Each generation is commonly known by some stereotype, rather than as the diverse groups they are, or what really creates a “generation.” Based on common life experiences and often marked by either a major social or historic event, the primary generations of concern to businesses marketing their products or services are:
- Gen Z (“Generation Z”) – born since 2000
- Millennials (“Generation Y”) – born between 1980-2000
- Gen Xers (“Generation X”) – born between 1960-1980
- Baby Boomers”) – born between 1943-1960
Currently, the oldest generation is the “Builders” (born before 1943) but for marketing purposes we’ll concentrate on their children (Boomers) and younger.
While some older generations may think of anyone younger than Generation X as “Millennials,” there is actually a younger generation. Gen Z has never known an analog world and they are immersed in digital multimedia. Visual advertising, interactive elements, and instant access are important to them—and effective. As the oldest of this generation prepares to head to college, their buying power will grow immensely in the next few years.
The generation born within the 20 years leading up to Y2K is Generation Y, or more commonly, the Millennials. These aren’t “those kids” anymore. Rather, they are the young professionals in their 20s and 30s. Some are still in entry level positions, but older Millennials can be found in management and executive levels. Millennials are also generally “digital natives,” but their age and experience has moved them from simply surfing the web for entertainment and cat videos. They are idealistic, socially conscious, want to make a difference in the world, and reward authenticity. They respond to influencers, and value reviews and peer recommendations. Social proof combined with loyalty engagement are effective marketing approaches for Millennials. As one of the largest generations with significant consumer wealth, Millennials are often discussed, but can be underestimated.
Once known as rebels in their youth, Gen X is now middle-aged, with the oldest in their 50s, and the youngest in their 40s. As children of the ‘80s, they grew up consuming content, and do the same online. But they are hopeful (if skeptical), and are looking for valuable offers that will not only meet their needs but even lead to transformation. Effective approaches with Generation X include discounts and coupons (they’re known for being savvy savers), lifestyle benefits (they appreciate convenience and things that make life better), charitable tie-ins (they value doing good), and even direct mail (they’re old enough to be nostalgic for old fashioned snail mail).
Once the largest generation, Baby Boomers have now been eclipsed by Millennials in population, but they are still a critical segment of consumers. They’re surprisingly tech-engaged, and have accumulated a lot of savings, accounting for half of all consumer buying! Social media for Boomers is, well, social—catching up with grandkids, friends, and past acquaintances—so tread lightly on the hard sell on such platforms. But they are very loyal consumers (think loyalty programs) and respond well to upsells (recognizing the value of getting more bang for their buck). But that doesn’t mean they are only looking for discounts; Boomers actually want to enjoy the finer things with their hard-earned wealth, so it’s worth marketing full-price and premium products (and those upsells). Among the digitally-connected generations, Baby Boomers are the most likely to respond to more traditional (offline) marketing methods, so consider a mix of approaches when planning your campaigns.
The Right Mix
Depending on the appeal of your product or service, you may be able to focus on one or two generational groups. But if your product or service has mass appeal, you can’t afford to ignore the differences, even if you can’t afford to hyper-customize your campaigns. Some insight into how the various generations respond to marketing and messaging will help you to find common ground, avoid pitfalls, and optimize your dollars.
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