A generation is typically defined as a group of people born within a similar span of time, sharing a comparable age and life stage, who were shaped by similar events, trends, and developments. Because of the differences in how our environment changes over time, people from different generations often develop different opinions, politics, and values from those in other generations. This is known as a generational gap.
Generational marketing is a marketing technique where each generation is specifically targeted with specific marketing tactics effective against that generation. Indeed, not everybody within a generation is the same and there are not strict cutoffs for each generation. Nevertheless, generational marketing takes advantage of what kinds of marketing tactics will appeal to the majority of people within a generation.
So, what sort of characteristics define established generations?
Among the oldest population and typically the second largest generation, Baby Boomers did not grow up with the internet. This, however, does not mean that they cant be tech-savvy. Research shows that they do shop online and research new products online. In terms of social media, Facebook is where most Baby Boomers visit.
Baby Boomers tend to be more loyal to brands that they have spent their entire lives with. After all, if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Evoking a sense of pride from remaining with a specific business for a long time will make customers feel appreciated.
Typically, Baby Boomers are in retirement. They have already amassed their wealth. In fact, Baby Boomers hold a large proportion of the total wealth. Thus, this is the time to take advantage of that. Nobody wants to be drinking cheap wine at the tail end of their life! The “top-shelf” products are best marketed to this generation. Furthermore, capitalise on the extra wealth through upselling.
Due to Baby Boomers being an older generation, marketing needs to be accessible. Large, bold fonts help older people to see better. Avoid using modern slang that they may not feel familiar with; it may make them feel outdated. Aim for being direct and helpful.
Generation X is usually not talked about as a generation as much, but they currently make up a majority of the family-starting population. These people are typically deep in the process of paying off their bonds, building a family, and advancing their professional careers.
According to market research, Gen X is less likely to change brands than younger generations, but they typically don’t display the same amount of satisfaction from their brand loyalty as Baby Boomers do.
At this point in their lives, Gen X typically tries to stave of old age as much as possible, often trying to interact with technology and social media more. Unfortunately, due to responsibilities, they often do not have enough time to do so. Marketing aimed at those responsibilities may work well. Thanks to targeted ads, baby products can be advertised to mothers, birthday gifts can be advertised to friends, and professional attire can be advertised to determined, career-driven workers.
It is often harder to market trendy content to Gen X and marketing that typically works with younger generations do not work well with Gen X.
Also known as Generation Y, Millennials form the largest generation, and the second-largest pool of wealth behind Baby Boomers. This generation spends a large time on social media and are typically swayed by influencers. Traditional marketing doesn’t seem to work as well as some may be more privy to the kinds of tactics that marketers generally use.
Millennials are generally the first to look to the internet to research new businesses. Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, TripAdvisor etc. are all important sites that Millennials look to for information. Maintaining a good online identity is thus important. Millennials are also more likely to join loyalty programmes. Businesses like Starbucks are already seeing such benefits.
Millennials typically appreciate authenticity. Marketing that comes of as “marketing” are generally seen as distrustful. Integrity and honesty matter a lot for Millennials. Businesses that engage with their customers are seen as better than those that attempt to push products onto customers. They value their values and seek out businesses that resonate with their values.
Millennials push for social change and businesses that appeal for that favour well with Millennials. Environmentally friendlier options are preferred, and some may actively avoid brands who do not advocate for sustainable production. Simply, if a business does not hold the same values as they do, it is not the right business for them. This is where being vocal on social media comes into play.
The youngest of the generations listed here, Gen Z has grown up with technology and are thus quite tech-savvy. They are the most likely to buy online and prefer self-serving where they have more control. For all but a few, Gen Z has basically abandoned traditional television, opting to watch shows and movies online.
In order to market to Gen Z, you need to go where they go. Having extensive digital lives, marketing on social media, streaming sites and YouTube is where you will reach most of them. There, traditional celebrities mean less to them than their YouTube creators. The draw here, is the relatability aspect.
This relatability aspect makes Gen Z very similar to Millennials in regards to choosing businesses that align with their own values. Additionally, they dislike being targeted by ads. They also prefer authenticity and advocating for social change. With Millennials and Gen Zers being so alike, what sets them apart? Age and life stage. Millennials are beginning to settle down whereas Gen Z is just beginning their lives essentially.
The kind of content that Gen Z prefers differs from Millennials. Fast and punchy content is best suited for Gen Z as attention spans have shrunk and they are bombarded with more and more information. It is more important than ever when marketing to Gen Z to keep it as brief but memorable as possible.
How to implement generational marketing
Firstly, is there a place for generational marketing in your brand? If your brand does not have a market with a diverse age set then generational marketing is pointless. Furthermore, if age is irrelevant to your buyer personas, then so will generational marketing be. Determine how relevant age is to your brand before proceeding with any sort of generational marketing.
Secondly, don’t forget how easy it is to generalise. It is very easy to portray Gen Z as this tech-savvy, creative generation, not everybody in that generation relate. Not all Baby Boomers are helpless when it comes to technology. Speaking off which, refrain from portraying any generation in a negative light. For example, rather than portraying Baby Boomers and pessimistic and helpless, frame your marketing in a way that your brand will enhance their life.
Furthermore, desperate attempts at trying to appeal to generations can also backfire, especially when Millennials and Gen Z are known for valuing authenticity. Using lingo that is foreign to you in an attempt to fit in will seem like an old father awkwardly joining his children’s friend group and frequently remarking how he’s “just like the cool kids”. Trying out social humour or using slang in that regard will always seem off unless the brand already has that identity.
Lastly, focus on your market before you focus on dividing them up into generations. Diverse and inclusive marketing has been shown to be more effective than marketing solely to a specific group of individuals. Marketing aimed at Millennials should not just include Millennials. Furthermore, generations are not clear cut at all. Everyone has different experiences even if growing up in the same environment. Additionally, it is quite possible that what we attribute to generations may actually be attributable to life stages. It’s a tricky matter, so instead of basing your marketing off of generational assumptions, do more research into your specific market and see what applies where.