How to market to different generations: a step-by-step guide

Marketing across the generations

Are your customers Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials or Generation Zs? Most likely, they are a mix of at least two of these generations, but how well do you know the differences between them? Learning as much as you can about each group will help you to develop and fine-tune your marketing strategy so that your messaging resonates more soundly with its intended audience.

First steps to marketing to different generations

The reality of 21st century marketing is that the one-size-fits-all campaigns of old don’t work! If you want to develop a marketing strategy that truly engages your target audiences it’s essential to understand the differences between the generations and deploy tactics specifically designed to engage each of them. These days audiences increasingly expect personalised and tailored content and your strategy should reflect that. So, as you develop your plans, it’s worth taking note of these general points:

  • Segmentation by life stage and other factors is important to make sure you get the right message to the right audience at the right time.
  • Use audience insights to connect with your target audience.
  • For most businesses, target audiences are spread across several generations.
  • Never assume that tactics that work for one demographic will work for another: reaching and engaging each generation requires different marketing communication efforts.
  • Learn to adapt your marketing messages to each generation in a way that resonates with them.
  • Each generation has grown up with different technological advancements in different social and political environments.

The four main generations

  • Baby Boomers: age 55-73
    Mainly retired, Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X: age 39-54
    Mature, working, born early to mid-1960s to early 1980s
  • Millennials: age 24-38
    Young, working, born early 1980s to mid-1990s
  • Generation Z: age 9-23
    Teenagers, born approximately between 1995 and 2010

Marketing to Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964

Still, just, the largest generation, Baby Boomers will soon be eclipsed by Millennials in the overall population, but they remain a critical segment of consumers.

Baby Boomers: characteristics

  • Baby Boomers appreciate both traditional and 21st century marketing: they’re retired or are preparing to retire and have accumulated savings so they have money to spend.
  • They are generally comfortable using text messaging and other basic apps on their smartphones, but they spend considerably more time on computers than on mobile devices.
  • Social media for Boomers is, well, social – they enjoy using it for catching up with their grandchildren and friends, but they are not likely to respond well to a hard sell from an online ad.
  • They are very loyal, especially to brands they have known and used all their lives.

Best channels

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 three most effective channels are:

  • Email marketing: a huge 95% of Boomers will opt for email over instant messenger.
  • Search: PPC, SEO and content (inbound) marketing. Search dramatically outperforms viewing online videos and social media in getting Boomers to take action, including making a purchase.
  • Television.

Key marketing techniques

The biggest pet-peeve of the Boomer generation is feeling ignored or overlooked by Millennial-focused marketing. They like:

  • Face-to-face communication and phone numbers with real people who answer!
  • Well-written content without slang or hashtags.
  • Products that look expensive, but have bargain prices, that appeal to their younger years and that provide a way to improve their lifestyle.
  • Simple uses of technology.

Marketing to Generation X, born between 1965 and 1976

Known as rebels in their youth, Gen Xers are now middle-aged, with the oldest in their 50s, and the youngest in their 40s.

Generation X: characteristics

  • Generation X is the work hard play hard generation; they’re determined to try new things and stave off old age for as long as possible.
  • But they are time poor. The majority are busy professionals with families so they don’t have time to explore the digital world in the same way as younger generations.
  • However, they have fully embraced digital media and are almost as present on social as Millennials.
  • Older Gen Xers have some traits similar to Baby Boomers, but the younger ones behave more like Millennials.
  • More than any other generation, Generation X likes to research while shopping online. They read more reviews and visit more opinion sites than any other generation and around half are motivated to make a purchase by coupons or discounts.
  • As a generation they wield great spending power.

Best channels

  • Facebook is way ahead of the pack as their social hub, but like Baby Boomers they are most likely to use it for news and keeping in touch with their friends.
  • Email marketing is key: Xers are influenced more by the ease of doing business than by personalised brand interactions.
  • They now prefer mobile across every stage of their online purchase journey.
  • Broadcast TV is still their biggest source of entertainment although they have also embraced all things digital, especially online TV and streaming services.
  • They are the first generation to spend more daily time reading digital press than print.

Key marketing techniques

  • Generation X is brand loyal so make sure to build brand trust. Loyalty schemes can work really well for this generation so consider offering loyalty points. This should lead to them advocating your brand in return.
  • Show them the practical uses and value of your product in an authentic way.
  • Use visually engaging and vibrant video content.
  • Make the sure the path to purchase is easy, for example by providing straight forward click through links to your website.

Marketing to Millennials, born between 1977-1995

The generation born within the 20 years leading up to Y2K is Generation Y. They are more commonly known as Millennials.

Millennials: characteristics

  • Soon to become the largest demographic age group overall, Millennials are already the largest generational workforce in the UK. The Millennial generation is generally well-educated, very tech-savvy and quick to adopt new technologies.
  • Idealistic and socially conscious, Millennials want to make a difference in the world and tend to be green consumers that seek to make ethical buying choices.
  • They are notoriously distrustful of commercial advertising. They seek honesty, integrity and respect; they reward authenticity and love to have their feedback heard.
  • Millennials don’t want to be marketed ‘to’ or ‘at’!
  • They do, however, want an opportunity to experience and be entertained by your brand: they respond well to brand advocates and influencers.
  • They are influenced by their peers.
  • They undertake a significant amount of research and comparison before purchase and their buying decisions are heavily influenced by loyalty offers.

Best channels

  • Facebook is their favoured social network, but Instagram is also a key channel.
  • Millennials rarely watch ‘television’: they find Netflix and online offerings much more appealing.
  • Millennial shoppers LOVE Amazon – Amazon Prime in particular!
  • Social media is where Millennials spend most of their time online.
  • Marketers targeting Millennials need to recognise the value of mobile channels.

Key marketing techniques

  • Nurture affiliations with non-profit organisations and other charities and consider donating to good causes—ideally ones linked to your brand.
  • Millennials want to be part of the creation process so encourage user-generated content. Get them talking about your brand and/or products to generate an organic, largely self-sustaining buzz.
  • Positive reviews are essential.
  • Paid ads and promotions on social media can be very effective.
  • Be honest and direct: never shortcut or try to mislead millennial prospects.
  • Personalisation matters to Millennials: treat them like real people and where possible tailor your ads, mailshots and promotions for individual consumption.
  • Focus on providing added value.
  • Allow Millennials to experience your brand rather than simply trying to sell them your products.
  • Create content that is informational and actionable.
  • Limit email marketing: they don’t check their email as often as Gen Xers.
  • Millennials crave convenience in any new product offerings – think Uber!

Marketing to Millennials: in summary

If you can get an influencer on side, generate a social buzz, garner a strong portfolio of positive reviews and commentary about your goods or services and receive positive publicity for your brand’s ethics and eco-credentials, Millennial heads will turn your way!

Ralph Lauren recently used Instagram Stories to amplify its 50th anniversary celebrations which helped lift sales by 18% amongst Millennials.

Marketing to Generation Z, born between 1996 -2010

While some older people may think of anyone younger than Generation X as Millennials, there is actually a younger generation.

Generation Z: characteristics

  • Generation Z has an attention span of eight seconds or less and they bounce between at least five screens – smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, watch, game consoles and TV.
  • Friends and family influence them the most.
  • Brand loyalty isn’t that important; they care more about quality than loyalty.
  • Meaningful interaction is key.
  • Good or bad, they’ll probably be sharing their opinion on social media.
  • They’re acutely aware of environmental, political, and socio-economic problems and so, like Millennials, Generation Z is keen to support brands that are ethical, caring and striving to do the right thing.
  • They don’t value formal education as much as other generations do.
  • Authenticity is king: keep things brief, relevant and authentic.
  • Many Generation Z consumers participate in activities that may not previously have been the norm for their gender.
  • Generation Z YouTube subscribers relate to YouTube creators more than traditional celebrities.

Best channels

  • Netflix is their go-to network.
  • Ensure you develop a YouTube element in your Gen Z content marketing strategy and bump up your presence on Snapchat.
  • Snapchat’s location-based features like Snap Map or Apple’s Find My Friends truly engage Generation Z.
  • Use short formats like YouTube bumper ads (restricted to six seconds) for video advertising.
  • Instagram stories also work well for Generation Z

Key marketing techniques

  • Make your products and places ‘Instagrammable’.
  • Optimise your mobile experience.
  • Market and communicate to Gen Z in their language: 🤣🙏💋
  • Video based content designed to empower and motivate is best.
  • Content should be kept short, positive and visually pleasing.
  • Reach out to micro-influencers in your niche – they hold more sway than celebrities over Generation Z.
  • Take them behind-the-scenes and show them how your business works.
  • Host competitions, games, and events, and ask for ideas and feedback on product/brand designs.
  • Generation Z consumers were raised in a world of personalisation so it is vital to personalise shopping experiences and relate to them on a human level.

Marketing to Generation Z: in summary

Generation Z sees the world differently and their view influences their purchasing decisions. They expect marketers to provide them with highly personalised experiences to meet their individual needs, so to grab and keep their attention for at least eight seconds you will need to:

  • Use a mobile-optimized website theme, simplify your checkout process and create content with mobile devices in mind.
  • Make sure your content (organic and paid) naturally and authentically integrates into their feeds.
  • Be aware of their growing dislike of blatant advertising.
  • Generation Z is the first generation never to have known an analogue world. They are immersed in digital multimedia.

Taking account of the different generations in your marketing strategy will help you to achieve your business goals

Every generation has unique expectations, experiences, generational history, lifestyles, values, and demographics that influence their buying behaviours. Being sensitive to these will help you to become more conscious of and responsive to your customers’ needs and behaviours. Getting the mix right and adjusting your strategies to factor in the different characteristics and behaviours of the generations will make it easier to build relationships, gain trust, and close business.

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