A new wave of consumers is quickly becoming the most powerful economic force in retail, and it is causing every company — retailer and supplier alike — to think differently about how they engage, market and build relationships with this new generation.
The New General Market consumer, influenced by the millennial mindset, is not just a new consumer that must be understood, but also the core influencer of tomorrow’s shopping experience.

Drug Store News and Mack Elevation Forum recently partnered to create a new, multitiered industry leadership platform, assembling a special group of health and beauty brands that emotionally connect with today’s changing consumer. The New General Market Leadership Forum brought together leading companies that have demonstrated commitment to encouraging strong community and advocacy with a diverse consumer base.

The companies that participated in the New General Market Leadership Forum think about their brand communities based on their consumers’ aspirations and values — not just their demographics — embracing millennials and multicultural consumers, who are the chief catalysts of this societal shift.

The ongoing vision of the New General Market Leadership Forum is to spark a conversation with the industry — including top retailers — and share best practices on how some of the top brands are building authentic, emotional relationships with today’s changing consumer and the in-store implications, including the need to rethink product groupings and program activation.

Sundial Brands, a pioneer in identifying and responding to this cultural shift, has been an essential partner in the development of the New General Market platform. Sundial co-founder Rich Dennis and CMO Emmet Dennis were integral in helping to frame the strategic discussion and best optimize the platform.

Other leading brands — including Beiersdorf (Nivea), Paris Presents (Eco-Tools and Real Techniques Brushes), Wahl Clippers Trimmers & Massagers, Unilever (Dove and Axe), Fleet (Summer’s Eve), Dentek Oral Care, Ansell (LifeStyles), Mentholatum (Softlips), Combe (Just For Men), Hello Oral Care and Kao Brands (Biore and John Frieda) — met in May in Chicago to share their unique insights at a special thought leadership forum, hosted by Drug Store News and Mack Elevation Forum. Sundial Brands co-founder Rich Dennis, Walgreens GVP/GMM for beauty and personal care Shannon Curtin and Wakefern VP of HBC Chris Skyers discussed their companies’ shared vision for connecting with today’s New General Market consumer. In addition, the one-day forum focused on six key pillars:

  • Identifying the New General Market — who are they, how do they think and what are their unmet needs?;
  • How are millennials influencing and inspiring the New General Market?;
  • Rethinking the in-store experience, product groupings and activation;
  • The future of creating authentic brand communities with the New General Market;
  • Building cultural competency and influence in a changing world; and
  • Measuring success with the New General Market.

Who is the New General Market, and why do they matter?

The New General Market describes an accumulation of cultures, ethnicities and demographics aligned against common needs and lifestyles. The New General Market consumer demands that brands and marketers “talk with” them — which is at the heart of co-creation — as opposed to “talking at” them. They also are wary of companies that stereotype, lack purpose and fail to innovate.

Diversity is the default today, not the exception. Minority groups are now the majority in most large cities. The New General Market is inherently social, mobile and disproportionately influential. They are diverse and urban; they value authenticity, creativity and community.

Culturally competent organizations recognize their consumers’ core values, attitudes and lifestyles, not just their demographic profiles. Advertising stereotypes are cancerous for a brand. Failure to acknowledge social commentary and cultural norms appears insensitive. Listening to and emphasizing consumer needs and benefits is how organizations stay culturally competent.

A committed group of brand advocates are your best brand influencers. What people buy is more and more indicative of who they are, so it’s essential to create engaging content and messaging that incites action from a brand’s top enthusiasts. In other words, marketers must loosen their grip on their brands and let consumers help define and build the brand.

During the New General Market Leadership Forum in May, DSN and Mack Elevation Forum uncovered 10 best practices — 10 ideas that matter — for brands to build a relationship with today’s consumers:

1) Evaluating return on relationship

Brands must build intimate — almost covenantal — relationships with their tribe. In the words of Ted Rubin and Kathryn Rose, brands must move beyond ROI to now include ROR, or “return on relationship.” Return on relationship includes valuing, measuring and recognizing all the extended consumer value accumulated over time in the form of loyalty, recommendations and content sharing. The higher a brand’s ROR, the higher the probability of a strong ROI. Companies get there by listening intently to everything your tribe shares with it. It also includes giving them a safe platform to share their thoughts on the brand and the company’s purpose. Like any healthy relationship, there are open discussions, debates and disagreements. There also is a shift from “me” to “we.” Companies like Sundial Brands understand that the “soft stuff” — intangible or immeasurable measurements of how people are engaging with a product — is as important as hard metrics.

2) Inclusive consumer strategy

Companies must put an inclusive consumer strategy at the center of their brands to allow honest engagement with the New General Market consumer. This means learning to simultaneously acknowledge both the similarities and differences of today’s consumer. Unilever’s Dove and Beiersdorf’s Nivea are examples of amazingly inclusive brands that support the consumer’s broader lifestyle and aspirations. All of the messaging is thoughtful and designed to make all women feel naturally beautiful.

3) Shift from demographics to psychographics

In order to know their consumers, brands need to know not only what they like and don’t like, but also their aspirations. They must be students of their consumers’ personalities, values, opinions, attitudes, interests and lifestyles. Brands need to know who they are, but also who they want to be. The best brands are tearing down the walls of segmenting consumers by skin color and ethnic groups and instead are looking through the lens of consumer need states and emotional benefits. The New General Market consumer is an amalgamation of cultures, ethnicities and demographics aligned against common need and lifestyles. Dentek Oral Care is a winning brand that has learned to speak to all highly engaged oral care consumers, addressing their stated needs, not their demographic group.

4) Millennial mindset

The millennial consumer and their mindset are catalysts for cultural change. The millennial consumer is modeling for the broader culture how to think differently about the branding and the buying process. They are especially cognizant and proud of how their purchases reflect who they are. They want to be “talked with,” not “talked at,” and they want tailored products and experiences. This opens the door to community, but it also means that distinct branding is crucial. Mentholaum’s Softlips and Hello Brands’ new oral care line lead the way in utilizing art and design as an effective way to capitalize on what millennials crave.

screenshot_6855) 100% transparency

In today’s economy, where word of mouth sells more products than ad campaigns, it is essential that brands win the moment — every moment. It’s about becoming a professional listener and world class responder to all consumer requests. Companies that play it loose with the facts or cover up the truth create trust issues, often leading to customers feeling negatively toward brands and sharing their bad experiences via their social networks. They become offended, and almost always it is because a company failed to meet expectations and did nothing about it. Brands must be honest and listen to what’s stated — or not stated — and avoid covering up problems or mistakes. Whether dealing with online reviews or personal complaints, conversing with the community shows that the brand cares, and it shows the human aspects of the brand — for good or bad. Paris Presents’ EcoTools brand and Wahl Home Products are passionate about letting the consumers speak their minds. And it shows in their brand growth. People know when the game is fixed, so transparency is a great strategy.

6) Co-create everything

The best companies know how to delegate creative efforts by understanding who they are, while also letting their community design what they can be or what they inspire to be. When there is strong identity and strong purpose, the constant feedback from the brand’s community creates better products and custom solutions. When there is sound co-creation between a community and a brand, it strengthens purpose and gives an authentic voice to the consumer, encouraging real loyalty. Brands that want to grow should follow the lead of such company’s as Fleet and its Summer’s Eve brand: Listen to the voice of an emerging new consumer base, loosen the grip on the brand and let consumers help define and build the future.

7) Experiential community

Personal experiences always influence consumer decisions and force people to reconfigure their worldview. A strong community allows brands to ask consumers what they need and how they feel. It creates real engagement and identifies personal stories. Communities are not just interested in the product; they’re interested in their aspirations and the value that those products can deliver to their lives. Ansell’s LifeStyle sexual health brand appreciates and understands that committed communities are always willing to share their brand stories and advocate for their larger cause. Ansell’s mission is “to change safe sex as people know it.” And it is very purposeful in how it makes it easy for consumers to advance this mission.

8) Sharing content

A committed group of brand advocates are the best brand influencers. It’s essential to create engaging content that incites action — shareability — with top brand enthusiasts. What are they looking for? They are looking for original ideas, relationships and connections that add value to the core of their lives and their deepest aspirations. Birchbox, a curator and distributor of beauty sample boxes, provides cutting-edge digital video content for beauty enthusiasts. It is looking for original ideas, networks and influencers that truly enhance, simplify or sweeten the lives of its community.

9) Storytelling

We all want to feel like part of a community, and we want to share our story. Great brands tell great stories. Kevin Roberts — former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi — noted, “Great brands leave love marks.” The New General Market consumer shares stories because it’s what people do with their favorite brands, especially brands with a much bigger calling than a profit and loss sheet. Brands need to spend less time creating “left-brained,” analytical presentations and more time sharing their story. Just For Men, marketed by family-owned Combe, proudly shares with everyone that it is “the most personal, personal care company in the world.” And they enjoy telling stories of how they help men regain their vitality by grooming away their gray. Learn to become a storyteller and allow the consumer to easily join your brand cause.

10) Purpose

The new consumer doesn’t buy a brand, they join them. They buy brands that have passed through their vetting process. To win with the new consumer, companies must uncover their corporate identity, one that is congruent with their calling and can’t be imitated. The New General Market consumer is searching for brands that are original — brands that stand for something. Kao Brands — marketer of Jergen’s, John Frieda and Biore — is centered on corporate purpose. It is one of the best companies at allowing its brands’ purpose to lead the innovation process to drive growth, not the other way around. It is that important to the company.

These ideas are not simply meant to elevate a company’s business, but help win the hearts and minds of the new general market consumer.

To claim authenticity is very different than creating the image of authenticity. The term “authenticity” often is code for “we are working to create an image that looks and feels original, but actually is not.”

Brands can’t create authenticity. They either reveal it or paint it up to look like something other than their original self. What makes a brand authentic is an original story and personal identity that makes it unique. It is not created; it is discovered. And the New General Market consumer craves it.