Generational Marketing: A Comprehensive Guide for How to Engage with Today’s Consumers
In today’s business landscape, understanding who your target audience is and what their values and behaviors are is essential to marketing success. However, with so many factors at play, it can feel impossible to segment your audience and fully understand how best to connect with everyone. Generational marketing offers a solution by tailoring marketing strategies and messages to specific generational groups based on their unique characteristics, values, habits, and preferences. Accounting for generational differences will improve your brand’s relevance, appeal, and relatability to consumers and increase your customer engagement, loyalty, and revenue.
Below, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to generational marketing for brands. We will explore the basics of generational marketing, expand on tailored strategies for each of today’s four major consumer generations, and address some of the challenges you might face as you develop a targeted generational marketing strategy.
Understanding Generational Marketing
What is Generational Marketing?
By definition, generational marketing is a marketing approach that tailors marketing strategies and messages to specific generational groups, with the ultimate goal of capturing, retaining, and converting the target audience.
Generations are defined by birth year ranges. Today’s consumer generations are Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-1996), Generation Z (1997-2012), and Generation Alpha (born in or after 2010). Each generation has their unique set of values, communication preferences, media consumption habits, purchasing behaviors, and product preferences. These characteristics are all shaped by the social, political, economic, and cultural environment of their time.
Understanding Today’s Generations of Consumers
Keep reading for a crash course in the defining characteristics of each of today’s consumer generations:
Baby Boomers are the oldest consumer generation being marketed to. They were born between 1946 and 1964, during a post WWII surge – or boom – in economic prosperity and familial growth.
Given their age and the stage in life most Boomers are at now, they currently hold the most purchasing power within the market. They’re far along in, or preparing to retire from, their careers, which makes them the most financially stable generation with disposable income.
Key Characteristics of Baby Boomers
- Value: family, loyalty, and respect
- Communication Preference: face-to-face
- Media Consumption: print, radio, TV, and some social media (the most popular social media platforms for Boomers are Facebook, YouTube, and blogs)
- Purchasing Behaviors: prefer in-store shopping
Generation X are best known as the skeptical, and smallest generation. They grew up in a recession and are characterized as independent and self-reliant. They trust what they know and aren’t quick to embrace change.
Today, they are fully entrenched in the “hustle & bustle” of life; juggling work, bills, family, and personal life. They’re raising children while achieving the peak of their careers. With so much going on, efficiency is a must: they search for products that make their lives more efficient and prefer quick & easy customer service.
Key Characteristics of Gen X
- Value: authenticity, affordability, convenience, and personalization
- Communication Preference: word-of-mouth, email
- Media Consumption: traditional advertising, email marketing, and social media (the most popular social media platforms for Generation X are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn)
- Purchasing Behaviors: in-store and online
Marketers buzz about the Millennial generation because they are the largest consumer generation. There are a few distinct environmental factors that have shaped this generation’s outlook and behavior:
- First, while older generations have adapted to modern technology, Millennials are the first generation to grow up with technology, making it a natural part of their lives.
- Second, while Gen X grew up during an economic recession, Millennials started entering the workforce around the 2008 economic crash (the last US great recession). As a result, Millennials are the largest generation of entrepreneurs, which has given them the freedom to prioritize their own values over the social and economic obligations that shaped previous generations.
By relying on their own values and preferences, Millennials have forced marketers to shift away from traditional marketing tactics. They value authenticity and honesty and want to see what brands value outside of financial gain.
Key Characteristics of Millenials
- Value: authenticity, innovation, social responsibility
- Communication Preference: word-of-mouth, social media
- Media Consumption: user-generated content, influencer marketing, and social media (Millennials have the most Facebook friends of any generation, but they are also active on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest)
- Purchasing Behaviors: primarily online
Generation Z is often referred to as the “emerging generation of consumers.” They are the youngest consumer generation and are known for their creativity, but their spending power and expansive presence online and on social media cannot go ignored. Marketers are adapting their tactics to meet Gen Z where they are. This means short-form, visually appealing content that entertains and offers value (information and/or education) to viewers.
Millennials pushed brands to be more than their products by sharing their ideologies and values with consumers. Gen Z has arguably pushed them a step further, with their interest in behind-the-scenes content to see the true face of a brand. When Gen Z’ers buy a brand product, they’re buying a brand’s identity. They conduct their research accordingly: using social media, user-generated and influencer content, and reviews to develop their opinion based on what people say about a brand more than what the brand says about themselves.
Key Characteristics of Gen Z
- Value: authenticity, positive societal impact, individuality
- Communication Preference: social media
- Media Consumption: social media, testimonials and reviews, user-generated and influencer content, and short-form videos that provide honest value
- Purchasing Behaviors: online and social media (YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are the most popular social media platforms), social selling
How Generational Differences Factor into Generational Marketing
Understanding generational differences is important in marketing because it allows brands to develop personalized content that will resonate with each of their target generations and drive customer engagement. Navigating different communication preferences, media consumption habits, and purchasing preferences will allow you to reach the right audience in the right place at the right time. What will make your content stand out to that audience is how you factor in their values by accounting for the societal and cultural contexts that shaped them.
How to Create a Generational Marketing Strategy that Resonates
Most people seek and respond to personalized experiences from brands. Now that we’ve established a baseline understanding of the contexts that shaped each generation and the values that have come out of that, we can move on to tips for curating a tailored generational marketing strategy that resonates, keeping in mind that influencer marketing can be hugely successful for every generation.
Marketing to Boomers
Two key characteristics that shape how Baby Boomers engage with products and brands are: 1) they are the most financially established generation and 2) they grew up before the innovations of modern technology. This is why they are the consumer generation most receptive to traditional marketing tactics and in-person shopping experiences.
Shopping online and on social media requires consumers to actively engage in the product and/or brand discovery phase. Traditional advertising tactics (TV ads, radio, and print ads) are broadcast to consumers (all they have to do is pick up their mail or turn on their TV or radio, as opposed to going on social media and scrolling or searching in hopes of finding what they’re looking for). Traditional advertising tactics are straightforward.
Once a Boomer learns about a product, they will then conduct further research – sometimes by going online and on social media, but usually by pursuing an in-store experience with customer service. While younger generations connect with brands by searching for honest and authentic content about them online, Boomers prefer to connect with brands by engaging with the people who work for those brands.
Bringing Boomers into the Modern Era
With that being said, older generations are present online and on social media. In the US alone, 73% of adults between the ages of 50 to 64 are active on social media in some way.
The best way to engage with Boomers online is to:
- Keep content simple and easy to understand.
- Treat your Boomer-targeted social media strategy as an entry point. Introduce Boomers to your brand or a specific product in a simple way with a focus on quality and convenience.
- Make it known that your brand is easily accessible: easy online shopping and/or accessible in-person locations.
- Product reviews are good. Testimonials that highlight quality customer service are even better.
- Keep content respectful: highlight how your products can help Boomers continue to live a healthy and active life. Boomers don’t want to be made to feel like an older generation, so avoid language and messaging that says so.
Marketing to Generation X
Generation X is busy. At this stage in their lives, they’re working to pay bills, support their family, and making purchasing decisions for their household. They seek pleasure sometimes but prioritize practicality always: clarifying the value of your products is key.
Having grown up during economic recessions, Gen X’ers are cautious with their money. A generational marketing strategy geared toward this demographic is going to highlight a product’s features and benefits to show how it makes life easier and more efficient. Guarantees or warranties show your brand’s commitment to the product and offers the sense of security Gen X’ers have sought since their upbringing. Loyalty programs that offer rewards in the form of discounts, coupons, and free gifts will show your brand’s commitment to Gen X’ers as customers by adding value to the shopping experience itself.
While Gen X’ers did face uncertain economic times, they also grew up during the sexual revolution, women’s liberation movement, and a unique era in pop culture. This is why content that plays on positive nostalgia resonates with them.
So, how can you account for these factors in a targeted generational marketing strategy?
- Email marketing is particularly effective with this generation because they work a lot and are constantly checking their inbox. Sending offers and valuable information to their email provides the same ease Boomers find in sampling print ads in their direct mail.
- To account for Gen X’s skepticism, incorporate honest reviews and testimonials into your content to show what others are saying about your brand instead of relying solely on brand messaging (as this is the new word-of-mouth).
- Leverage nostalgia by referencing, or even imitating, TV shows, movies, music, icons, and slogans from the 80s and 90s.
- Highlight the worth of a product while keeping content simple and straight forward: product demonstration videos that show what a product does and how it seamlessly fits into/improves a routine or lifestyle will capture a Gen X’er’s attention.
- Discounts, coupons, and rewards incentivize Gen X to get the best value for the best cost.
Marketing to Millennials
Word-of-mouth is the only form of traditional marketing that still resonates with Millennials. As the first generation to grow up with modern technology, Millennials turn to the internet for independent research. They’ll collect information from blog posts, honest reviews, and influencer testimonials to develop their opinions about brands and their products.
While Generation X prioritizes great value at low prices, Millennials are more willing to pay extra if a brand aligns with their values and is socially conscious.
Here’s what to keep in mind as you develop a targeted content strategy that speaks to Millennials:
- Share how your brand goes beyond products to make a positive social impact on the world.
- Sales-driven content doesn’t resonate with Millennials. Keep your messaging authentic and focus on providing value through your content.
- Take your authenticity a step further and collaborate with influencers. Have them share their honest opinions about your brand, as Millennials are more likely to trust recommendations from influencers than in-house brand marketing.
- As the entrepreneurial generation, Millennials value innovation. Highlight what sets your products apart and how Millennials can get ahead with your innovative creativity.
Marketing to Generation Z
Generation Z is the most digitally savvy generation. In addition to valuing social consciousness, authenticity, diversity, and personalization, they also value individuality. This means they seek products that align with their identity – not just their values – that help them stand out as among their communities. They also prioritize experiences over material possessions and want access to products and services that can help them live their best life right now.
While Gen Z is an entrepreneurial generation, most of them haven’t entered the work force yet and don’t have disposable income. If you’re marketing to Gen Z, you’ll want to make sure pricing is as accessible as the online shopping experience.
Tips for creating a targeted Generation Z marketing strategy:
- Gen Z values authenticity and transparency, meaning they want more than honest information about products, their uses, and effects. They want to know how products were made, who they were made by, and how your company is going beyond your products to improve the world.
- Social media marketing is essential to targeting younger consumers, especially platforms like TikTok and Instagram, because Gen Z’ers depend heavily on digital content to connect with brands.
- Short-form videos (like TikToks and Instagram Reels) have skyrocketed in popularity. They provide bite-size chunks of information in a visually appealing format. Gen Z’ers also like content that they can engage with: skits that make them laugh, challenges that they can recreate, and content they can shop from directly.
- In addition to creating engaging content, your brand messaging should encourage user-generated content. Gen Z gathers information from social media, but they’re also highly active on social media. Encourage Gen Z’ers to create content using your products and services as an organic way to increase your brand’s presence online.
- Influencer marketing is still a great way to reach Gen Z. Keep in mind that Gen Z sees through blatant ads. The term “ads that aren’t ads” was coined for this generation because they don’t like to be sold to. Partnering with micro influencers is more effective when marketing to Gen Z because micro-influencers tend to have smaller, more dedicated followings that resonate with this generation.
Generational Marketing: Tips and What to Avoid
Hopefully, these tips can help you develop targeted generational marketing strategies that connect with each generation. With the Generational Marketing “Do’s” in mind, here’s what to avoid as you develop your strategies:
Generational stereotypes are generalizations often based on inaccurate information. Oversimplifying a generation’s beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes will lead to ineffective marketing that consumers can’t relate to and might even feel offended by. Below we offer some guidance for stereotypes to avoid and how to market to each generation.
Boomers Stereotype: Baby Boomers are technologically challenged
While Boomers didn’t grow up with technology, they’ve become the most active generation on social media. Social media isn’t the only way to engage with them, but believing they aren’t present – and therefore aren’t valuable to target – on social media would be a missed opportunity.
Generation X Stereotype: Generation X is cynical and apathetic
Similarly, 75% of Generation X is on social media (Facebook and LinkedIn are the best ways to engage with them!). As a family focused generation, Gen X cares about the world they’ll be sending their children into. While they might not be quick to change up their routines and habits, they aren’t apathetic to social change and look for brands that have a positive impact on the world.
Millennials Stereotype: Millennials are entitled and self-absorbed
Millennials are self-made, prevailing during times of economic uncertainty by becoming entrepreneurs. They carved a path where they could prioritize their own values over societal expectations and the demands of traditional careers, which has given them the healthy sense of entitlement to require more from the brands and products they incorporate into their lives.
Generation Z Stereotype: Gen Z’ers are addicted to their phones and have short attention spans
The belief that Gen Z’ers are addicted to their phones is misguided. As of 2021, the Pew Research Center reported that 84% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 are on social media. That’s not far off from the 81% of Americans between the ages of 30-49, with the number of Americans between the ages of 50-64 not that far behind at 73%.
Furthermore, having grown up with technology, devices offer a sense of comfort not familiar to other generations. Gen Z’ers also use their mobile devices for practical purposes like communication, research, and even school assignments – which does not indicate addictive behavior so much as extensive lifestyle integration.
Segmenting Your Audience for Generational Marketing
Generational marketing is essential for brands to connect with their target audiences. Understanding the unique backgrounds, characteristics, and preferences of each generation will allow you to create targeted messaging that truly connects with and converts your audience.
Across the board, brands should be:
- Leveraging social media for all generational marketing
- Emphasizing social responsibility to help consumers connect with your brand on a deeper level
- Personalize customer experiences through smart marketing that speaks directly to segments of your audience
Generation is just one way to segment your audience. Combine your understanding of generational differences with demographic, geographic, and other segmented data about your audience to increase the efficiency and impact of your social media and influencer marketing campaigns.
Work with Sway Group to reach any generation
Sway Group is a leading, full-service influencer marketing agency. We’ve been using our expertise and resources for more than 10 years to help brands develop successful influencer marketing and digital advertising campaigns that speak directly to their target audiences, including those in different generations.
Implementing a successful generational marketing strategy can be challenging. That’s why our team of experts stay updated on social media marketing trends and work closely with you and your assigned influencers to develop campaigns that resonate with each age group, from Gen Z to Baby Boomers.
Don’t let the complexities of generational marketing hold you back from reaching your target audience. Contact Sway Group today to learn more about how we can help you develop successful influencer marketing campaigns that get results.
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