Whole Foods Market

More to Segmentation than Age

Whole Foods Market announced a new chain of grocery stores aimed at younger, more price-conscious Millennials, but may have oversimplified its segmentation by overlooking the ageless ways it attracts food buyers.

Whole Foods Market announced a new chain of grocery stores aimed at younger, more price-conscious Millennials, but may have oversimplified its segmentation by overlooking the ageless ways it attracts food buyers.

No one denies we live in a segmented marketplace. But the segmentation may be a lot more complex than merely dividing us up by age, gender or geography.

As Katie Martell, writing for ragan.com, pointed out in a blog, Whole Foods Market managed to miss the demographic mark and diss other age cohorts with its announcement of a new chain of food stores designed especially for Millennials.

It is an example of oversimplifying segmentation.

Millennials are about to overtake Baby Boomers as the largest population segment, but they are hardly a monolithic group. To design a grocery store just for them may prove a tricky task.

What's interesting about Whole Foods Market is its broad appeal across demographic, geographic and even income groups. A CFM team spent an entire day at the Whole Foods Market in Seattle's University District. The diversity of customers, especially considering the relative prices for food, was astonishing. What drew people to the store – in some cases from miles away – was Whole Foods Market's  commitment to quality organic fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood.

We interviewed housewives, professionals on their lunch break, a mailman and college students. What they bought and how much they spent varied, but their reasons for coming were pretty much the same. The mailman, who drove to the store from many miles away, called it "inconvenient quality."

Several of those we interviewed joked about the chain's unofficial nickname of "Whole Paycheck." But that didn't deter them from shopping at the store.

The winning pitch our team made to provide PR for the first Whole Foods Market store in Portland was titled, "It's all about the food." Fresh. Reliably sourced. Artistically displayed. Those aren't qualities limited to an age group. They appeal to a wider span of people.

In announcing its new store concept, Whole Foods Market talked about appealing to "tech savvy" consumers and offering lower-priced products in a more streamlined store format. Being tech savvy has almost nothing to do with selectivity of what you eat. Food consumers who value an all-organic store are willing to pay a premium price, but still shop for "bargains." Many grocery stores can be ponderous, but Whole Foods Market has a format that is easy to shop and which has been widely copied by other grocers.

As a regular Whole Foods Market customer (and a non-Millennial), I see the chain's greatest challenge as remaining different as competitors emulate what it offers. We drive out of our way to buy meat and seafood at our favorite Whole Foods Market, but make another trip to a nearby New Seasons to buy produce and fruit.

The Whole Foods Market we patronize offers a "tech savvy" Instacart option, where you can call in your order and pick it up and pay for it at a designated check-out line. It's a great, convenient option, but not a substitute for personally looking at the meat and seafood counters for the freshest, most appealing choices and for seasonal specials.

So far, I've never seen anyone checking out at the Instacart line. But I've stood in line at the meat counter along with people of all ages.

Blogs: Telling Your Own Story

If you want customers or stakeholders to know and trust you, you need to give them a reason. You need to tell your story convincingly and interestingly — and a blog is a perfect venue to tell it.

Great blogs share information unavailable anywhere else. That can include pictures, videos, tips on new products and back-stories. You can showcase individual employees or teams, share insider insights and create infographics that describe product or service innovations.

Companies and organizations with smart blogs personalize their content. They may hand over the keys to the blog to an individual or small group to act as the voice. They may concentrate their content on subjects intended to engage readers, instead of just informing them.

While some complain about the time it takes to brainstorm and produce content for blogs, the truth is blogging makes organizations more aware of themselves at a human level. You have to look around to find good stories, and they are inevitably all around you to find.

Blogging demands keen observation, like any other form of writing. You take notice of what's different or special in your operation or of a coworker who went the extra mile for a customer or client.

A blog is a license to unleash your imagination — and your curiosity. It would have been fascinating, for example, if Marty Cooper of Motorola had blogged about the thought process he and his fellow workers pursued in untethering phones from homes, offices and even cars, 40 years ago. It would be equally interesting if Cooper, who continues at age 85 to imagine the mobile phone as an extension of human capability with applications in medicine and education, could explain how he sees the future unfolding.

Local Matters in Marketing

The new social media phenomenon of Cash Mobs proves that in the global economy, twitterverse and cyberspace, local still matters in marketing.

The Cash Mob movement encourages people to go to small, local business and spend money, en masse. 

According to the Cash Mobs website, a Buffalo blogger, Christopher Smith, originated the idea almost a year ago. A Cleveland attorney helped popularize the movement last fall. NBC's Today Show gave its seal of approval in a televised segment last week.

Using Twitter, organizers put out a call to followers to meet up at a local store on a particular day — and bring money to spend. A horde of smiling, eager shoppers can brighten the day of any merchant, perhaps even making a difference in whether the local business can keep its doors open.

Cash mobs are a stark contrast to the rash of flash mobs that have flouted surveillance cameras while looting stores. The goal of cash mobs is to "build community," not ransack them.

This application of social media is further evidence that reach can be global, but targeting can be local. Whole Foods Market has demonstrated the value of tweeting about events or special offers in individual or groups of stores. Local and regional brands such as Burgerville, Ninkasi and Dave's Killer Bread use Twitter and Facebook in the same way. Posts build brand familiarity, while marketing local activity.

The advent of cash mobs reinforces the point that marketing isn't just about money. It's also about creativity and energy.

Going Uptown Online

American Express and Twitter have teamed up to offer exclusive online discounts from 17 retailers that include Whole Foods Market, FedEx, McDonald's, Ticketmaster, Dell and FTD Flowers.

The selling point is a streamlined way to use a social media platform to access discounts, without going to a merchant's website, entering a promotion code or printing a coupon.

Twitter and American Express announced another collaboration a month ago that allows small businesses to manage their advertising without dealing with sales representatives.

This could be the tip of the iceberg as Twitter seeks to bolster its money-making business model and Amex leverages its 97 million cardholders — and creates a new reason for people to apply for one of its credit cards.

Marketing the connection with the phrase "tweet your ways to savings," Amex advises consumers to "sync" their credit cards to their Twitter accounts. The @amexsync account tracks special hashtags used by participating merchants to offer their exclusive discounts. It also credits the user's account — usually within two or three days, company officials say.

Amex insists the link is secure and no private data is being mined. For now, retailers pay nothing to participate. Amex said it wanted to ramp up the program slowly, but interest was so strong it signed up 17 merchants to start. It plans to add more.