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Millennial Dads Are Real, and So Is Their Spending Power

I admit it -- like many other marketing strategists, I have had a slight obsession with millennials the past 10 years or so. I have read third-party research on them, interviewed them, guided clients in understanding them and advised on how to best communicate with them.

And yes, millennials are maturing into the next phase of adult life -- with many entering or already in their thirties, moving to the suburbs, starting families and so on. As Ad Age's Ken Wheaton pointed out in a recent column, some of their most talked-about behaviors (flocking to urban centers, for instance) are starting to change to accommodate new priorities. I can certainly understand a healthy cynicism with regard to what the millennial mindset is vs. typical twenty-something desires and wants. In fact, given all the focus on this group over the past decade, I wouldn't blame anyone for having fatigue on the topic of millennials altogether.

Have we overhyped this group somewhat? Perhaps. But are millennials real? Very much so. Should we move on and pretend that understanding millennials is not absolutely critical to the long-term success for brands? Absolutely not. Beware the marketer who does not take this massive consumer cohort seriously. Millennials are more than 100 million people strong in North America, poised to overtake boomers as the largest living generation this year.

Perhaps the best demonstration of the true uniqueness of millennials are millennial dads (the upper echelon of whom are turning 35 this year). According to the findings of several studies, millennial dads are proving to be a very unique group, with behaviors we have not witnessed in any generation prior. Millennial dads are not only redefining fatherhood -- they're influencing parenthood. These enthusiastic parents are spending more time with their kids, doing a larger portion of the household shopping and spending lots of money. And, as it turns out, millennial dads are very good for business. Here are three trends among millennial dads marketers should take note of:

More shared tasks means more dads shopping. Millennial dads are more likely than older dads to claim primary or shared responsibility for everyday parenting tasks. According to Mintel, 80% of millennial dads claim primary or shared grocery shopping responsibility (compared to 45% of all dads, according to Y&R's BrandAsset Valuator data). And gone are the days when "dopey dad" roamed the aisles of the supermarket, aimlessly following "mom's list." Millennial dads -- dubbed supermarket natives -- make their own choices.

So how do brands get on "dad's list?" First of all, recognize and appreciate the important role they play in the millennial family. Make sure you're not just connecting with them in your marketing, but also helping and supporting them through meaningful and useful brand behaviors. Help dads get the most of out of their grocery experiences before, during and after shopping. Brands can benefit from considering how packaging, signage, demos and technology can help dads navigate the grocery store and mealtime with their families.

Less couponing. Conventional wisdom has typically been that once young people become parents, they start to bargain hunt for deals on everything from diapers to shampoo. Not so for millennial dads. These shoppers are actually more concerned with quality than savings, and are willing to spend more to feel good about what they are bringing home for their families.

In fact, data tell us that value has less of an influence on purchase and preference to millennial dads than it does for dads in general. So yes, while men in the past started clipping coupons and buying minivans once they became fathers, millennials are doing it a bit differently. And here's a cautionary tale about coupons, courtesy of research firm BrandSpark International: Don't even suggest coupons to millennial dads, with more dads (34%) than moms (11%) claiming that using coupons at the check-out counter or online makes them look (or feel) cheap.

More time with the kids. To millennials, "deadbeat dads" aren't just the guys who fall behind on child support payments and almost never see their kids. For today's young dads, it's no longer enough to bring home the bacon -- they expect to cook it and spend quality time with the family after dinner, too.

For millennial dads, being a devoted father is a badge of honor, a status symbol.

In fact, according to Mintel, nearly half (49%) of millennial dads are mainly responsible for planning play dates and other activities with their kids outside the home, as opposed to 23% of dads over the age of 35. Millennial dads are placing a higher value on entertainment and leisure with their families compared to older generations of parents, and their spending habits reinforce this. Dad sees himself as the provider of family entertainment, and is more likely to be the primary spender in this sector for both time and money. The more that brands can do to foster this family time, the more brand-loyal a millennial dad will be.

Millennial dads are truly redefining what it means to be a dad -- not because they are younger, but because they have grown up differently and don't subscribe to traditional gender norms.

Millennials are most certainly real, and so is their spending power. CMOs need to know these distinctions and ensure their marketing efforts align with how decision-making is made by millennial parents -- both dads and moms.

 

Kasi Bruno, AdAge. March 27, 2015

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