By JoAnn Corley
In marketing, we’ve been experiencing a shift in generational buyers over the last few years. This is challenging us to massively change our strategies. As of April 2016, Millennials (ages 18-34) have become the nation’s largest living generation at 75.4 million individuals in the United States, compared to Baby Boomers (ages 51-69) who now number 74.9 million or Gen X (ages 35-50) at 52 million.
With the shift in generations affecting buyer demographics across the United States, it’s critical for brands to understand that each generation desires something different, and with that want to engage differently with products and services, both pre- and post-purchase.
Technology has primarily shaped and driven these engagement preferences and those companies who do not adapt quickly and stay nimble in their marketing responses are sure to be left behind. In fact, one message delivered across even one or two mediums is no longer an effective approach to encourage buying or develop brand loyalty. Now, marketing strategies once dominated by traditional means have to make room for technologies that change on a daily basis with marketing unique to each outlet.
If you’re reviewing the effectiveness of your current marketing plan in 2016 and developing strategies to better it in 2017, consider these four non-negotiable elements:
1. Each generation consumes content differently.
Millennials spend nearly 30 hours per month on social media apps, checking into social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat on an hourly basis. This means they are attached much more personally to brands and companies through these tools than they are traditional marketing efforts such as TV or radio advertising. If millennials are the target market, marketers must include an in-depth social media plan that encompasses their social networks. Be prepared – this will probably involve multiple outlets.
Gen Xers spend 5-10 hours per week consuming content online, typically in the morning and on the weekend. They also consume their content on laptops and desktop computers, and avoid utilizing tablets to read the news. They, too, are on social networking sites, but at a much lower rate than millennials. They prefer email marketing over other tactics.
Baby Boomers also spend time online consuming content. In fact, over 25% of Baby Boomers who responded to a 2015 Fractl/BuzzStream survey stated they consume over 20 hours of online content per week! They also prefer content to be shorter, reading it throughout the week. Short blogs are a fantastic way to reach this group, especially when kept to 300-400 words.
2. Each generation requires different messaging.
Millennials feel close to companies, experiencing a more personal connection through social media, so they desire companies to be authentic and real in their marketing. They are much more aware of how companies respond to social issues, and are quick to develop love or hate for a brand based on the brand’s response to things important to them.
Gen Xers have families to take care of, and therefore respond to messaging geared at providing for families, themselves, or their futures. Because of their busy work and family lives, making things easy and quick for this generation is important. They have a tendency to be overlooked because they are smaller than the exciting Millennial group or retiring Baby Boomer groups, but they are also the most influential, so missing this generation is leaving money on the table.
Baby Boomers, however, are also known as the ‘me’ generation and respond better to messaging and imagery that targets them specifically and is extremely personalized. It’s interesting to note that marketers should avoid pointing out Baby Boomers are seniors, elderly, or old. Baby Boomers desire to feel included. Consider CoverGirl make-up, they do an excellent job of ensuring their spokespeople come from a variety of ages and backgrounds to reach a broad spectrum of buyers. Ellen Degeneres became a CoverGirl at age 50, reaching not only the Baby Boomer generation but the LGBTA community as well. Queen Latifah also made an impact on the CoverGirl brand, reaching out to the both African-American and the plus-size community.
3. Each generation has a different buying process.
For Millennials, purchase decisions are made after reviewing choices with friends. Trust is a huge factor for Millennials, and they will trust their friends first over the savvy and slick marketing gimmicks from brands. That friendship factor can transfer to a brand. Knowing this, a company can craft a long term marketing plan to nurture lasting brand loyalty.
One way to foster a friendship between your brand and the Millennial consumer is to engage with them on social media. They love to use a variety of channels to share their experiences with brands, so make it easy for them to do so with photos, reviews, how-to videos, and feedback. Reward them for doing so, offer discounts and bonus items – make them the star of your brand’s show. This cultivates and deepens the give and take relationship and can substantially influence their social circles both on and off line. This is considered the marketing ripple effect. Do any of your products or services have one? How substantial is it?
Gen Xers are also online researching purchases, but they’re more apt to purchase in person versus online. This generation is also not scared off by price, nor are as budget-sensitive as Millennials. This is the generation that has already seen trends come and go, so they’re much more aware of what’s a current/passing trend versus something that is going to stick. With that said, Gen Xers are focused on quality, and are prepared to spend a little more if the product will last that much longer.
Lastly, don’t make the mistake in assuming Baby Boomers aren’t online. There is more arriving to this digital destination daily. They are researching purchase options, comparison shopping, doing their product recon before buying through short blogs, reviews, and detailed product descriptions. Because of the wealth of information available to their fingertips, the options to switch brands through educated decision-making is suddenly available. Old school blind brand loyalty is giving way to new school brand awareness and in depth product knowledge.
4. Each generation values money differently.
Not only that, but each generation carries debt differently. Millennials may have the largest spending power out of the three generations at $170 billion per year, but they also carry the largest amount of debt. Student loan debt alone totals at over $1.3 trillion in 2015, not including credit card debts, car loans, house loans, or other types of debt.
Millennials also value experience over things, as we’ve seen with the rise in the ‘sharing economy’ (such as Airbnb and Uber). When it comes to marketing, every purchase must be a positive experience, whether it’s how fun the experience of buying is to what the packaging looks and feels like.
Although Gen Xers are often overlooked, marketers need to ensure their marketing strategies also target this generation. Despite being the third-largest generation, they have more spending power than any other generation. According to Open Forum, 10% of all Gen Xers are considered “upscale”, and either have a household income of over $250,000 annually or a personal net worth of over $1 million. Just because the size of Gen Xers is smaller compared to Millennials and Baby Boomers does not mean their spending is small, too. And because they aren’t as heavily marketed to, brands have a unique opportunity to target Gen Xers, foster new relationships, and grow!
While most think Baby Boomers have money to spare, the truth is that just isn’t true. Research shows that Baby Boomers are short on their retirement funds, leading many to continue working long past when they thought they’d retire. They’re concerned with higher health costs, retirement funds, helping their children or grandchildren pay for rising tuition costs, and more. However, this generation is set to donate $20.6 trillion to charity between 2007-2016, so they aren’t necessarily as focused on the ‘me’ in ‘me generation’ as previously thought.
In preparing marketing plans for the balance of 2016 and beyond, the key is to know who your audience is through and through. Micro-targeting and customer segmenting is no longer optional in your strategy. You’ll need to understand what messages resonate, what strategies work and don’t, and how to build long lasting relationships, not sales, across all generations.