The end of generational marketing: a guide to better target audience research
What do Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z have in common?
They’re all spending time online.
With so many people surfing the web, there’ll inevitably be differences in how they shop and respond to messaging. So, how can you capture the attention of each cohort?
For many businesses, the solution has been to target their customers through generational marketing.
In theory, this tactic allows companies to segment their audience by the years they were born and tailor their marketing strategy based on the values and experiences that resonate with each generation.
But whilst acknowledging the different preferences of each age group is a great starting point for businesses looking to refine their customer research, many tend to overlook one crucial thing: every generation comprises millions of unique individuals. So, does it actually make sense to try to target a whole generation in one campaign?
Let’s look at some of the ways generational marketing can fall flat — and how your business could improve its target audience research…
The pitfalls of generational marketing
Categorising customers based on their generation can tell you a little about their stage of life and the way they interact with your digital content, but can also lead to overgeneralised customer personas.
Take Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, stereotyped as being deeply concerned about the environment (hello, Greta Thunberg). But is this the only generation that cares about the planet?
Apparently not. Whilst 70% of Gen Z want to change their habits to help the planet, so do 68% of Baby Boomers. And yet, despite there being a shared interest here, a sustainability-focused marketing campaign geared towards Gen Z will likely look a lot different to one aimed at Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964.
This highlights one of the major problems with generational marketing: basing your messaging on age-related assumptions is too broad of an approach — and could alienate significant target audience groups from your brand.
And what about the technologically stunted generations we hear about? Though it’s often accepted that young people dominate social media platforms, it turns out 92% of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) scroll social media daily.
Thanks to misleading generational marketing tactics, these age groups are regularly overlooked by social media campaigns — meaning brands are missing out on loyal customers and lucrative opportunities.
Plus, with such broad age brackets (spanning about 10 years), how much can people in each generation have in common? How can a marketing campaign targeted at Millennials — with the youngest at 27 and the oldest at 42 — be genuinely impactful?
Of course, demographics like age aren’t completely useless. But without further target audience research to back it up, age is just a number. Luckily, there are other demographic markers your company can use to paint a clearer picture of its ideal customer…
Leveraging more insightful data
If you want to avoid oversimplified customer personas and refine your marketing strategy, it’s time to call in the big guns and look beyond the typical demographics like age, gender, marital status and so on.
To get to the nitty-gritty of your target audience, you’ll need to find out the ‘where’, ‘why’ and ‘what’ of your customers — instead of just ‘who’. Sure, it might seem logical to try to appeal to everyone, but without narrowing down your audience, there’s a chance you’ll just be shouting into the void.
Through website and social media analytics, customer surveys, interviews and focus groups, you can dive into your target audience and segment them based on three important categories: geographics, psychographics and behaviours…
Geographics group customers based on where they live and shop, providing an insight into the climate, culture, language and population density (urban or rural) of your audience’s location. So, how can this help your business?
Understanding the buying trends and preferences of different regions allows you to create more targeted and effective campaigns.
Take a clothing company selling both indoor and outdoor gear. Based on geographical data, the business could rotate seasonal regional ads — helping them ensure they’re pitching the right products to the right people at the right time.
An effective marketing strategy ceases to exist without psychographics, which tap into your target audience’s personalities, hobbies and lifestyles.
With this data, you gain a better understanding of your customer’s wants and needs — and how your business can address them. Then, you can improve your communications by sending specific messages that address their pain points and desires.
For example, say you’re a business promoting a new affordable protein powder. In this case, you can use your psychographics data to target people who exercise regularly and care about the health benefits of your product but are looking for a budget-friendly option.
Every time customers transact with your brand, they leave a digital trail that can be used to segment your target audience based on their spending, purchasing and browsing habits.
You can use this information to see if that customer is seeking discounts, searching for particular products or shopping more at specific times of the year.
Then, you’ll be able to leverage this data to provide hyper-personalised suggestions that respond to your customer’s activity. Is there a lull in their shopping activity? Offer them a limited-time discount! Did they abandon their basket? Email product recommendations based on their browsing history.
It’s fair to say delving deeper into your target audience research takes more time than lumping customers into generational categories. But it’s the key to creating well-rounded buyer personas and authentic and inclusive marketing campaigns — rather than relying on outdated assumptions and lazy marketing. Yep, we said it…