Best Ways to Message Generations, From Baby Boomers to Gen Z
Thanksgiving. What better opportunity to observe the marketing and communicating across generations? Let’s look around the table. Traditional, it is not — at least not in a Norman Rockwell kind of way. Boomer grandparents are on their smartphones or iPads, catching up on Facebook and posting pictures of the family gathered around the table. Their Gen X children are snapping digital photos of the braised Brussels sprouts with bacon and tart cranberries to impress their friends on Facebook, while perusing pre-Black Friday sales online. Their Millennial children are Instagramming the same Brussels sprouts, but with an artsy twist and the hashtag #foodporn. Their Generation Z teenage siblings are sending Snapchat photos, streaming YouTube videos, checking WhatsApp to see when their latest crush was last online, and basically moving between social sites faster than the crescent rolls are disappearing. Any one of those people could be taking selfies (with relatives or Brussels sprouts).
Is the gap between generations as wide as it used to be? It would seem not — at least not on the digital front. The effective use of digital media now spans from “leading-edge” Baby Boomers to the technology-driven lifestyles of Gen Z. However, the difference between generations lies in the extent to which digital – or any other media for that matter – is used and its intent, or the purpose for which it is used.
Let’s talk extent first. Leading-edge Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are transition generations. They both have one foot in the analog world and one in the digital, with Gen Xers definitely leaning more into the digital. These two generations are accustomed to responding to direct mail and TV, as well as digital. An integrated media mix that covers all the bases is needed to satisfy their multimedia needs.
Millennials are up to their chests in digital and Gen Zers are up to their eyeballs in it. Digital budgets go up and other media budgets down for these two cohorts. In the case of Millennials, traditional media like direct mail and TV can work, and TV has been particularly successful. Millennials will multi-task between traditional media and the Internet. However, for Gen Zers, digital is really the only way to reach them.
The intent of a medium, or the purpose it serves for the prospect, varies by generation, and even within certain segments of a generation. For leading-edge Boomers (born from 1946 to 1955), one of the primary uses of the Internet is for information. For many of these Boomers, they were the first in their families to graduate from college. They will often use the Internet as their initial source of information before they contact a company directly. Why? They feel the need to be educated about something before they speak. To them, knowledge is power. What that means to you as a marketer is that both your search program and content had better be up to speed to meet the demands of this generation. They want relevant content that’s an easy click away.
Along with the even more digitally savvy and younger “trailing-edge” Boomers, there are leading-edge Boomers who want to use their smartphones to access information on mobile-ready sites, as well as send and receive emails and texts as optional modes of communication. Texting is often not on the radar of marketers when it comes to this older generation. However, many Boomers are comfortable both receiving and sending texts, having been forced into learning to text by their children and grandchildren. It was either learn to text or never hear from them. Offering texting as an optional way to receive messaging demonstrates that your company truly understands this segment of the mature market.
Facebook managed to push Boomers into using the Internet as a social medium, as well. The result of Boomer use of Facebook is that digital ads on the platform have been wildly successful, even in the over 65 market. Seventy percent of Boomers are active users of Facebook, while their Gen X children follow a close second.
Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) have the distinction of being the last to experience a truly low-tech childhood, while also becoming the first truly high-tech parents. They are the only generation who regularly consume their marketing messages from all of the main media channels, including social media networks and mobile (unlike Boomers) and TV/cable (unlike Gen Y).
Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) and Gen Zers (born between 2001 and 2015) use the Web for entertainment (music and movies), socializing, and gathering information. The Internet has entertained, socialized, informed, organized and educated these generations for most of their lives.
Millennials prefer sharing pictures instead of status updates on their Facebook profiles. As a creative generation, Millennials value brands that allow them to express themselves in unique ways. Millennials do not seek out products that show off their high status (like Gen Xers). Instead, they are driven by experiences and opportunities to create memories to share with friends. They look for the benefits that come from sharing personal information online, contrary to older generations’ automatic distrust of sites that ask for too much personal information.
While Millennials have fully embraced technology, Gen Zers, the first generation born into a digital world, are digital natives. They live online, sharing details of their lives across dozens of platforms, dictating what they like and dislike with a tweet, post or status update. To reach this generation, brands can’t simply "embrace technology" as Millennials have. Marketers must be digitally native, too, creating a seamless and strong overarching brand experience across in-store, digital and mobile mediums.
Focus on Extent and Intent of Media Usage
Although we have made some broad statements about different generations, we recognize that not every person within every generation acts in exactly the same way. There are “Luddite Millennials” and Boomers who don’t use the Internet. When budgets are an issue (and they usually are), the best solution is to take time to review carefully the extent and intent of your individual markets: To what extent do members of a generation use various media, and what are they using it for? Then place your media dollars proportionately and use messaging that resonates with that generation’s purpose for using that particular medium.
Here’s wishing you successful marketing campaigns across generations and a happy Thanksgiving, filled with perfect Facebook family photos, yummy-looking Instagram postings and a great YouTube video of Uncle Harry snoring in front of the TV!
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