Does Generational Marketing Matter in B2B?
Today, the marketing trade press is obsessed with generational marketing: marketing to specific generations.
The most ignored generation is probably traditionalists, also known as matures: those born between 1922 and 1945. That’s probably because even the youngest matures are over 70, and many of the older ones are either dying out or on a limited fixed income. Exceptions? Of course.
Baby Boomers — those of us born between 1946 and 1964 — have faded a bit from the limelight, though in certain fields — financial planning, investment advisors, money managers, reverse mortgages, dietary supplements, health insurance, and healthcare — we are still a prime target.
Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, tends to get short shrift because, of all the generations younger than matures, they are the smallest.
The attention goes to Generation Y, more commonly referred to as Millennials. There are more than twice as many Millennials, born from 1981 to 2000, as there are Gen Xers.
The youngest group is Generation Z, born after 2000. Because they are all toddlers, tweens or teens as of today, many of their purchase decisions are dictated in some form by their parents, either a “yes” or “no,” or by controlling their cash flow through allowance. Yes, many have after-school and summer jobs and therefore some limited discretionary income.
Then and Now
Consumer marketing has long targeted buyers based on age and generation. But B2B is different — or more accurately, it was different. But that’s changing rapidly.
When I entered the corporate world working in B2B marketing for a Fortune 500 company in the late 1970s, we did not target our marketing by buyer age or generation.
Instead, we targeted it by a number of different factors. These included:
- Industry (using Standard Industrial Codes).
- Size of company (number of employees, gross revenues).
- Job title, function and education of prospects.
For instance, in my second job out of college, also for a giant corporation, we sold process equipment to chemical plants. The company targeted senior executives, plant managers, process engineers and purchasing agents, without knowing or caring how old they were.
There were two reasons why, back in the day, B2B marketers targeted prospects by the bulleted items listed above and not generation.
First, all the media was targeted by B2B demographics and firmographics, especially the trade magazines and mailing lists, which were our two primary marketing channels.
For instance, we often rented the subscriber list of Chemical Engineering magazine, a controlled circulation trade journal which you could subscribe to for free by completing a qualification card or “qual card.”
The list was segmented based on how subscribers answered questions on the qual card. For instance, if you sold pumps, you could select the names of subscribers who checked off on the qual card that they recommended, specified or purchased pumps.
But none of the trade magazines in which we advertised asked your age on the qual card. Therefore, age or generation was not a selection available on the mailing list data card. Job title? Yes. Generation? No.
The second reason why generational marketing played no role in B2B is that we simply never thought that way. What mattered was who you were in the company, what you did and what you bought. Not how old you were.
The B2B Millennial
Today, however, the B2B marketing press is obsessed with the buying habits of one generation in particular: Millennials. Why?
Again, two reasons. The first is that Millennials are the largest group of B2B customers: In 2014, Google reported that 46 percent of potential buyers researching B2B products were Millennials, up from 27 percent in 2012. Today, 73 percent of Millennials are involved in B2B purchase decisions for their companies, and 34 percent are the sole decision maker for these purchases.
Second, with so much marketing migrating from offline to online channels, marketers perceive, rightly or wrongly, that Millennials are more receptive to digital marketing than older buyers.
There is plenty of evidence, however, to the contrary. For instance, an article in the Washington Post reports that according to a 2014 survey, 87 percent of college textbooks purchased were print editions vs. only 9 percent for e-books and 4 percent for reading online at shared sites (ow.ly/yUmp30f4N6Q).
Mind the Gap
We have been talking about the “generation gap” since I was a wee lad (I will soon turn 60), and the proliferation of both technology and marketing channels has, if anything, widened this chasm. Example:
Despite my nearly four decades of experience in B2B marketing, I doubt I would get hired for any corporate marketing job today — again, for two reasons.
First, in both marketing and IT, there is rampant age discrimination. I have many friends in both fields who, though eminently qualified, were downsized in their late 50s and, now in their early 60s, remain unable to find a new position.
Second, there are so many new marketing channels, and I didn’t grow up with most of them. So I am never going to be as comfortable with or conversant in social media marketing as most 20-year-olds. And as far as everything going mobile today, I am old-school: I still talk primarily on a landline and work on a desktop Dell PC.
So, how do we B2B marketers sell to the huge group of Millennials in charge of B2B buying decisions? In her book “Generation Gaps,” Deanne DeMarco notes — for what it is worth — that Millennials:
- Believe relationships are more important than organization.
- Want to have a say in how work gets done.
- Desire open, authentic, constant and real-time information — which, as I see it, accounts for the boom in content marketing today.
One more point: A lot of Millennials I know scoff at email, preferring to text. But Millennials in marketing should keep this in mind: A 2016 survey by the Data and Marketing Association showed that email has a median ROI of 122 percent, which is four times higher than both paid search and social media.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.