Multi-Generation Employment Branding and the Whole Foods Dilemma

Holland Dombeck McCue Employee Communications, Employment Branding and Culture, Food and Drink, Holland Dombeck, HR, HR & Marketing, Talent Strategy

Whole Foods made some noise last week following their announcement of a new lower-cost chain of stores geared at the millennial generation. While limited details around the new chain were shared, Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb described the new concept as “unlike anything that currently exists in the marketplace” and would “feature a modern, streamlined design, innovative technology, and a curated selection.”

Whole Foods, often referred to as #WholePaycheck, is targeting broke millennials based largely impart by the generation’s growing size—according to recent Census data, millennials are projected to surpass Baby Boomer’s as the largest living generation in the U.S. in 2015. However, some feel the grocer is at risk of polarizing their current customer base. From Harvard Business Review:

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.

While the statements above are probably not what Whole Foods intended, it’s certainly a byproduct of catering to one demographic over another.

I often have this concern when having discussions related to multi-generational employment branding strategy and tactics. With five generations in the workplace, where and how do you target your efforts, while at the same time not polarizing the varying talent pools you’re trying to attract? While there’s no silver bullet solution, there are some things you can do to position yourself for success:

  • Understand the needs of your business. For your employment branding tactics to have the most impact, you must understand the competencies needed to meet your company’s long-term business plan – both individual contributors and management.
  • Define which talent pools you need to attract. Determine which generations possess the competencies to support the needs of your business and where they are most clustered together geographically. Additionally, understand which needs can be obtained internally and which you need to recruit outside of your current employee population for.
  • Asses both unique and common drivers of the generation you’re trying to reach and let them drive both your communication strategy and marketing strategy. Focus on hot button issue for each generation, but keep in mind that group traits are not universal. Select issues that align to vs. compromise your EVP and incorporate them into your outreach.
  • Use appropriate distribution channels to deliver your message. It is possible for an organization to unintentionally overlook an entire segment of the workforce simply as a result of their choice in recruitment channel(s). Ask your vendor and media partners for current demographic data to help make informed decisions of where to funnel your dollars for max ROI.

At the end of the day, accept that you’re going to leave someone out (and maybe piss someone off). Whole Foods made a decision that they feel is going to best support their business needs long-term, and that’s okay.