By John Blount

You can lead a Millennial to tap water, but chances are they won’t drink. The Millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) is the most diverse generation in history. Despite that diversity, there is a tendency to assume that the conventional marketing techniques that have worked in the past for the previous “Boomer” generation will work as well for the Millennials. That is a critical mistake, and potentially a fatal mistake for any business in the water industry.

According to a 2015 survey by Beverage Digest, bottled water will eclipse soft drink consumption by the end of the decade. Most of this shift is being driven by the Millennial sector’s preference for “clean” water… a preference which they do not believe can be satisfied from their home’s faucet.

Beverage Digest’s survey should not be read in a vacuum, however. While the trends are positive at this time for bottled water, yet another survey found that 70 percent of Millennials prefer buying less bottled water due to the negative environmental impact.

So what does this all mean for water conditioning industry? In a word… the results of these two surveys spell an ‘opportunity.’This ‘opportunity’ is for those water treatment companies who decipher the code of how to effectively market to the Millennial. While it requires a bit of a mind change for the water conditioning professional, and a resulting change of marketing techniques, ‘cracking the code’ to accessing the mind and heart of a Millennial is doable. And for the businessman who takes on that challenge that ‘opportunity’ translates into new customers and new business.

Why Millennials matter
There was a significant change in consumer demographics that occurred early last year. Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were replaced as the dominant consumer demographic by Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000)—see Figure 1. If, like I am, you are a Baby Boomer you had better get used to being outnumbered. There are more Millennials than Baby Boomers now. So that translates to the customer base for water conditioning professionals shifting towards Millennials as well.

Up to this point, there has not existed a more complex and nontraditional generation than Millennials. Not only are they the largest generation by population size, but the environment in which they were raised has cultivated an entirely new approach to their values and way of life. These 80 million individuals have grown up in an age of technology and global connections. Additionally, most were raised on bottled or filtered water. The Millennial’s view of the world and how they flow through it are different. So different, in fact, that the previous generations (including Boomers) sometimes have trouble relating to it and as a consequence, to the Millennials themselves.

Millennials know what they want, and they won’t settle for anything that falls short of meeting their expectations. The water treatment industry as a whole will be forced to reevaluate its current marketing strategies in order to win the attention and loyalty of this generation. Those companies who adapt early on stand to benefit the most. Those businesses who wait until “they have to” in evolving to meet the expectations of the emerging Millennial customer base likely will not survive.

So what’s a non-Millennial to do?
“Okay,” you say. “You’ve got my attention. What I am supposed to do to attract the Millennial crowd?”
The answer is straightforward. Focus on the Millennial mindset. If you understand their mindset, what to do to reach the Millennial becomes obvious. The following is a list of psychographics that helps describe some of the hot buttons of Millennials. This was created by the Integrated Marketing Agency (Kansas City, MO and Barkley USA).

Mindset #1: Don’t create problems solve them. Relative to previous generations, Millennials desire control in order to eliminate any potential problems, before making a decision. We see this with the delay in traditional lifestyles such as marriage and starting a family. This delay is a result of this generation’s desire to have the best of both worlds—without having to confront any problems. Their unwillingness to surrender one for the other leads to the integration of different lifestyles.

Millennials are determined to maintain their urban city lifestyle and career while still being able to pursue the traditional family lifestyle. Their lifestyle include a concerted focus on maintaining their health and to the extent possible, their youthful vitality. Balancing these sometimes competing interests is a challenge for Millennials, which translates to opportunities for water treatment companies to solve. This generation likes solutions, so if the taste or feel of tap water is not acceptable, then the water treatment professional needs to reassure them that they can solve their water problems and how they can add value to Millennials’ already complicated lifestyle. Focus on solving their problems, whether actual or perceived.

Mindset #2: It has to feel good.
Millennials are deeply rooted in internal feelings. According to CEB Marketing Excellence Survey, loyalty, happiness and authenticity are some of the top values of this generation. Their motivation to do things is based on how it will make them feel.

This could be a result of the economy that Millennials grew up in—an era that had the largest economic decline since the Great Depression, the 911 terrorist attacks, the increasing concerns of global warming, etc. The uncertainty of their circumstances and future has shaped Millennials to be present- focused and to want to make things work for them now. For the water treatment companies this could be opportunistic in that clean good tasting water always feels good. Realize that Millennials are very feelings-based, and immediate gratification is important to them. Tailor your sales techniques accordingly.

Mindset #3: You have to do good.
The release of the 2014 Millennial Impact Report showed that 87 percent donated money to an organization that supported a cause they were passionate for. Millennials are a proactive generation that desires to change the world. So there’s no hesitation when it comes to supporting a product or service that contributes to a greater cause and to do good.

Millennials don’t just want to know how water treatment is going to do good for them as a consumer, but in getting a service or equipment from a water treatment professional, how is this doing good for others? For this generation, it’s no longer just a brand. It’s a movement. Find a way to join that movement. Show that your company is ‘green’ or environmentally-conscious, consider donating a portion of your sale to a charity they designate, etc.

Mindset #4: Create something that can be shared.
The Internet and social media play a huge role in Millennial’s lives and they are all about social status and sharing their personal information with others. Forty-seven percent of Millennials who owned a smart phone discovered brands from “someone else following/liking/pinning/tweeting information on social media.”

So the water treatment company can’t just create a positive brand experience. They have to create a positive and shareable brand experience that facilitates social media sharing for their consumers. This means the water treatment company needs to give their customers a platform to spread the word about their products and services—especially Millennials, who have a network size that is more than four times that of the generation before them. Keep in mind that this can either work for or against a water conditioning business… please the Millennial and they will be bragging to their friends about you. But disappoint the Millennial and you are even more likely to get ‘flamed’ on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. account. Create that positive experience if at all possible. Consider it an investment in your future. If you don’t create that positive experience for your Millennial, you may have no future (in the water conditioning business, anyway).

Mindset #5: Good performance and design is mandatory.
Good performance and design are no longer a bonus for Millennials. It has become an expectation.

We live in an era that is extremely motivated by visual stimulation. Millennials have a high connection to social media. Social media has extended beyond its original text-based medium. Simply put, water treatment companies need to make a good first impression. Millennials do not typically grant ‘second chances.’ Instead, if they don’t like what you are offering, they will likely quickly move on to the next pleasing thing that grabs their attention.

And it’s not just about the product either. Millennials are also about the delivery of their purchases. Energy must not only go into creating a great product, but also in presenting the brand or product in a visually creative way. So, think ‘visuals.’ Then execute, execute, execute.

Mindset #6: Say goodbye to celebrity endorsement.
Millennials are looking to everyday, relatable people for product influence and reviews. Rather than relying on the advocacy of celebrities, this generation appreciates the unfiltered honesty of bloggers and YouTube personalities. A 2014 report by Millennial Central found that 68 percent of Millennials are completely unfazed by celebrity endorsement.

Company credibility is earned when the products are represented by individuals who are in the same boat as the Millennial consumer, not celebrities who pretend to be. When equipment or products have real-life people talking about their problems and how a company’s product can help solve it, the company is more likely to earn this (Millennial) generation’s trust. The transparency of bloggers connects with the audience and makes them feel like the company and its products are made for everyday people like them. This plays well for the water treatment companies that are more relational rather than transactional.

So, don’t waste your money on celebrity endorsements. Going back to Mindset #4 above, treat the Millennial like a celebrity. Then they will make you ‘famous’ on their Facebook. If you fail to please them, the Millennial may make you ‘infamous’ instead.

Mindset #7: Don’t compromise who you are.
While it’s important for a company to meet the needs of their consumers and to present themselves as understanding and relatable to this generation, it’s even more important for a company to be authentic and to know their identity and to never compromise it.

Work hard to reach Millennials, but don’t lose your company’s identity in the process of trying to appease this generation. Don’t fake who you are. Millennials are known to be a generation that refuses to ‘fit the mold.’ They value individuality and personal choice. But along with that sense of individuality, authenticity is a must. So just like Millennials do every day, your water treatment company needs to be confident of their identity and own up to whom they are. Millennials value brands that stay true to their identity. Figure out who you are and why that should matter to a Millennial. Then ‘be who you are,’ appealing to that common value that you and that Millennial share.

Mindset #8: Make them laugh.
Eighty-eight percent of Millennials say that humor is vital to this generation’s definition of themselves. The use of humor in social media doesn’t just make a brand interesting—it makes it worth sharing.

Mark Twain once said, “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

What was true in Mark Twain’s time, is true in ours. While worldviews may change between generations, ‘humor’ is a language spoken by Boomer and Millennial alike. Marketing with humor can be a great way to capture attention and get people talking about your water treatment company. Southwest Airlines is famous for its singing flight attendants. Ben & Jerry’s relishes the off-the-wall names it gives its flavors. A good joke is timeless, and opens doors as well as hearts.

Conclusion
Keep in mind that there will be growth at the younger end of the consumer spectrum as millennials reach their prime household formation years. Thirty-plus year-old millennials are now buying homes, having families and looking at ‘quality of life’ issues such as the water they use everyday. Tap water will not be their first choice. But you can be the Millennial’s choice for water conditioning solutions, if you can successfully adjust your sales and marketing to their unique mindset. Meet a Millennial where he or she is mentally and emotionally and your future will be bright.

Reprinted with permission of the Texas Water Quality Association

About the author
John Blount, President/CEO Pure & Gentle Inc., Seguin, TX, has a BS Degree in biochemisty and an MS Degree in chemical engineering. He has been involved in developing and marketing products for the water treatment industry since 1984. Blount is a Board Member of TWQA. He can be reached at (830) 379-1937 or by email at Johnb@pgitx.com

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