The news that Whole Foods will open a separate chain of stores designed to appeal to millennials stopped me mid-aisle. hbr_130x130According to Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb, these future stores will feature “modern, streamlined design, innovative technology, and a curated selection” of lower-priced organic and natural foods.

As millennials would write—facepalm.

My dismay is not about the concept. After all, who wouldn’t love to shop for lower-priced, organic, and natural foods in a store that boasts a clean and modern design?  My dismay is about how this new chain is being communicated to the public and designed to win in the marketplace.

By describing this new concept as “geared toward millennial shoppers,” Whole Foods is essentially saying one (or both) of the following:

  1. Gen X and Baby Boomer shoppers are fine with or even prefer old, cluttered stores that sell a confusing array of stuff at high prices.
  2. We (Whole Foods) need to create new stores because our current ones are old and cluttered and sell all sorts of poorly organized stuff at high prices.

To be fair, communicating the statements above was probably the last thing Whole Foods intended, but it was what I, and many of my Gen X and Baby Boomer friends and colleagues, heard.

This is the problem with traditional segmentation approaches.  By relying on demographics to define a consumer base, executives are implicitly, or explicitly, saying that all people of a certain demographic (in this case the same age cohort) are the same and that they are also distinctly different from everyone in other demographics. As most people will tell you from their own experience, this thinking is fundamentally flawed. This flawed approach applies not just to Whole Foods but to any business.

A better approach is to target and design for consumers based on what my colleagues and I call their “jobs-to-be-done” – the fundamental problems they are trying to solve or goals they are trying to achieve. By understanding consumers’ jobs, companies can identify what drives their behavior and their buying decisions—and then create offerings that resolve their most important and unsatisfied jobs.

Read the rest at Harvard Business Review

Robyn Bolton is partner at Innosight.


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