Understanding How to Market to Different Generations

Labeling the different generations has long been an American pastime, particularly when people are trying to justify or explain specific characteristics. And while it may be fun to poke fun at Millennials and blame us for killing the napkin industry, the truth is understanding how each generation thinks has become a key component in marketing. Recently, some industry insiders have even been coining the term “generational marketing” as a way to modernize marketing strategies. By breaking down and understanding how to connect with the different audiences, you’re gaining a competitive advantage in allowing customers to feel like you know them.

Traditionalists or the Silent Generation (1945 and earlier)

The oldest living generation in the U.S. is often described as conservative, hard-working and resilient. They grew up in a time of crisis as their lives were heavily influenced by the Great Depression and both World Wars. And just like their label--they are quite traditional, meaning they’re not interested in any kind of flashy, high-tech advertising tactics. These are the people who still wake up every day and actually read the newspaper. While some would say this group has become a niche demographic, the fact is they still have purchasing power, and thus must be accounted for when strategizing marketing concepts.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Also known as the “me” generations, these are the people who are slowly starting to embrace the digital age but still appreciate a good voicemail or face-to-face conversation. Although Millennials are on track to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the next few years, baby boomers continue to have the most purchasing power. They’re heading into retirement and tend to have significantly higher disposable incomes compared to Millennials, many of whom are bogged down by debt. This demographic spends the most across all product categories, yet are targeted by just five to 10 percent of marketing. If businesses took advantage of putting effort and funds into capturing this group’s attention, they would be poised to emerge as a marketing leader.


Generation X (1965-1980)

Of all of the groups, Gen X is continually the hardest to categorize. Sandwiched between two larger generations that are vastly different from one another, millennials and baby boomers, Gen Xers can often be overlooked. In a 2010 survey, Pew Research asked adults of all ages if they thought their own generation was unique, about six in 10 Boomers and Millennials said yes, while only approximately half of Gen Xers said the same. They aren’t worried about themselves, or what makes them special, they’re concerned about their young children and securing their futures. For this reason, marketing targeted toward Gen X should be less about them and their needs or wants, and more about promoting stable family life.


Millennials (1981-1995)

Ah yes, the “special snowflakes” that everyone else seems to love to hate so much. Millennials are known for having a sense of entitlement, something instilled in us by our Baby Boomer parents and a lifetime’s supply of participation trophies. Bad reputation aside, we’re also an emerging opportunity for marketers that businesses can’t afford to ignore. Millennials possess a collective $600 billion in purchasing power each year, a number that is expected to grow into the trillions by 2020. We are also motivated by recommendations from family and friends and attracted to easy shopping, i.e., online shopping. When making a purchasing decision, we look to reviews from other customers and will do anything for free shipping. All advertising and marketing campaigns should also always be optimized for mobile viewing as 52 percent of Millennials use smartphones for shopping and browsing.

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Generation Z (1996 and later)

Millennials may be very tech savvy, but it’s nothing compared to this digital generation. They were born into an age where they cannot even imagine life without a cell phone, let alone without Wi-Fi. The most socially conscious and diverse generation, they also are more inclined to interact with companies they believe in. With Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter quite literally at their fingertips, they will be quick to judge a company’s authenticity based on their social media presence. They have an average "eight-second filter" to gauge whether something is worth their attention. The youngest generation also tends to gravitate toward getting information quickly without having to actually speak to anyone, think short explainer videos and social media campaigns.


At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that not all marketing is created equally and what may resonate with one person could offend another. But the best way to combat this is to understand the different demographics and make educated decisions in your marketing campaigns. At EMB, we work with each client individually to come up with a custom marketing strategy tailored to their target audience.