Marketing across generations: rules of engagement

By Deidra Colvin

Companies today face a unique challenge: engaging and marketing to their customers across more generations than ever before. This is because older generations are living and working longer and younger generations have more spending power at an earlier age. In fact, Americans 50 years and older were responsible for $7.6 trillion in economic activity in 2015. And Gen Z (those born after 1997) already reportedly commands $44 billion in purchasing power, according to an Ernst & Young report. As a result, companies must focus their marketing efforts across at least four generations at any given time (Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and the up-and-comers, Gen Z).

The opportunity for organizations to expand their customer base and grow their share of wallet is now. To capitalize on this opportunity, you must recognize and understand the different traits and communication preferences of each generation. It is important to consider how various age groups prefer to receive and act upon marketing messages to most effectively engage with your target audience.

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are an affluent group that prefers to speak with a real person and, in general, is most receptive to phone calls. Likewise, Boomers are receptive to direct marketing tactics and prefer a straightforward approach to communication. That said, this generation has become familiar with new technologies and online forms of communication, which means that methods like email and website copy do have a place when marketing to Baby Boomers. Still, businesses should keep their messaging as clear and informative as possible and address potential questions prospects might have at the outset to avoid causing frustration due to lack of clear communication from the beginning.

Generation X, individuals born between 1965 and 1980, is also an affluent audience, as this segment is in the peak of their earning careers. Working professionals are constantly plugged into their email accounts so email is an excellent method for engaging Gen Xers. When creating email content, maintaining a consistent, yet personalized style is key and the goal should be to entertain as well as inform your audience. Also, keep the formatting simple and send emails from a person rather than a general informational email address. These tips can boost open rates and engagement.

Conversely, Millennials, born between 1981 and 1997, perceive email as a “business-only” tool. However, they prefer to receive emails with personalized offers or coupons over offers pushed via social media. This generation, known for being tech-savvy and constantly connected to web-enabled devices, seeks to actively participate and interact with the organizations they buy from. Specifically, they appreciate the ability to provide organizations with insight on their views and ideas, which means writing and reading online reviews plays a crucial role in their decision process. Social media is an excellent avenue for facilitating this. In fact, 74 percent of Millennials use social media sites regularly to recommend products and services, according to research from Yes Lifecycle Marketing. The same holds true for Gen Z.

Enacting an effective social media strategy to communicate with Gen X, Gen Y (Millennials) and Gen Z should be a top priority for all companies today. To accomplish this, you must first understand what drives and interests consumers in each generation. This requires social listening to recognize what your target audience is talking about and what is top of mind for them. Based on that intel, your organization can provide engaging content and interact virtually with your audience regardless of generation. This will grow your social following and encourage sharing of that content. Keep in mind; however, that great content does not involve advertisements, as ads are largely ignored by Millennials and Gen Z as they often view them as spam.

Mobile apps are a worthwhile avenue for targeting Millennials and Gen Z. Compared to the general population, Millennials are 262 percent more likely to be influenced by a mobile app compared to the general population, according to a report from research firm, JLL. Furthermore, SMS campaigns have 15 times higher response rates over email for Millennials and Gen Z, highlighting the importance of leveraging mobile devices to target this generation. Mobile devices, like smartphones, tablets and wearable devices, create endless opportunities for customer engagement, regardless of location. Mobile apps also allow you to send Geo-targeted alerts and pertinent business information through push notifications straight to a customer's mobile device, further deepening that relationship. 

Generation Z, those born after 1997, is the next age group most companies will be tasked with targeting so it is critical to begin to better understand what motivates them to engage and respond. Known for having an average attention span of eight seconds, they are selective of how they spend their time. Gen Zers have grown accustomed to sorting through massive amounts of information and must choose where they direct that attention. This means that developing an app with a highly responsive design and targeted SMS (text) campaigns will be critical. Gen Zers refer to their smartphones constantly, not just for communication, but for content as well. The business world still has a lot to learn about Generation Z and it is likely that this group will further disrupt how organizations engage with consumers.

While each generation has different “rules of engagement,” one thing remains the same: analyzing data can help strengthen your marketing strategy. By analyzing your data, you can uncover which marketing activities are successful and drive wallet share. A solid data analytics program will identify how certain products are being used by your client base and which products or customers are driving profitability. This can produce impressive competitive advantages. Adjusting your marketing efforts according to each generation’s communication preferences and leveraging data analytics to further hone those efforts will ultimately position you for success. 

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Topics: Analytics, Marketing

Deidra Colvin

Written by Deidra Colvin

With 23 years of experience, Deidra Colvin is an expert in marketing, branding, leadership, strategy and operations. She leads with the purpose to inspire positive energy in a manner consistent with what matters to her most: authenticity, integrity, service, excellence, collaboration and an overall passion for life.

Colvin was named Chief Marketing Officer of Baker Hill in April 2016. Prior to Baker Hill, she was Marketing Communications Strategist and Consultant of Dynamic Consulting and Brand Education; CMO of One Click; Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Better Business Bureau; Assistant Professor of Marketing at Anderson University; Associate Director of Brand Management of the NCAA; and Regional Marketing Manager of H&R Block.

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