Generational Marketing

Marketing and the Generations Speak... Connect Engage Here is the right way!

A version of this article was first published on The Commit Agency Blog

Generational marketing is a must for any business that aims to appeal to multiple segments of the marketplace. When done right, generational marketing allows marketers to speak directly to their target audience in a natural and compelling manner. However, when generational marketing is used incorrectly, it can lead to a massive backlash that puts the company’s future at risk.

When Generational Marketing Goes Wrong

Before we get into the different demographics and how to properly speak to each segment, let’s look at what happens when someone doesn’t respect generations in their marketing.

Recently, the famous jewelry company Tiffany’s was taken over by a 29-year-old marketer who set out to make the Tiffany’s brand more relevant among the younger audience. The idea was to brand the company as “Not Your Mother’s Tiffany” — the implication being that Tiffany’s was no longer the stodgy, overpriced brand that it’s been portrayed to be for decades. Instead, it would be cool, young and sleek.

However, the message didn’t go over well with the actual mothers of young people — the very people that patronized Tiffany’s in their youth and built the brand into what it is today. The social media backlash was swift and palpable, and the young people Tiffany’s had hoped to target took immediate notice. Before long, Tiffany’s was in hot water with all demographics — the exact opposite of what they’d intended.

Had Tiffany’s paid attention, they’d know that Oldsmobile executed a similar campaign in the 1980s, and received a similar backlash. And if any aspiring generational marketers are looking to make the right impression, they’d do well to avoid the examples of Tiffany’s, Oldsmobile and the many others that offended their most valuable customers.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Boomers have been much derided in recent years — the “OK Boomer” trend comes to mind — but boomers still possess the most buying power of any generation. That makes boomers an important audience for any business.

Appealing to Boomers

According to stereotypes, boomers are set in their ways, technologically inept and conservative in every way. The reality is quite different. Boomers routinely use smartphones, email and social media. They may have conservative values in some ways, but that sentiment also holds true in terms of brand loyalty. Boomers might not be craving the next big thing, but they’ve got a lot of time for businesses that make it easy for them to get the products and services they love.

boomers sitting at a table eating

Reaching boomers the right way requires a delicate touch. They’re not going to respond to flash, and they don’t want to feel like they’re being cast aside for younger consumers. What they do respond to, though, is trust and integrity. They want to feel respected by the brands that market to them, and not like they’re simply subject to an ill-fated marketing gimmick.

Most of all, boomers have money to spend, and they aren’t as likely to be motivated by price as other demographics. Boomers haven’t saved their entire lives simply to go for the cheapest option in retirement. Instead, they want products and services that meet their needs, and they want the marketing for those items presented in a straightforward manner that conveys reliability.

Success Story: T-Mobile

Mobile phone carriers have traditionally presented boomers with limited options, such as flip phones with giant buttons and no data. However, T-Mobile managed to figure out what boomers actually wanted — the ability to stay in touch with their friends and families. To help boomers, T-Mobile offered aggressive pricing on smartphones with data plans, allowing purchasers to use modern apps without paying too much for the right to do so. The end result is a group of satisfied customers who will continue to be loyal to T-Mobile, as long as T-Mobile continues to prioritize the boomer demographic.

(born 1981-1996)

No demographic has had more words written about it than millennials. The emergence of millennials in the marketplace came along with endless coverage of the industries millennials “killed” and the changes that millennials demanded. Looking back, the hype seems silly — but that’s in part because of how much marketing has evolved thanks to millennials.

Appealing to Millennials

It took brands some time to perfect their pitch toward millennials, who have gained considerable buying power over the last decade. Today, there is a general template for appealing to millennials — and the tactics in this blueprint are entirely different from what works for boomers.

Group portrait of a creative business team standing outdoors, three quarter length, close up

Similar to boomers, millennials want to feel important to the brands they support. But millennials have different ways of interpreting that value. They don’t want boilerplate marketing — they want advertising that’s written specifically for them. They generally don’t trust ads, and they prefer to get honest reviews from others before purchasing. They want to enjoy the experience of shopping at their favorite stores, both online and in-store. They want to feel like they have a say in the future of their favorite brands.

Perhaps the biggest difference between millennials and boomers, though, is that millennials have demanded that brands have a conscience. Millennials prefer to support brands that give back a portion of their earnings to support causes that are meaningful to the business. More than 80 percent of millennials prefer to support brands that use their resources to promote and fund causes.

Success Story: Netflix

Netflix has become such a ubiquitous brand that it almost seems strange to think about it appealing to one specific segment of the market. But Netflix began its rise to power by cornering the millennial market. Capitalizing on the desire of millennials to shop online from a variety of choices, Netflix pivoted from DVDs by mail to streaming, soaring in popularity as a result. The personalized recommendations provided by Netflix encouraged millennials to rave about their experience to friends and family, who also adopted the service. Before long, Netflix was a household name that virtually everyone has used at some point.

Generation Z
(born 1996-2012)

Also known as Gen Z, Generation Z is the most recent demographic to rise to prominence. Much as we saw with millennials over the last decade, marketers are now scrambling to figure out how to endear themselves to Gen Z. What they’ll find is a group that’s tougher to sway than any other generation.

Appealing to Generation Z

If millennials began the paradigm shift of marketing, Gen Z has sent that revolution into overdrive. That’s because Gen Z has an even greater distrust of the world’s conventions than millennials. Gen Z doesn’t just stop at distrusting traditional advertising. Gen Z also doesn’t trust higher education, authority figures and brand loyalty. For example, Gen Z has completely disrupted the standard cable TV model, instead preferring to only subscribe to the channels and services they actually use. This line of thinking has caught on with other generations and has changed how providers distribute and charge for their content.

Teenager influencers trying food at vegan cafe

What does Gen Z value, then? Like millennials, Gen Z appreciates brands that give back to causes. Gen Z supports social justice and advocates for the eradication of discrimination, and they’ll gladly patronize brands that help to turn these goals into reality. Gen Z also prefers a personalized approach to marketing, complete with customer service that actually responds to consumers. Lastly, Gen Z prioritizes mental health and actively fights the stereotypes that have existed about mental health conversations for far too long.

One thing to avoid when marketing to Gen Z is pandering. Gen Z will not respond well to a meme from six months ago, nor will they appreciate when brands try to use modern lingo to entice them. Any heavy-handed use of the traits appreciated by Gen Z will also turn off this demographic. To really reach Gen Z, brands must effortlessly be all the things that Gen Z appreciates. You should know if your brand is truly capable of reaching this group; if you’re not, you’ve got work to do.

Success Story: NBA

The National Basketball Association has had an enviable brand for generations. However, its work with Gen Z has been remarkable. The NBA has put its stars front and center, allowing younger fans to get to know their favorite players through social media. The league has listened to both players and fans in order to present a more entertaining product. Perhaps most importantly, the NBA’s efforts in fighting for social justice eclipses that of any other major American sports league. As a result of these efforts, the NBA has proven to be more popular among Gen Z sports fans than the NFL, the gold standard in sports popularity.

Generational marketing requires a thorough understanding of the demographic in question, and it also necessitates real dedication toward speaking the language of that segment. However, the benefits can be significant. If you’re able to present your business in a manner that conveys authenticity and integrity, you can appeal to the generation of your choice. To learn more about utilizing generational marketing, contact us today.

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