A good friend once said, “Marketing to Millennials looks like marketing to everyone else.” Marketing to distinct generations is not as tricky as one may have you believe. And if you look closely, you will start to see there are many similarities in how generations are receiving messages and parallels in the way we can reach them.
Long, long ago, in the analog age when I started in this industry, companies lumped everyone in an age group together and painted with a broad brush creative-wise for advertising. But now, in this digital age, marketers must learn to be more specific to hit the sweet spot of consumer tastes. Moreover, as we note the changing faces of the post-pandemic customer base, we see new, younger customers walk through our doors.
But appealing to the different generations at the same time is not zero-sum. To bolster your brand appeal to various age groups, you need to craft more comprehensive and flexible marketing approaches (that support your business strategy), acknowledging the differences between the generations. But we can also leverage the similarities, like how they consume information, the media channels used, and the relationship with brands and organizations.
No matter where a customer fits in the generations, they want candid communications from the brands they trust. Each successive generation becomes more advertising and marketing savvy than the one before. So now, most people are less than impressed by ads (sigh) — particularly those that appear to over-promise — and appreciate brands that take a more realistic and authentic approach to brand messaging.
For example, Millennials crave authenticity from brands. But how different is authenticity really from “playing it straight,” which has been the Baby Boomer cry?
The Stats on the Similarities
A recent Pew Research report spotlights the impact Millennials have had on their parents and sometimes grandparents. It would be no surprise to know that a little over nine in ten Millennials own smartphones compared with 90% of Gen Xers and 68% of Baby Boomers. But would you be surprised that 40% of the Silent Generation (those 76 years plus) are smartphone users?
Nearly 100% of Millennials are internet users (again, no shock there), and 19% ONLY use their smartphones to access the internet. In addition, 91% of Gen Xers are also internet users. A whopping 85% of Baby Boomers are internet users, and a surprisingly high percentage of usage among the Silent Generation at 62% (up from 40% in 2016).
As you can see, there are a significant number of Baby Boomers online – an easy fact to forget when you’re faced with a deluge of articles on marketing to Millennials. Yes, Millennials blazed the trail to the Internet of Things for everyone, but Boomers are not getting left behind. If you think about it, Boomers were the first to use technology, many of them using systems like DOS and Unix long before the now ordinary computer even had a graphic interface. This generation is still shaping the future of technology in a variety of ways. Tim Cook – born 1960. Bill Gates – born 1955. Jeff Bezos – born 1964. Jack Ma – born 1964. Reed Hastings – born 1960.
But Are Baby Boomers Tech-Savvy Enough?
We can no longer assume Baby Boomers are not tech-savvy. Boomer Laura Lee Carter says in her Huffington Post article, “From the invention of transistors to the development of the World Wide Web, we have gone from a few hours per day of black-and-white television when we were young, to email and cell phones in the 1990s, to today’s total-immersion, 24/7 world news and infotainment cycle, with flashing ads everywhere we turn.” If that’s not a tech-savvy generation, I don’t know what is.
How large are these populations? According to Pew Research, in the U.S., Millennials (ages 18-34) surpassed Baby Boomers in 2015 as the largest living generation. Recent Statista research indicates there are 72.26 million Millennials followed closely behind by 70.68 Baby Boomers. It’s interesting to note that when I originally published this post, both numbers were reported higher by another source.
Baby Boomers are still a large generation. Together with Millennials, they make up over half of the population of the United States!
Social Media for One is Social Media for Everyone
Millennials and Baby Boomers both use the internet almost equally often now. The current thought is of Millennials bringing (maybe “dragging) Baby Boomers to different parts of the internet. Eighty-six percent of Millennials use some form of social media. Although that percentage drops off sharply after Generation X at 76%, with only 59% of Boomers actively using social media, Gen Xers, Boomers, and Silents’ shares have all increased by double digits in recent years.
It’s a social media world. So, knowing how to win over one generation on social media equals the key to connecting with the other. The difference only comes in the direction you choose to market in – starting with Millennials or with Baby Boomers as your target.
But what about the “forgotten generation” or Gen X? According to Hootsuite, like Millennials, Generation X like Facebook, but they are showing more attention to Instagram (females and Twitter (males). It is no surprise that Twitter has become a sports bettors’ go-to for tips and insights.
Despite this, Generation X is overrepresented in the online shopper population. Business Insider predicts Gen Xers present a massive opportunity for retailers, with the generation representing 23% of online shoppers while only being 18 percent of the U.S. population. In other words, the social commerce widget built from Millennial-produced content will win Generation X’s dollars too.
There’s another social network that Generation X loves, and that’s Pinterest. Hootsuite ranks it as the 14th largest social network IN THE WORLD. Sure it ranks below the likes of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat but consider that the platform gained more than 100 million monthly active users in 2020 alone. The largest demographic could represent a Gen X goldmine for marketers.
How many of you spend 30 minutes or more a day scrolling through TikTok? Still the land of the dancing teenager (representing 25% of users), TikTok is growing its older user base. With 75% at or near the gambling age, casino marketers cannot ignore this channel for communications.
Smartphones and Other Mobile Devices
As these statistics start to blend, you have to realize that channels are not the most significant differentiator when reaching or distinguishing your audience.
It’s no secret. People in all generations crave their phones. The differences are more about what they do with them. Some check email, spend time on social media, text message, comparison shop, make purchases or donations. Guess which generation makes actual phone calls! Mobile-friendly campaigns used to be a nice marketing idea. Now it’s a must.
Mobile marketing is a significant component in any current comprehensive marketing strategy. Today’s audiences are looking for and at you on their smaller screens, especially Millennials and Gen Xers, but even those super tech-savvy Baby Boomers. So, optimizing your website for portable devices and all screen sizes is crucial to stay relevant. And if you don’t keep up, you’ll lag behind, quickly losing online visitors.
Differences in Appeal
Generation Y is very conscious of brand image. For companies marketing their products, this simultaneously presents an opportunity and a risk, all at the same time. There are a few things to keep in mind here.
Millennial Marketing Magic
Peer opinions are of significant importance to Millennials, and this is primarily shaped by feedback on social media. All you have is your marketing message without this, and Generation Y doesn’t readily trust a marketer’s sales pitch. They value trust. We advise you to use all technological tools you have to establish relationships built on trust.
Keep doing frequent updates providing relevant information about your products and services. Millennials have come to expect instantaneous information about the things that interest them.
Communication and advertising towards Millennials might include product attributes and social causes that those products support. These elements will help convey personal identity validation.
Millennials particularly like specific marketing methods, but these methods also work with other generations. What’s more likely is that the preferred methods of different generations (especially Baby Boomers) may not work on Millenials. What do Millenials respond to?
Informative inbound marketing methods
Customer-first approaches and organic connections
Intentional marketing, not gimmicky fads
Convenience and practicality
Fun and the experiences
Other generations respond to marketing using these approaches. I mean, who wouldn’t? And besides, Millennials have now become the most lucrative market, even though they are only now beginning to peak in their buying power and market influence. Generation Y is undoubtedly a priority.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of Millennial marketing was discovered in research by Daymon Worldwide. Only 29% of Millennials regularly buy the same brand. Sure, that’s a lower brand loyalty score compared to the previous generations. But they do have loyalty. So, brands that go the extra mile can attract and even keep those Millennial customers. But marketers need to constantly innovate to keep Millenials onboard.
The Gen Xer Generation
Some time ago, Gen Xers were thought of as “slackers” by most advertisers. Now poised to overtake the Boomer generation’s spending power, marketers would do well to “unforget” this generation.
Your social media marketing is probably perfect for Millennials, and your traditional media and direct mail work great for the Baby Boomers. But, what about the “tween generation,” the Gen Xers?
Usually an afterthought, the (still) significant segment might control the largest piece of spending power. According to American Express, Gen X has more spending power than any other generation, with 29% of estimated net worth dollars and 31% of total income dollars. This presents a goldmine for marketers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Gen X outspends all those other generations on housing, clothes, eating out, and entertainment.
And you might find your Gen-Xers are a bit of a mix. Those born early in the generation have some characteristics of Baby Boomers, and the younger members have Millennial-type buying habits. Financially stable, the oldest Gen Xers are now in their mid-50s and the youngest at or near 41, so they are in their peak earning years. Connecting with them means showing you can be trusted, offering a reliable gaming experience.
Sure, they’re worried about crime, climate change, and health, but they still possess an overall optimistic outlook about their future. Messages that enhance that future are essential.
They are saving for the future, but they’re also enjoying life. According to American Express, “About two-thirds of upscale Gen Xers and half of mass-market Gen Xers plan to travel for pleasure in the next 12 months. Half of upscale Gen Xers and about one-third of mass-market Gen Xers plan to buy luxury products. Last but not least, fine wines and premium beers are popular purchases.“
Then, There are the Boomers
Boomers are very conscious of themselves. This can present a marketer with common traps they should avoid.
There is a difference between “aging” and “aged.” Don’t call a Boomer “old.” Not only do they not see themselves that way, but they also certainly don’t act that way. Likewise, the words “senior” and “elderly” can make a Boomer think you’re not talking to them, and then they ignore your message. Perhaps it is time to rebrand our “senior” programs.
Boomers feel entitled to live a “good life.” They are attracted to products and experiences that do that or can help them do that.
Keeping the brand promise builds trust with your brand. Say what you’re going to do, and then do it every single time.
From Captain Kangaroo selling Schwinn bikes directly to his show’s audience through the 1960s and being handed credit cards in their 20’s, no other generation seems bred to consume as this one — and to buy.
Marketing to the Different Generations at the Same Time
It may seem challenging to appeal equally to all the generations using the same marketing campaigns as a marketer. With such vast differences between generations, the focus may get fuzzy when you plan your strategy. Baby boomers are still in their prime spending phase, while millennials are numb to direct marketing tactics they have been peripherally exposed to their entire lives. So how do you create campaigns that appeal to and interest people of all ages?
Remember the commercials that had you reaching for a tissue? Or laughing out loud as you watch again and again? Those marketing campaigns indeed elicited an emotion. Everyone loves to win, so emotions are a big part of our marketing.
Every generation connects with the emotion of winning. People love that quick escape from reality! So, forge ahead and build some gooey feelings to make your customers imagine themselves as winners, and they will be more interested.
When asked about the emotions they feel when thinking about their favorite brands in a study conducted by Oracle, almost half of the respondents said “happy.” The second strongest feeling, “excited,” is the same for Millennials and Gen X. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation both want to be “understood.” Delve into those emotions, especially in combination, to appeal to all the generations simultaneously. What an exciting day when we feel happy and understood!!!
Create the Experience
Often marketers use free trials to break down the barriers to create the initial experience for players. A great guest experience must be different from all others to stand out from the competition. Getting people involved is not enough. Differentiate yourself, or you will get lost in the herd.
Millennials are most known for being all about “the experience,” but other generations do respond positively, too. Competing on experience or value means not competing on price. Every generation considers value, or quality, to be worth something. The aim is to make your experience worth enough.
The generations are not alike, and treating them (all) the same does not set marketers up for successful campaigns. That said, they are not as different as many suggest. Multi-generational marketing by appealing to more than one generation’s unique needs and behaviors allows companies more flexibility. Not everyone in any given generation has identical buying patterns, but there are significant similarities. Each generation’s life experiences, including the marketing efforts they were exposed to, create specific behaviors. Emotion and humor, of course, are the threads that run through all multi-generational marketing efforts.
When marketers factor in the characteristics of individual generations, it may be easier to build customer relationships and gain trust. Creating ageless multi-generational brands is currently a popular marketing trend. This trend is bound to continue for at least the next 25 years. So, you may as well get on board!
For effective marketing over several generations, marketers need to discover the threads that tie generations together. Otherwise, marketers will find themselves twisting into pretzels as they try to be all things to all generations while being nothing to anyone and wasting precious marketing dollars in the process.
As marketers, we need to understand who our most likely target audiences are, but as good marketers, we cannot assume that these generations are as unique as many would have us think. With this knowledge, you now know how to reach out better to your audience.