Marketing to Different Generations

by | Dec 14, 2015 | Top 10

What You Need to Know About Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials

What do generational characteristics have to do with marketing and advertising? As it turns out, quite a lot! We currently have three generations in the work force: baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. The experience of each generation shapes who they are and how they spend. As a Gen Xer, my spending habits are different from my baby boomer parents and my younger millennial counterparts. As a result, different types of marketing strategies resonate with my generational cohort than with the other marketing generations. Let’s look at each of these three cohorts and understand how best to market to them.

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Baby Boomers
Baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. They are the post-WWII generation and grew up during the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, the rise of rock ’n’ roll and the Cold War. They experimented with drugs. They grew up as the “me” generation and continue to seek self-realization and self-fulfillment. They lived through a time when things were getting better and the country was experiencing economic growth and vitality. They were not cautious about spending and had no fear of debt. However, the economic downturn in recent years, along with rising education and medical costs, has forced this generation to be more frugal as they approach retirement.
With close to 76 million individuals, baby boomers are the largest generational group and control 70 percent of all discretionary income. As such, they have massive purchasing power. What are they spending their money on? Some are empty nesters who are now spending on recreational and lifestyle pursuits, like travel, hobbies, dining out, entertainment, spas, etc. Others are sandwiched between taking care of aging parents and adult children moving back into their rooms while looking for jobs. Their discretionary income increases as they downsize from houses to condos with retirement right around the corner. This allows more money to go toward gifts for the children and grandchildren or for them to splurge on luxury items. Boomers expect quality and value when spending their money. They use coupons and look for bargains as a way to save money. They do use new technology but not as much as younger generations. Boomers still prefer to chat on the phone or communicate through email. They text less than younger generations and tend to use social media less as well.
Marketing Strategy Summary: This group responds to traditional media the most. Boomers watch more TV than any other generation. They search for information through the mail, email, television and over the phone. A multimedia approach works best. This generation responds to discounts and offers, so having calls to action with aggressive coupons/offers is beneficial. This group also values face-to-face communication above all else, so providing an opportunity for that to happen in the selling process would be advantageous.
Boomers do not want to get old. Ever. They respond best to messages that talk about the future and speak to their goals and dreams, which they will pursue until the day they die. Boomers want to feel hip and sexy, so give your marketing a more youthful context. Associate your product or service with their deeper values and passions to be more compelling to this cohort.
Generation X
Those born between roughly 1964 and 1980 are considered Generation X. This generation is more diverse than baby boomers in terms of race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. They were the first generation for whom divorce was common and were referred to as “latchkey kids.” They witnessed the introduction of computers, cellphones and the Internet and grew up watching MTV. Many came of age during times of recession. They were the first generation who did not do better than their parents.
Generation X comprises approximately 60 million individuals, the largest generation other than the baby boomers. They are savvy consumers who make informed purchasing decisions based on researching the best value for their money. They are skeptical about marketing tactics and use the Internet to thoroughly research brands. This generation is cynical of brand labeling as they have been inundated with so much advertising. But once they find a brand they like, they are brand-loyal.
Marketing Strategy Summary: Since Generation X is not swayed by flashy advertising, try to market to them by clearly explaining what they can expect from the brand and how the product can benefit them. Try to avoid aggressive sales tactics as this generation is very wary of such things. Even though Generation X is tech-savvy, certain technologies were new to them when they were young, so they can still be reached by other media. Traditional media such as direct mail, newspapers, TV and radio can be just as effective as marketing tools as digital promotions.
Gen Xers respond well to messages that celebrate diversity and less well to those that emphasize the past and heritage. They are huge savers, so touting how your offering saves them money is a big positive. Gen Xers also like to “play it safe” and respond well to offerings that will protect their families, homes, the planet, etc. They tend to be more conservative than boomers.
Millennials
Millennials are characterized as individuals born between 1980 and 1998. This is the most diverse group of all generations with 43 percent identifying themselves as a race other than white. They grew up using digital technologies and expect 24/7 connectivity. This generation of “digital natives” looks for instant information and instant gratification. They are highly socially connected and often are the first to adopt new technology trends, lest they be seen as “falling behind.” Even though they came of age in a post-9/11 world, during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, they still remain optimistic about their future. For millennials, truth is more relative than for either boomers or Gen Xers. Experience is respected, but only if it is earned, and they don’t believe they have to put in the hard time to get ahead.
Millennials make up 25 percent of the population and make 21 percent of all consumer discretionary purchases. Millennials will buy a product or service to support a cause they believe in, even if it means paying more. They are more interested in conscious consumption than ostentatious purchases. They spend less on luxury items as time is a more valuable commodity. Millennials engage with brands not only by shopping online, but by sharing their experiences with that brand through social media.
Marketing Strategy Summary: Millennials will seek out products that have social, environmental or ethical value versus purchases on luxury items as status symbols on their own. Promoting how a company is helping the community will attract their interest far more than promoting the luxury of the brand. A strong online presence is a must for marketing to this group. This includes blogs and social media as this group likes to interact with brands. Since millennials consume from their mobile devices, make sure all electronic content is mobile-compatible. They are the least likely generation to be responsive to traditional media.
Millennials are comfortable around marketing messages, having grown up during a time of increased communication. They are accepting of marketing messages insofar as they can see what’s in it for them. They need to be heard, acknowledged and entertained by brands, but in return they will support those brands. Make sure your products and services can be purchased easily online. Make sure your brand is active and transparent/authentic on social media.
These three generations are very different in their experiences and spending habits. With generational characteristics playing a major role in purchasing decisions, which generation are your marketing strategies most effectively targeting?

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Melissa Hayden
Melissa has more than a decade of marketing and account management experience, including strategy development, brand development, integrated marketing communications, program management and account service. She has a diverse personal roster of client experience with both B2B and B2C for industries such as grocery, retail, consumer package goods, hospitality and medical device. Melissa holds a bachelor’s degree in law and sociology from American University in Washington, D.C.

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