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Marketing across generations

Understanding that each generation has different needs and wants when it comes to a communications campaign is incredibly important. This article will look at the generations individually and all together, to determine if there are commonalities to look for when delivering a broad cross-generational marketing campaign.


Marketing to a variety of audiences is something we’re used to as marketers. Each product or service has an ideal target audience, and buyer personas greatly influence how we market something.

Generational marketing is when the target audience is segmented and targeted by generation, which is determined by the year in which they were born. The dates for the generational boundaries do, however, vary from one source to another (and that’s not taking into account subclasses such as the Xennial), so there’s some blurring of the lines to be expected.

Effective marketing strategies attract and engage the right person with the right message at the right time, but getting the same core message across to different generations can be a challenge. This is due to each generation having different patterns of media consumption, determined by their unique characteristics.

Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)

Baby Boomers are one of the largest consumer groups in the UK, making up 21.3% of the population – and are certainly not a group you want to ignore by choice.

A ‘typical’ Boomer has the following characteristics:

  • A strong work ethic
  • Competitive
  • Resourceful

In 2019, the creative agency Five by Five published a whitepaper that found that Baby Boomers are the least engaged age group when it comes to product and brand launches.

‘Boomers’ account for 80% of the UK’s wealth, and one in five are millionaires; so why aren’t marketers really tapping into this generation when they have the money, and time, to spend? The graph below shows different age groups’ median wealth, with the age range of 55-64 years old having the highest.


graph-showing-median-wealth-by-age-group


It seems that this generation might be being mis-marketed, because according to Havas, only an estimated 5 to 10% of marketing budgets are devoted to winning Boomers over.

This particular generation prefers products that are well established before entering into the buyer’s journey, and don’t follow the hype typically seen in younger generations. The reality is that the Baby Boomer generation feels under represented, journalist and TV presenter Mariella Frostrup had the following to say:


The 50-plus generation is at best ignored and at worst patronised, which, given that by the year 2020 half of the UK population will be 50-plus, is both bizarre and unacceptable


It could be argued that Boomers know what they like, and like what they know, compared to Gen XYZ who are more willing to discover and try new products.

According to Forrester research, 55% and 54% of those less than 31 and 31-39, respectively, say they “enjoy trying new brands or products.” That number drops to 39% for those aged 54-63 and 31% for the 64-74 set.

COVID-19 (cue; groan) was the push Baby Boomers may not have wanted, but might have needed. Online behaviours of this particular generation changed dramatically, and it doesn’t seem to be losing momentum. Boomers online habits changed, which made marketers sit up and take note and the key findings were:


baby-boomers-online-behaviours


Opportunities for marketers to engage with this generation increased, but understanding how Boomers behave online post-pandemic has been challenging for some.

Factoring in that Boomers generally have more disposable income than other generations, it’s foolish to ignore them in favour of Millennials or Gen Z. A misconception that a marketer may have is that Boomers simply aren’t online – but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Boomers have embraced technology, and while they might not be searching 9Gag for their favourite memes they do want to make connections with other people. What needs to be addressed is device preference, as they are the generation least likely to buy straight from their smartphones. This means that the user experience (UX) of a website and checkout needs to be simple and easily accessible.

Quite affectionately known as ‘Silver Surfers’ as a nod to the increased online usage, 57% of Boomers use Facebook as their preferred social platform. They use Facebook to socialise with friends and family, and also share engaging and informative content. They also use browsers such as Google and Mozilla to gather information, but prefer for a price to be at the top of the funnel, so transparency about the cost of a product/ service is crucial to win the trust of this generation.

The know-like-trust factor

Baby Boomers connect with, and respond to credibility, especially if times turn turbulent. A brand should provide a credible and decisive messaging that lays out a plan for success.

Baby Boomers don’t want to be forgotten, so keeping in touch with them is a crucial step in getting this generation to like the product/ service you offer. However the way in which you communicate with this audience is important as 95% of Boomers will opt for email over instant messenger.

Generation X (1965 – 1976)

This generation is typically:

  • Family orientated
  • Financially responsible
  • Financially independent

Additionally they have a significant influence on the workplace and the economy – but are often known as the “forgotten generation”. This is because they share attributes with both Boomers and Millennials such as:

  • Similarly to Boomers, Gen X didn’t grow up with the technologies Millennials and Gen Zers have become accustomed to, but are fairly confident to shop online and embrace the technology given to them.
  • They want to have an authentic experience from a brand, as they have grown up with various sales tactics.
  • To keep up with the expected genuineness from different businesses, they are more likely to read and write reviews. While a Boomer may go straight to a bricks-and-mortar shop, people who fall within the parameters of Gen X will look for credentials online first.

Generation X simply want good customer service and an easy to navigate website/app. They are also big Facebook users. The graph below shows that 81 % of Gen Xers have a Facebook account, and 77% of them are actively using it.


facebook-usage-gen-x

Generation Xers are generally loyal to a brand or product that they like, and tend not to steer away from this loyalty unless they have a bad experience with customer service, UX etc. As they share common factors with the two generations they are sandwiched between, it’s important not to omit them from your marketing strategy.

Tailor your message with both Boomers and Millennials in mind, but a combination of tactics from these generations will sit really well with this one.

Both traditional and digital marketing strategies work when communicating with this generation, so getting the right message across via the right channels is top priority. They are only a “small” generation but have spending power that rivals Baby Boomers. Similarly to Boomers, Gen X spend time on Facebook which means that advertising to them via this platform is fine and can work.

An important consideration when marketing to Gen X is that no matter what channel they use (be it traditional or digital) is that they will research a business online first before committing to buy.

The know-like-trust factor

For Generation Xers, transparency builds trust. They appreciate honesty, if you know about something – shout about it. If you don’t know something – admit it. They are the generation that has seen an oversaturation of traditional media with the arrival of Channel 4 and TV-am heralded the slow start of media fragmentation. They are savvy when it comes to any marketing campaign, be it traditional or digital.

Painting an honest picture of what your business offers is what Xers look for, they are sceptical in nature and will do the research that they feel is necessary before committing to buy.

Generation Y – AKA Millennials (1977 – 1995)

The term Millennial induces an eyeroll, a hint of a groan and a dusting of judgement. The media has made this generation out to be lazy and entitled, when in actuality they are the generation most likely to start a business.

Some key characteristics of Generation Y have are:

  • The desire for diverse work and collaboration.
  • A work-hard play-hard mentality
  • Ambition

The graph below shows the 2021 entrepreneurial spirit index published by IPSOS, which tells us that 36% of millennials ranked as having a very high entrepreneurial spirit.


entrepreneurial-spirit-index

Millennials are tech savvy, they grew up when the World Wide Web was first introduced, and have seen technology evolving right before their eyes. It may come as no surprise that they are known to be the ‘most educated’ generation in Western history, where they value education.

34% of 25 to 29 year-olds Americans held a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, professional degree, or doctoral degree in 2020 – a higher share than in any year in data going back to 1968.

However, an educated audience doesn’t always mean that they went down a traditional path such as university, which is important to consider when advertising a product or service. Millennials know how to use technology to educate themselves, and appreciate transparency. Basically, it may be more difficult to pull the wool over their eyes, and while honesty is the best policy no matter the generation, it is something that Millennials are very aware of.

A characteristic attributed to Generation Y is laziness, they are less likely to shop in-store and expect things quickly. They are more about convenience and often make decisions based on what they see on social media.

They are generally aware of societal issues, such as global warming. They are interested in products that are sustainable and ethical. Which may be a contributing factor in their epithet “snowflake”, a term which was popularised by Claire Fox’s 2016 book “I Find That Offensive!” and is believed to have originated from Missouri in the 1860s.

Being socially aware shouldn’t be a negative thing, while some claim that the world has gone too far with ‘political correctness’, maybe it’s just making strides in the effort for equality and respect. That’s a debate for another day.

Generation Y are less likely to buy a product/service that they’ve seen via email, and actually put a lot of trust in social media posts, and brand advocates in the form of influencers.

20% of Millennials use their mobile phone exclusively to browse the web and more than 85% of Millennials own smartphones. Making sure that your site, and ads are mobile-friendly is crucial when marketing to this generation, and although Facebook is still at the top for usage by Millennials, they are also very present on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

The know-like-trust factor

Being the first generation to grow up in the age of social media, Millennials have had constant access to information in real-time. They want to be part of the creation process and like user-generated content. Get them talking about your brand and/or products to generate an organic, largely self-sustaining buzz.

Trust in word of mouth and user-generated content grew by 11% from 67% in 2015, to 78% in 2016. However we find a world ensnared in a vicious cycle of distrust, fueled by a growing lack of faith in the media and government. As such businesses are expected to break the cycle, the image below is from Edelman’s ‘2022 Trust Barometer” which offers advice on how to make the necessary changes in an organisation.


trust-barometer-statistics

Generation Z (1996 – 2015)

Looking at characteristics of this generation is a good exercise, but as this generation at the youngest are 7 years old, there will be a lot of room for growth.

  • Embracing diversity is the ‘norm’
  • They are ‘digital natives’
  • They are seen as polit­i­cal­ly pro­gres­sive

Five by Five’s Baby Boomer whitepaper also mentioned that Generation Z consumers are the most attuned audience segment to new product or service launches.

Social Media advertising within digital marketing is in full swing; and children under the age of 13 are using and being influenced by it. While they may not be able to purchase a product themselves, they are able to influence their parent’s spending power. Some of these parents are Millennials, so are able to use the same platforms as their children to come to a judgement.

Marketers are just at the tip of the iceberg in relation to the potential of Gen Z, who are the least likely to follow a brand but will listen to trusted influencers. They relate far more to this new generation of celebrities than they do to traditional celebrities from TV, film, music or sport.

As flippant as it may be, Generation Z typically sticks to trends on platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat. If your brand’s advocate falls behind these trends, Gen Z will be ruthless in voicing their opinion and might disengage from the influencer entirely. The stats below from ‘The Center for Generational Kinetics” shows some of Gen Z’s intentions for the future.


generational-kinetics-gen-z

This generation seems generally untapped, and as they mature, it will be crucial to mature the marketing activity alongside them.

The know-like-trust factor

Generation Z have been reporting poor mental health from a young age. A November 2020 study by the British Journal of Psychiatry found that young adults dealing with anxiety almost doubled from pre-pandemic levels at 12.97% to 24.35% and experienced lower wellbeing during the pandemic.

As such, they trust companies who have a ‘human’ touch and who show that they value their audience.

Final Thoughts

The basic concept of know-like-trust is certainly very applicable when it comes to cross generational digital marketing.

Making sure your business comes across as authentic is the first step when creating a campaign that entices an audience to listen to what you have to say about your product or service. The internet can be a minefield of misinformation, it takes a small edit to a Wikipedia page to make people believe something is correct. Being authentic is incredibly necessary when attracting consumers – it’s as simple as that really.

If you’ve converted someone through the funnel from know to like, it is time to up the ante and start introducing the consumer to why you are different from competitors and why they should trust you above anything else. This isn’t about manipulation, it’s about being able to honestly showcase your organisation through blogs, social media and email campaigns.

Consumers across the age ranges above are incredibly savvy and know how to research a product/ service. While different generations use different platforms to find out more about a brand, like Gen X using sites like TrustPilot to Gen Z relying on influencers; there are many common attributes that span the generations. The key attribute is that people want an authentic experience, which stems directly from the undisputed king of marketing techniques: word of mouth.

Like marketers adapt to different demographics, geographics etc they should adapt to the differences of generations, but certainly not ignore the commonalities.



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