This is a year of change at Target Corp.

Following the lead of new CEO Brian Cornell, the retailer is adjusting its sponsorship portfolio to support key product segments and engage its evolving customer base, with a focus on urban millennials.

Speaking at IEG 2015, Dan Griffis, Target vice president of experiential marketing and alliances, discusses how the retailer is using sponsorship to support evolving business objectives.

Below are edited excerpts from his presentation.

On Target’s evolving business priorities
Target is going through a fairly significant transformation. What got us here is not going to get us there, and we brought in a new CEO in 2014.

Brian’s goal is to do a couple of things. The first goal is to reduce the complexities at our corporate office, and the second goal is to promote signature categories that will help differentiate Target in the future.  

Style, wellness, kids and babies are the four categories that we’ll double down on in 2015 and beyond.

On Target’s evolving customer base
Six or seven months ago we took a deep dive into understanding who our guest is.

What we found, over time, is that our core guest is a boomer mom. She drove a minivan, lived in a nice house in the suburb and wanted it all. She wanted her job and her kids and the crazy life that goes with it. 

Fast forward 10 or 12 years, and our guest has changed a bit. The boomer mom still shops at our stores, but the new guest that we’re looking at is more diverse, more millennial, more Hispanic, more technologically advanced and more urban.

That audience requires a radically different strategy. It’s a monumental shift that we’re going through, and we’ll ruthlessly prioritize what works.

Even things that worked a little bit in the past will have to go away because we’re not going to have the resources to figure them out. If it doesn’t ladder up to style, babies, kids and wellness and extend cultural leadership, we’ll have to take a break.

On Target’s evolving motorsports program
We have been with Chip Ganassi Racing for 26 years, and the partnership continues to inhale and exhale depending on the needs of the program.

This year we took a hard look at the amount of engagement we have with race fans. As a whole, we found that we have relatively low fan engagement. We weren’t telling our story properly, and that required a shift in assets.

Target has sponsored the racing community for 26 years, and we have invested millions of dollars in the sport. More people in the racing community shop at Walmart than Target. Where is the loyalty? We weren’t engaging them in the right way.

We got rid of one of the cars that we sponsor in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and we invested that money in a marketing campaign that included broadcast, digital and paid social, all under the guise of driving fan engagement.

Our vendor partners help our race program go. We need fans not only to shop at Target, we need them to recognize that without Energizer, Coca-Cola and other companies our race program wouldn’t exist. We created the concept of “Together We Win,” which we debuted at the Daytona 500. We continue to monitor fan engagement, and so far, so good.

Was it a tough conversation with Chip Ganassi Racing? They said ‘yes, we get it. It’s the right thing to do.’ We keep the best of both words with Kyle Larson—our young gun in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series—and Scott Dixon, who has been in our Verizon IndyCar Series car for 13 years.

On using strategic partnerships to promote music
Target is one of the last retailers that actually cares about music. Music occupies a very special place in the soul of society—you attach your most wonderful experiences to music. It’s also a place where we differentiate ourselves from our competitors. All of our CDs have incremental or exclusive tracks that you can only buy at Target. That model has worked well for us over the years.

A proof point is our exclusive relationship with Taylor Swift. We sold more Taylor Swift CDs than any other CD in the history of Target.

Last year we stole the show at the Grammy Awards with the Imagine Dragons and this year we basically created the show with the band. 

We told CBS that we’d like to buy four consecutive minutes of time during the Grammy Awards broadcast, and that we’d like to cut from the live Grammys feed to a live show in Las Vegas with the Imagine Dragons performing one song in front of 300 super fans. They said that is exactly the kind of thing they’re looking for.  

The goal was to drive engagement, and we accomplished it. We were the number two trending hashtag worldwide during and after the performance, and the number one hashtag in the United States. Our Net Sentiment was 97 percent positive, which eclipsed anything we have ever done before. We eclipsed more than one billion media impressions in less than 48 hours.

What made me most proud is that the advertising industry and our colleagues in the marketing world really didn’t know what to call it. Is it a commercial? Content marketing? Native advertising? It’s a good thing if you can stump people along the way.

On the importance of storytelling
Every investment we make has to tell a compelling story. I want my team to be the best storytellers on the planet.

To do that, you have to learn from the best. I have hired scriptwriters who have won Oscars, songwriters who have won Grammys and poets and newspaper reporters to speak to my team and help them understand what it takes to build a story arc.

This is a skill you have to learn over time. There are very few people who are actually born with the skill of storytelling.  You can learn it, as we have proven.

At Target it’s more of a love story, not just a story about the love that guests have for Target or how we love our guests. The “Expect More Pay Less” brand promise is the love affair between those two concepts, and the gentle tension between those two things that ultimately have catapulted Target to success. It’s a brilliant statement.