Millennial man grocery shopping with smartphone
A brand’s message must be consistent across all points of contact with the consumer.

CHICAGO — Millennials are “the match that lit the fire” of profound change in the food industry, said Jeff Hilton, co-founder and chief marketing officer of BrandHive, a Salt Lake City-based marketing firm. In addition to driving demand for transparency and authenticity, millennial consumers are influencing other generations to follow suit.

Jeff Hilton, BrandHive
Jeff Hilton, co-founder and c.m.o. of BrandHive

“I know a lot of boomers who take cues from their kids, the millennials,” Mr. Hilton told Food Business News. “I call it ‘downward aspirations.’”

Traditional marketing may continue to resonate with older generations, but a company must adjust its approach to effectively speak to millennials, Mr. Hilton said.

“A lot of traditional companies have been marketing to boomers all these years and think they can talk to millennials the same way, but you really have to rethink your approach to millennials and kind of reinvent your brand a little bit if you want to attract that audience,” he said.

During an interview at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition held July 16-19 in Chicago, Mr. Hilton discussed what he calls the five “C”s of modern branding.

“The reason we have the five ‘C’s is to help clients who are more traditional to embrace a broader approach to marketing, one that’s more inclusive of a millennial audience because, let’s face it, that’s the up-and-coming consumer we’re all going to be talking to… they’re going to be our core consumer the next decade and a half.”

The five “C”s are:

Concept. Every brand needs a story, Mr. Hilton said. “And if you don’t write it, the consumer will. Brand owners really need to think through what the brand stands for and where it came from.”

Content. Every brand’s story needs substantiation. “It’s not just making up a story about your brand that sounds fun; it’s talking the truth about your brand,” Mr. Hilton said. “Maybe your founder traveled all over Europe looking for the perfect beer or cup of coffee, and that’s what started the business. Everyone has that story, and today’s consumers, particularly millennials, want to know the story.”

Kashi cereal storytelling
Kashi’s new packaging incorporates editorial-style stories about how the food was made and where it comes from.

Connection. Brands should connect with consumers on two levels: rational and emotional. “We’re really good as an industry on the rational side, which is features and benefits (of a product) … but what we’re not as good at is making sure there’s an emotional connection with the consumer,” Mr. Hilton said. “Even if you’re selling ingredients… people respond to emotional elements.”

Community. Brands must be easily accessed and shared because most people learn about brands through family and friends, Mr. Hilton said. “Make sure you package your brand in ways that’s easily given to others,” he said.

Continuity. A brand’s message must be consistent across all points of contact with the consumer. “It used to be that you had your retail presence and you had your advertising and you had your PR effort, and people never saw all of the sources,” Mr. Hilton said. “But today, the blurring of the lines is so intense that you have to tell the same story wherever you are. You have to have the graphic look down, the tone and the personality down… Otherwise it gets confusing.”

The five “C”s have changed over the years to align with consumer behaviors and attitudes, but the goal remains the same, Mr. Hilton said.

“The key to the five ‘C’s is it helps build what I call ‘evangelists’ for your brand, people who follow a brand where it goes,” he said. “They are connected to your brand. They believe in the brand. They’ll find it wherever it is.”