Finding the Target: Marketing and Generational Differences

ITA Group
ITA Group

Marketing to the different generations

No customer is the same. We aim for their attention and try to keep it with nurturing approaches, all in the hopes they bite and commit to a product. This becomes even more complicated when you understand that along with every customer being an individual, they also fit into a group based on their generation and stage of life—which is evolving as uniquely as the individuals.

Generations behave differently, are motivated by different things and consume media in different ways. All of these differences are driven by the events happening in the world as they grew up or the access they had to certain technologies. As advertisers or organizations try to gain the attention of these groups of people, we need to understand what drives these people to pick a brand and/or buy into an organization’s story. While the exact number of generations can vary, let’s look at the four prominent generations getting attention today: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z.

Baby Boomers

baby boomer with headphones looking at ipad
The group who can tell you all about taking handwriting classes, baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and grew up during the American-dream, white-picket-fence era of post-WWII. While it’s easy to assume boomers prefer traditional mediums, digital marketing plays an important role in reaching them.

Baby boomers may be more likely to respond to traditional marketing efforts like print advertisements or direct mail pieces due to their tangible nature and larger formats, but they also spend upwards of 20+ hours a week consuming media content, with the majority spent online.

Facebook is typically a top visited destination for boomers—they were quick to respond to Facebook’s inclusion of older demographics in 2007, making it an ideal platform for targeting seniors. However, it’s important to keep in mind that technology overall may still be a learning process for this group. Baby boomers respond best to advertising that utilizes visual, linear storytelling—think timeline-style images and videos. While this can work in tandem with traditional advertising, steer clear of newer digital channels like Snapchat and even Instagram, which have slower adoption rates for boomers.

Another thing to keep in mind: boomers are prone to an upsell due to the traditional nature of sales that this generation has been accustomed to—in additional to being the wealthiest of all living generations.

Generation X

generation x family taking a selfie
Unlike the baby boomers, Generation X has grown up in a world with enhanced media channels, and are much more fluent in their functionality. Born between the years of 1965 and 1980, they love the new tech of the century, their families, freedom and independence. A stereotypical GenXer will be family oriented, financially responsible and self-reliant.

Generation X is the first generation to have the internet around for a majority of their life.

According to eMarketer, about 74.5% of the 65.8 million GenXers are active on social media on at least a monthly basis. Even more popular among them is digital video, with about 79% of this generation downloading or streaming video online on a monthly basis.

More so than the boomers, GenXers have a heavy affinity for branding, and are great sources for growing a brand’s lifetime value. GenXers are less affluent than boomers and are considered coupon consumers. Utilize a larger marketing mix that might include direct mail, since GenXers are more likely to make a purchase using a coupon or promotion from a direct mail piece.


millennial texting on a mobile phone
Millennials, perhaps the most unique of the generations, may have the largest amount of digital marketing options, considering they’ve grown up alongside many connected mediums. This is the generation that is most receptive to online purchasing. They like making informed decisions about any purchase. They seek recommendations from family and friends, read online reviews, check ratings, then make a decision.

Born between 1981 and 1996, this generation is talked about frequently on social media and in popular culture. Millennials are gradually outnumbering the baby boomers at workplaces and are known to be the biggest generation of entrepreneurs.

As the first true digital generation, it’s no surprise that millennials are considered mobile-first. Attribution is arguably most important with this generation, since they are prone to utilizing multiple digital channels before making a purchase decision, often heavily on mobile. Think quick-moving channels, such as Snapchat and Instagram, as an introduction to your product or brand, but don’t expect direct conversions.

The least brand loyal, the millennial is a savvy shopper. They’re aware that many choices exist, and customer or critic reviews are important tools to utilize in marketing efforts. The millennial’s fast-moving nature isn’t as responsive to coupon promos, and limited finances makes up-selling a challenge.

Generation Z

generation z on mobile phone at skate park
Born mid-1990s onwards, the majority of GenZ are still teenagers or younger and secure the spot as the most technology-driven of all other age groups—and also the one group that we understand the least. From what we do know, these shoppers had access to endless amounts of information very early on. Yet, according to a study from IBM and the National Retail Federation (NRF), when shopping, 98% of GenZ will head to brick-and-mortar locations to find what they’re looking for, rather than shopping online.

If you thought millennials’ attention span was short, wait until you try to connect with someone from GenZ. The average attention span of a millennial is 12 seconds, but it’s only eight seconds for GenZ. And they don’t just have a shorter attention span, they also juggle more screens—five compared to millennials’ three. While their attention may be shorter, it’d be incorrect to say they lack focus. Growing up with the answers to all of their questions only a few clicks away has made them incredibly self-reliant and able to truly obsess over any topic that catches their interest.

This generation has been referred to as “do-gooders,” as 60% want their jobs to impact the world, 26% volunteer and 76% are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet. Presenting this audience with products that are sustainable and responsibly made will go a long way.

Reaching Each Generation

Generational marketing is one strategy that provides marketers an opportunity to penetrate deep into the targeted audience and better understand the needs and preferences of their market. You cannot expect baby boomers (currently at the retirement age) to act in the same way as millennials. Their content, media, technology and even social media preferences are all different. The one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns are not productive anymore, as each group expects a more personalized and tailored content that aligns with their interests and preferences.

Want to learn more about the elusive GenZ? Dive in to our previous insights to see what makes them tick:

Engaging Generation Z Employees in a Diverse Workplace

3 Things You Need to Know About Generation Z

3 Things Employers Should Know About Generation Z and Technology