Multi-Generational Marketing: A Must For Any Brand


Remember the days when one marketing approach generally worked pretty well?  They’re gone.

Unless your brand appeals only to one audience demographic, you must tailor your branding, marketing strategies and tactical executions to four distinct generations: Baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials and – fast-moving, soon-to-take-over-the-world – Gen Z.

You must pay particular attention to Gens Y and Z, which combined, will comprise more than 50 percent of the workforce in 10 years, according to the Department of Labor.

Today, we’re amid a marketing perfect storm, with every generation – actually, every individual – hungry for and expecting marketers to engage when, where and how they choose.  One size definitely doesn’t fit all.

Never before in history have different generations had to be marketed to so distinctly. What makes it so particularly challenging, is that each has different patterns of behavior and preferences for engagement.

Is your brand up for the challenge?

Baby Boomers And Gen X: Still Kicking

If you’re a CMO or senior marketing executive, there’s a good chance you’re a part of the baby boomer or Gen X cohorts.  And you’ve been marketing to them – in essence, yourself – for years.

For that very reason, we won’t spend much time analyzing them here.  Been there, done that.  But you can’t discount them.

Especially baby boomers, who are staying in the workforce longer than their predecessors, and are thus still in the market for many products and services – especially those geared toward working and raising a family – that their retired-at-65 parents had long-since jettisoned.

Of course, those that are retired won’t have a huge impact on brand positioning going forward.  But as the parents and grandparents of younger generations with billions in buying power, we need to be mindful of their influence.

I feel I really know Gen X – probably because I’m myself a member.  We’re at the peak of our earning and spending powers.  We’re thinking about how to send our children to college, and prepare for retirement.  Sure, we’re technology users, but not technology natives.  We’re set in our ways, and beholden to the brands we love.

While we might frequently try other brands, we tend to be creatures of habit and stay comfortable with those we know and trust.  Thus, hardcore sales tactics and tried-and-true marketing approaches tend still to work pretty well on us.

Millennial Mashup

Millennials – currently the largest consumer demographic – are the generation that has done the most to ignite a marketing transformation.  Their focus on and preference for online engagement has changed the way organizations market to them; they are the reason why executives have blogs, companies embrace Twitter and LinkedIn, and press releases are posted on Facebook.

Engage them online and you’ve got it made, right?  Oh, if only it were that easy.

Millennials are far from being one distinct and holistic group. In fact, many hate the thought of being lumped into one cohort – likely because they are the most diverse demographic in history.  Various research and consulting groups have identified as many as 12 distinct segments within Millennials, a notion sure to cause heartburn for budget-conscious marketers.

But there are some general rules for reaching Millennials.  When deciding on a purchase, they do their research – primarily online – and also rely heavily on the advice of individuals they trust or admire.  Thus, authentically linking your brand to an objective third-party influencer can have an enormous impact on both brand recognition and even purchase intent.

That doesn’t mean, however, a lengthy white paper or encyclopedic brochure will capture their interest.  Millennials have about an eight-second attention span, so you’d better hit them quickly – via short messages or video – in ways that prove you understand their demands.

They also care deeply about who you are, not simply what you offer.  Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is important to them, and can often be the deciding factor in whether or not they buy from you.  Showcasing sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and social responsibility efforts are essential – but, just like your marketing, it must be authentic.  Millennials can tell if you’re blowing smoke.

They’re Here! …Gen Z

And on deck – with billions in buying power already at their disposal – are Gen Z.  With the elder statesmen of this cohort barely out of their teens, it may be easy to dismiss them as irrelevant – unless your company offers mobile apps or hoverboards.

Not so!  In the blink of an eye, the entire generation will be out of college, fully entrenched in the workforce and tilting the balance of commerce in their direction.  And unlike their elder siblings – Millennials – this cohort has more in common with their grandparents.  They value privacy, are keenly aware of safety and security issues, and are determined to pursue meaningful careers.

Yet, they are distinctly different from grandpa and grandma too.  Multicultural and socially liberal, they are oblivious to preconceived notions about race, gender, and ethnicity.  And the term “global” doesn’t faze them, not when they can Snapchat with friends literally on the other side of the world.

Sixty-million-plus strong, Gen Z members are true digital natives, raised on tablets, smartphones, and social media. Indeed, a 2014 Wikia Study found that more than half would rather give up their sense of smell than their smartphone.

But they are realists, raised through 9/11 and threats of terrorism.  They are eager to consume and share information – and just as likely to ignore it when they sense it is not authentic.

For marketers, this means offering info in small doses – opt-in texts, YouTube shorts – rather than longer form, text-heavy content.  Bits and bytes across numerous channels will enable them to absorb your brand’s messages – as long as they’re compelling.

Tell them the truth, make it fun and you’ve got a chance to snag their attention – for a while.

But don’t assume they know who you are just because their parents do.  A few years ago, we sent a student onto a California campus, where she asked pending grads and grad students how they expected to find their first job.  Interestingly, the Tinder generation expected it would come through a personal connection, with a boost from their parents’ networks.

And not only had they never heard of Randstad – one of the world’s largest recruitment and staffing organizations – they didn’t even know our industry existed!!  Yes, we’ve got some work to do, too!

What’s Next?

If you’re feeling left behind, don’t despair.  You’re only as good as your next campaign, and marketing missteps of the past can be pushed into the background… if you’re meaningful now.

Some of the most important elements of successful marketing haven’t changed.  Creativity still counts, but the tactics employed have evolved from the Mad Men era.

While research has been integral to smart marketing for decades, the quantities of data and technologies at your disposal to quickly aggregate, dissect and analyze it into actionable insights can truly be transformative.  Big Data and advanced analytics are integral weapons in any marketer’s arsenal; they are the key to understanding varied audiences and making smart, quick decisions to reach them.

The point is… from baby boomers to babies, consumer audiences are more diverse than ever before. As marketers, we must embrace agility and digital forms of communication, and have the resources to pivot quickly to gain a competitive advantage.

Marketing’s perfect storm isn’t just brewing.  It’s here.