Knowing what makes each generation tick when it comes to product research, purchase decisions, and brand loyalty is key to generational marketing.
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It can often feel as if different generations are using an entirely different internet from one another. In fact, there are subreddits like r/OldPeopleFacebook and r/ForwardsFromGrandma that are entirely devoted to the ways older generations use technology (not that those older generations would be likely to find them). Those that grew up without the internet tend to use it much differently than those who never had to, say, open a phone book to find a number.
So it stands to reason that baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z are very different in their approaches to online shopping. Marketers who are messaging these wildly different groups as if they’re all the same are missing the generational marketing opportunity and probably not resonating with anyone.
Your target audience’s generational demographics is one of the most important audience attributes to understand deeply. And while we’re all individuals, the time period during which we were born speaks to many of our life experiences and even our advertising preferences. Generational marketing targets the four generations most likely to be online. Here’s a breakdown of each group by birth year:
This generation was nicknamed the “Me” generation by novelist Tom Wolfe, who often chronicled the self-involvement of the generation born in the economic boom following WWII. Baby boomers were middle-aged when home computers and personal internet usage took off, though they’ve caught up quickly. However, this generation is 80% more likely to access the internet via desktop than a smartphone, and therefore are much more likely to be found on more desktop-friendly channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, or email.
Gen X was the first generation to grow up with MTV. Their teen years saw them often characterized by pop culture as cynical slackers who distrusted most authority figures. However, contrary to those old stereotypes, new industry research has found Gen X to be the most brand-loyal generation. Because they’re a significantly smaller demographic than the boomers who came before and the millennials who came after, Gen X has subsequently felt ignored by marketers, although most of them are mid-career with families and significant purchasing power. And while Gen X didn’t grow up with smartphones, they’re rapidly adopting them. From 2013 to 2017, Gen X’s internet usage via smartphone jumped 23%, with 86% now saying they get online via smartphone. When they’re online, they’re most likely checking email, news, or banking information.
Often treated like avocado-toast-crazed children by marketers and headlines alike, millennials are actually young professionals and often the parents of young children. The oldest millennials still remember the days of dial-up internet but most are very tech-savvy and connected, looking to digital channels for convenience and improving quality of life just as much as they are for networking and entertainment. And while there’s a bit of truth to those stereotypes about millennials being glued to their phones, they’re actually more likely to be using them to research products (rather than simply Snapchatting away) than any other generation, with 90% routinely researching online and 60% researching via smartphone.
While the youngest members of Gen Z are still in elementary school, the oldest are graduating college, looking for advice on starting out in the world and testing the waters of brand loyalty. Gen Z has no idea what life is like without a smartphone. They’re spending an average of 85 hours a month on their phones. And you’re probably not likely to catch them on desktop, as smartphones make up 62% of their time online. But don’t think that marketing to generation Z will be successful with just any mobile message: they’re highly discerning consumers who have learned to tune out irrelevant advertising. Most are looking for authentic content based on user reviews for advice on purchases.
Generational marketing goes beyond using internet slang or creating content for the latest social channel. Understanding where consumers are discovering your products is an important part of understanding what kind of messages they’ll respond to. For instance, a mobile-friendly message that contains product reviews targeted to baby boomers is probably going to be pretty ineffective, since they’re wary of smartphones and are much more likely to want to see products in-store before making purchase decisions.
Different generations are also often in very different stages of their lives, and messaging should reflect that. For example, Gen X is the most likely to have children heading off to college while juggling mortgages and career advancement. This means they’re way more interested in receiving coupons and promotional offers via email than Gen Z, the oldest of whom are just graduating college and are much more interested in discovering sustainable brands with great user reviews via mobile.
As each generation adopts and uses technology differently, it’s important to keep their preferences, as well as their overall viewpoints, in mind when developing your generational marketing strategy. Honing in on what makes each generation tick, and then delivering relevant product messaging through the channels most likely to reach them, will help you hit your goals.
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