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"Adopt and drop," my colleague Lena Lam once said, "that's what Millennials are doing these days. They are open to trying things out but are ready to move on to the next thing at first opportunity." It is a thoughtful and succinct description of the Millennials, the generation of people currently between the ages of 20 and 35.

Lena, a Gen Y person herself, isn't alone in her belief that Millennials are disloyal to brands and retailers. Food retailers acknowledge that Millennials are less likely to stick to one brand - so much so that some brands are creating products from scratch in the hopes of luring in these consumers, while others are trying to cater to Millennials' rapidly changing and diverging needs in other ways. Consider these examples:

  • According to an internal memo obtained by AdAge, McDonald's introduced the McWrap to feed younger tastes because the fast food chain realized it was not in the current top 10 favorites customers aged 18-32.
  • Chipotle is known for its lean marketing approach. Instead of going the traditional media route to attract a younger audience, the fast casual chain made an unusual marketing move in 2011 by launching the food and music festival, Cultivate. The inaugural event attracted 17,000 people. And has now expanded to three cities: Chicago, Denver and San Francisco.
  • Millennials seek emotional connections from brands, and Bonefish Grill is aware of this. In 2008, the casual dining restaurant started focusing on telling compelling stories about where and how it finds its fish. Since then, the brand has won the hearts and the wallets of this generation, earning top marks from Millennials for its philanthropic efforts to support local communities.

Marketing lessons from these examples

The examples above suggest a clear call to action for marketers and CMOs: to attract Millennials, you need to take a different approach. What worked with the boomers and Gen Xers will not work with this generation. These marketing lessons should be noted:

Offer variety and high quality products. In addition to customizable products, Millennials love fresh, healthier alternatives. This is why McDonald's believes the McWrap is a great idea. Variety is also important: this generation loves to experience flavors from around the world.

Provide memorable experiences, not just great food. Millennials love fast casual restaurants because many establishments in this category provide a variety of different cultural experiences to consumers. Providing a memorable experience not only applies to people's experience at your restaurant - it can also be about what you have to offer outside your own establishment. Chipotle's Cultivate festival is a good example of providing a memorable experience that resonates with this generation.

Listen actively. McDonald's inspiration for the McWrap came from customer research that showed the company was missing the boat on Millennials. But the value of talking to Millennials is as much about process as outcome: In a recent interview with Nation's Restaurant News, Danniele Meglan, director of ad sales research for the music group of Viacom Media Networks, revealed that the best way to successfully capture the Millennials' attention is to show them you're listening. Having a two-way conversation with your millennial consumers through online tools such as an insight community or through social media platforms can benefit you in several ways, including the following:

  • Understand which issues actually matter to them
  • Get insights on why they switch and their triggers of purchase
  • Improve your community and philanthropic efforts by understanding which issues actually matter to them
  • Focus your promotion efforts by knowing which mediums they use and how often

The Millennials' propensity to switch brands is both an opportunity and a challenge for marketers. Not only restaurants, but any brand that is willing to consistently engage this group of consumers through an insight community, is well-positioned to meet their needs and to win their business as a result.

How is your company reaching Millennials? Share your thought about reaching the foodie generation below or let us know of any creative examples you may have seen.

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