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Spanning the Ages: How to Crack Generational Marketing

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In marketing, but also in life, we constantly face two contrasting dynamics. On the one hand, the relentless march of technological advancement - more information, to more people, faster, to an ever greater degree of personalisation. On the other hand, the irreversible passage of time and the sobering notion that we’re simply always getting older; that being left behind from a tech point of view is a very real risk that comes with a raft of day-to-day disadvantages.

Despite this, there lies a compelling reason for brands and businesses to actively embrace the process, both for the present time and future prospects. Understanding your audiences’ generational preferences and habits is a sure fire way to hone in on the best methods and modes of communication for them, in turn generating higher levels of long term trust, engagement and loyalty.

It’s important to adapt your marketing techniques in order to remain relevant and contemporary to your key age demographic

Whether its a teenager bumping into people while walking along a busy street with their gaze firmly fixed on their phone, a young professional catching up on personal emails at night or a pensioner talking the time to sit and read the newspaper cover-to-cover in a cafe, each age group interacts with branded communications in a unique way. As a result of this, it’s imperative to keep abreast of where you need to feature, with who, and to what effect.

Baby boomers: embracing the old and the new

It’s easy to assume that all people born in the post-war era need constant help with technology from the younger, savvier members of the family and that they are far more likely to engage with a piece of direct mail marketing or a printed ad than a ‘newfangled’ Facebook post. After all, they grew up in the era in which TV became king, so a familiarity with more classic forms of advertising should be expected, right?

Appearances can be deceiving: not only is this generation, born roughly between 1946 and 1964, one of the most forthcoming of consumer sectors thanks to their generous disposable income, they are also far more au fait with the internet that you might think.

Spending 27 hours per week online - two hours more than 16-34 year-olds - a full 92% of baby boomers actually prefer to shop online rather than make purchases in-store. Further to this, 50% of people aged 50 to 64 are indeed active on social media and receptive to in-platform marketing through retargeting and paid ads.

The baby boomer generation was able to find stable, well paid employment with relative ease and now enjoys a comfortable retirement, but still seeks quality, reliability and value. An important stage of their buying process is to find out as much about a product and service as they possibly can before completing a purchase. Despite the fact that they can be successfully targeted online, they are likely to want to dig deeper and will visit additional sources of information across the wider internet for reassurance, so make sure you are providing thorough background information at all times.

Generation X: active and able

Typically home-owners, parents and hitting high points in their careers, this group is made up of those born between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, growing up in a time when access to cheap, fast computing became more ever more commonplace.

Research shows that email marketing is still the best way to communicate with Gen-X-ers; after all, being currently in their 40s and early 50s, many will spend significant spells of time at their desks with constant access to their inbox. A well-honed email marketing campaign can be a cost-effective way of successfully targeting this demographic when promoting your products or services

Unlike the young whippersnappers of today, Generation X tend not to engage with certain social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. That said, more than four-fifths of this generation are active on Facebook and Twitter, and often for greater durations and across more devices than the supposedly digitally-native Millennials, so single these channels out as the principle platforms on which to base your marketing campaigns and make the most of the exposure you could gain.

In addition, the demographic is likely to engage with high quality blog content on a website, so using boosted Facebook or Twitter posts to drive traffic to engaging and insightful articles would be a great strategy for creating leads and conversions.

Gen X spends almost two hours per day on their mobile phones, so for any e-commerce or digitally native brand, it’s paramount to provide a mobile-friendly website and avoid delivering a frustrating or negative website experience if this group is in your sights.

Millennials: in search of the real deal

Perhaps the generation stereotyped more than anyone else, Millennials have become somewhat notorious in terms of marketing strategy. Born between 1981 and 1996, they reached their young adulthood around the turn of the century and are frequently seen as trend-setters over recent years.

Despite having grown up in a decidedly simpler time of VHS video and landline telephones, they experienced the digital revolution first hand as youths. As a result, they have an innate understanding of the techniques and tricks used to market to them and tend to reject both the already tired click-baiting approach of many e-commerce outfits and the more traditional advertising techniques that were so well received by their baby boomer parents.

In light of this, much more thought and consideration has to go into any marketing strategy that intends on creating millennial customers. Coming of age in and around the 2008 economic downturn means that they have rarely enjoyed the same stability and opportunity of employment as their parents: as a by-product, authenticity and transparency are paramount to conversion. By using a balanced combination of content, email and social media to generate word-of-mouth advocates and a referral buzz, you’ll allow other people to do the selling on your behalf.

Millennials also enjoy video content and personalised ads, preferably shared via social media platforms as a sponsored post, so strive to combine this into your strategy to make sure you’re getting your millennial marketing recipe just right.

Generation Z: looking to their peers

Gen Z-ers are often confused with millennials but this group is actually the youngest generation. Born from the late 90s onwards, they have only ever known a digital world, so your tools for how and when to approach them are quite strongly defined — which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Similar to millennials, this generation has grown up around technology but without the memory of life before a mobile phone, social media or video streaming. When their Generation X parents start to lecture them on how ‘they never had Instagram back in their day,’ the kids simply roll their eyes and continue casually scrolling down a bottomless photo feed of latte art, holiday scenes and influencer snaps.

Understanding your audiences’ generational preferences will lead to higher levels of long term trust, engagement and loyalty

Quite simply, everything must be mobile responsive if you want to lure Gen Z in and the tone and content of your social media output must be short, sharp and relatable. According to Generate UK, 70% of this group would rather stream content than watch television, with more than one in four regularly posting their own content to YouTube. As with millennials, it’s key to utilise video with this audience, albeit to an even greater degree.

When it comes to marketing, Generation Z have inherent trust issues that make the cautious approach of Millennials look positively adventurous. But, get the approach right and you will be rewarded with passionate advocacy and fierce loyalty. Nothing but absolute honesty and authenticity will suffice, which is why influencer marketing is such an effective strategy for engagement and trust building. Ultimately, if you want Generation Z to look favourably on your product, it’s critical to present them with a real person, having real experiences and giving real opinions.

This demographic was also the first to properly engage with the Snapchat app, making it ideal for grabbing the attention of a younger audience by making use of some clever ways to advertise natively. Don’t make the mistake of using the same marketing strategy as you would use for a millennial audience; this group is a world apart in several ways and should be considered as a separate audience altogether. 

Making the most of each generation

Generational marketing is vital when you’re trying to grow your brand and attempting to send mass marketing messages poses several risks:

  1. It looks lazy to potential customers - you’re not bothered about finding out who your audience actually is and opt for a catch-all solution. Instead, try to make your messaging as focussed and relatable as possible to those that matter.
  2. You’ll waste valuable budget trying to attract audiences who would only in the rarest of cases actually become your customers. Alternatively, put your money behind activity which offers you the best chance of returns - both transactionally and in terms of brand awareness/reputation.
  3. Your messaging won’t resonate in the right way, and any core aspects of your culture, ethics or principles will fall on deaf ears. Look to give your brand the best possible chance of aligning with the right people and creating a long-lasting affinity conducive to lifetime value.

A final, crucial point to appreciate is that times are always changing and as each generation goes through the various stages of life, it’s important to adapt your marketing techniques and keep up to date with what is important to each one, in order to remain relevant and contemporary to your key audience.

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