A quick look through a few news sites tells me that generation X is to blame for a shortage in HGV drivers, millennials don’t want more than two children, and generation Z is most likely to queue jump. It seems that every day the media tells us what different generations want, expect and spend their time doing. And like with many topics that become a media obsession, it’s painted in a very black and white picture as if it’s talking about the majority of one generation, not all of it. But while the differences between generations make good headlines, there’s real danger in applying it so rigidly in a marketing context and effectively pigeonholing audiences.
Businesses have segmented their customers and audiences into generations for some time. But the question ‘How can we target generation X/millennials/generation Z?’ has never been such a big dilemma as it is today, given the range of communication and sales channels at a business’ disposal. For example, deciding what social media platforms to target, if any, is likely to be influenced by what generation a business wants to target. Take Taco Bell’s Snapchat campaign, which saw it work with the social media platform to develop a lens that turned customers’ heads into giant tacos. Using a platform most popular for 18-24 year olds, Taco Bell clearly wanted to engage with the younger generation. But while this sounds like a logical move, are other brands relying on stereotypes when approaching their marketing activity? Are they at risk of using the wrong channels when looking to target a particular generation?
Given that generation X, those born between 1961 and 1981, didn’t grow up with the Internet, it’s easy to assume that they’re less open to anything digital compared to younger generations. But research shows that they’re in fact the generation that spends the most time online shopping. Another piece of research finds that almost half of millennials prefer to buy clothes from physical stores rather than online, despite being the generation that was still young when the Internet exploded and became what it is today. Any business that thinks it can target a generation using just one obvious channel has made a mistake.
In today’s world, isn’t it a bit simplistic to assume that generations differ so significantly? Take online shopping, which has been well-established for so long that a person’s age is less likely to make them more or less inclined to do it. Isn’t it more about personal preference? Online shopping aside, given that some people tend to do things later in life than others, whether that’s retiring or having children, it’s more difficult to pinpoint the wants and the lifestyle of specific generations. Simply assuming that a person’s age determines their buying behaviours is a bit naïve if you ask me.
As a millennial myself, I can confirm that I don’t eat kale cake or use expressions like ‘mugged off,’ despite what the media might tell you. That’s one reason why marketers shouldn’t make assumptions when targeting a specific generation. Age is just one demographic and there’s a whole host of other factors that determine a person’s preference. Taking an omnichannel approach is one way businesses can ensure that they’re being exposed to their desired audiences and giving them their preferred buying option. You could be missing out on a massive chunk of a customer base if not.