood to retirement).

Beech-Nut has this down pat. There are offerings for each stage of a baby’s eating requirements, from the first food for 4-month-olds to 12-month-olds, with numerous choices in between. Then the company offers snacks and cereals. It follows the tots with the same brand through different ages. There’s a lesson here. Start them on the brand and have the brand’s products change as the baby ages.

Marketing should not be about the product. We need to remember marketing is about consumers … young ones to old ones. Let’s tailor our products to the life cycle of consumers and not find consumers for the life cycle of our products.

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