Generational Marketing 101: What Advertisers Need to Know

There’s a lot of talk about the differences between our generations. The conversation tends to focus on the butting heads of Baby Boomers and Millennials, but in reality, there are pretty vast chasms between Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. And the detail that lies in those differences directly impacts how you market to them.


The differences between our generations are also far more than superficial: they reveal more than the fact that you’ll find 18 year olds on Snap but Baby Boomers (and even Gen Xers) are nowhere to be found on the platform. The differences are the product of each generation’s circumstances and world view, which directly impact their purchasing decisions.


How does the generation of your target market impact your marketing strategy? You’ll need to use the data behind generational marketing to find out, and the answer may surprise you.


What is Generational Marketing?

Generational marketing is a practice that segments marketing campaigns according to the target audience’s generation archetype, as in the defining qualities of the group of people born between certain years. It’s a popular methodology because it allows you to better speak to the needs of each group of people, who each have different wants, needs, and values.


Simply put, generational marketing gives you the perspective needed to create content for Gen Z and content for Baby Boomers without stretching yourself thin by attempting to find something that appeals to everyone. Creating unique content is important because you can’t cater to every generation living in the U.S.; it’s just not possible.


Here’s a quick example of how differences impact marketing: Baby Boomers’ defining generational characteristics are being individualist and self-believing with a redefinition of traditional values. Millennials (1981-1996) are different: because many came of age during the height of the economic recession, they have a strong sense of community. You’ll have a hard time creating a marketing message that simultaneously appeals to both.


How Does Generational Marketing Change Your Approach?

Almost every aspect of the generational differences will change your approach to marketing. No, that’s not a line about how Boomers are the only generation left on Facebook or how notoriously difficult millennials are to reach. It’s just a fact supported by data. And the data itself may surprise you.


Let’s start with a vastly important group: Gen Z. As of 2020, they account for 40% of all consumers. So if they fall within your target audience, you can’t afford to miss them. What’s different about Gen Z? One example is that 63% of Gen Z want to see “real people '' in their ads. They feel strongly about this, and millennials don’t have the same demands.


So you’re more likely to reach Gen Z with Instagram adverts using the accounts of low-key “Insta-famous” members of their demographic rather than celebrities.


Gen Z is also the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in American history: nearly half of this generation are from communities of color. Gen Z wants to see authentic inclusivity in their adverts: they want products that cater to everyone and support missions of social cohesion. But they also want companies to commit to diversity in all their practices, so your marketing message needs to match your company’s vision for diversity and inclusion generally.


How to Tailor Your Content to Each Generation

Finding the right channel to reach your target demographic is only step one, and it’s the least complicated. Why? Because even those demographics are shifting, you know that Facebook is still the biggest platform (with Instagram hot on its heels). But tailoring your message is a different story.


A huge amount of your messaging work will reflect the customer personas you create for each generation: personas are already an incredibly important part of generating qualified leads, which are leads that are primed to buy either now or in the near future. Customer personas are critical to the creation of your strategy because they result in a group that’s far better defined than just “x likes Facebook and hates talking on the phone.”


Keep in mind that not every business benefits from generational marketing. For some, your market demographic is so small or so cohesive in other ways that generational marketing is overkill.


For example, if you’re marketing a product to dog owners, you might choose a generational approach because dog owners are a very diverse group. But if you’re running a marketing campaign for an EDM festival, then your target market already has a niche interest in common and are likely closer in age, so the differences may not show themselves as dramatically.


Lead with Data and Authenticity to Win New Customers

Using generational data allows you to create the best strategy for reaching your customers without missing out on key groups. It helps you avoid making assumptions or painting an important demographic with too broad a brush while also protecting your investment. Plus, it helps you identify your primary focus or what generation is most important to you.


Remember that generational marketing goes further than figuring out where your target market spends the most time: it also needs to speak to their values and personalities. So, spend time getting to know your target generation both through wider data and by reaching out to your customers. You will be surprised by what you learn!