Generational Marketing and the Path to Purchase

Rachel McGann | October 19, 2021
This article was originally published in Localogy.

Knowing the ways different generations shop is essential to capturing them in the path to purchase

Researchers spend a lot of time looking at people from different generations, analyzing everything from how they work and play to how they shop. There are more similarities than you may think between millennials’ and baby boomers’ shopping tendencies, but there are also important generational differences that marketers should understand in order to reach those customers in the path to purchase and increase sales.

Let’s take a look at four generations to see how they research products before making purchases, and what type of marketing they respond best to.

Baby Boomers: 1946-1964

Born during the post–World War II baby boom, so-called boomers currently account for more than 70 million U.S. consumers and close to $550 billion of purchasing power. It’s common for marketers to discount boomers’ digital savviness, thinking of them as too old to work their smartphones let alone shop online, but 80% of Americans 55 and older are active online. The majority of that 80% spend at least six hours a day online or using technology. They often have more time than younger generations and are happy to use it searching for well-made products that offer good value and quality guarantees.

Keep in mind that even though baby boomers can be found and marketed to online, they are also still watching conventional TV and listening to the radio, so you shouldn’t ignore traditional mediums when marketing to them. Boomers are nostalgic and appreciate marketing that is authentic and speaks to their values. They even tend to be good sports about innocent teasing of boomer stereotypes through cultural references, such as boomers’ tendencies to be stubborn and resistant to change. Think Progressive’s clever “Don’t Become Your Parents” ad campaign. When targeting baby boomers, your local marketing efforts should include social media advertising like Facebook and YouTube along with traditional tactics like conventional TV and radio.

Generation X: 1965-1980

Generation X wields the largest buying power of all consumers with $2.4 trillion, which is $1 trillion more than millennials. They spend more on housing, clothing, dining out, and entertainment than all other generations. Born before the digital age, this generation has experienced historic technological change while they were young enough to adapt to it, including the arrival of personal computers and cell phones, and they are comfortable operating in today’s tech-driven world. They are often described as independent, flexible, and critical thinkers.

Ninety-five percent of Gen X is active on Facebook; however, Facebook is not always the best place to market to them. They start their research and look for positive reviews and recommendations on Facebook, but they respond well to email marketing campaigns and often prefer in-store purchases over online. It takes some time to build brand loyalty amongst Gen X, but they are also the most loyal to brands once you establish trust. This generation responds to marketing that acknowledges the stage of life they’re in, and they are very critical of companies that lack transparency. Omnichannel marketing with authentic messaging is the way to connect with Gen X. Think about a combination of paid digital ads, email and direct mail, and billboards — all with clear calls to actions.

Millennials: 1981-1996

Mostly the children of Gen X parents, millennials currently represent the largest group of consumers in the U.S. and have a buying power of $1.4 trillion. As consumers, they do not respond well to targeted advertising. Instead, millennials look to emotionally connect to brands and the overall purchasing experience. Eighty-three percent of them want to purchase from companies that have the same values they do, so one of the best ways to reach millennials is by sharing your company values and openly supporting causes. For example, you can capture their loyalty by making a donation to charity with every purchase, and you can connect with them through an influencer who speaks to their generation. Something else to note about millennials is that they are typically pressed for time, so use smart marketing choices like influencers and attention-grabbing keywords to catch them while they’re mindlessly scrolling social media during a show or while waiting in a line.

They’re all-over social, so they’re easy to reach, but be careful about how you market your brand. Rather than direct targeting, millennials prefer companies that genuinely support issues, create engaging content, and exude honesty. You will not reach this generation through gimmicks or even with the types of email and paid campaigns that work on Gen X. Focus on mobile, context-based advertising, and a strong influencer program like Café Appliances’ Gretchen Black to get the attention of millennials.

Gen Z: 1997-present

As our youngest consumers, Gen Z have a lot in common with millennials but many of their own distinct shopping habits. Gen Z seeks brands that are authentic and support social causes that align with their values, such as protecting the environment and increasing diversity and inclusion. Like the other generations, Gen Z spends a lot of time online, but they consume content differently. They want videos and they want them short, free of ads, and often made by influencers.

Snapchat and TikTok are the best social platforms to reach Gen Z, but these young consumers also spend a lot of time on YouTube and Instagram. Brands targeting Gen Z should be active on multiple social media platforms and get creative with their social content. It’s wise to be interactive with this generation, encouraging these consumers to engage with your brand. Gen Z is 41% more likely to buy products that influencers talk about, so develop an influencer marketing program and reaching this generation on social media through short, to the point video content that is not sales-y is key. They also love contests, events, and experiences like Invisalign’s Virtual Reality Soccer Challenge.

What Unites Consumers Across the Generations

All generations share the desire for a good customer experience. What each generation considers a good shopping experience differs from fast customer service responses to convenient shopping options to providing a percentage of proceeds to a charity, but 61% said they would be willing to spend more with a company that delivers a positive customer experience. More than one-third of customers say they will stop doing business with a company after just one bad experience. So treat them all well, be responsive to issues they raise, answer their questions, and help them believe that they have made a valuable purchase from a reputable company.

The use of digital technology is another important thread that ties all generations of consumers together. This is the first time that the generations holding the most purchasing power are doing everything online, from connecting with friends and family to shopping and banking. That means you can reach all four generations through social media, email, and paid advertising when these tactics fit, rather than conflict with, the kind of experience each generation prefers.

Put customers at the forefront of not only marketing but the overall experience your brand provides, from the research phase of the customer journey, on through purchase and beyond. This will build brand loyalty in customers from all generations, keeping them coming back to spend more money, and telling others about their great experiences. No matter the consumer’s age, every generation appreciates a brand that truly sees them for who they are and appreciates their uniqueness.

Coming out of the pandemic, we’ll be glad to leave most of our adjustments — sanitizing groceries, social distancing, attempting to bake sourdough — in the past. But marketers should take these key consumer trends with them into the “new normal” so that shopping local can reign again. We may not know exactly what the future of retail looks like, but these four trends will likely be a part of it.

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