The Pros and Cons of Generational Marketing

The Pros and Cons of Generational Marketing

As marketers, it’s our job to understand the people we advertise to. One way to do this is to analyze the eras in which our audiences are born and grow up to better understand their behaviours as a group. This kind of research is known as generational marketing and lately, it’s become of interest to me. However, the method isn’t exactly substantial. In fact it’s a lot like candy: we gobble it up because it’s scrumptiously easy to swallow but doesn’t have enough nutritional value to warrant being our primary source of information. Nonetheless, generational marketing isn’t without its merits and it can even be useful when used in moderation.

The pros

There are undeniable differences between our social generations. For instance, it’s unlikely that someone born in the Silent Generation (who came into the world from 1925 to 1945) wouldn’t be nearly as SnapChat-centric as Gen Z kids (born from about 2000 to present). Likewise, Boomers tend to log more television hours than Millennials. Businesses should use this knowledge to their advantage when creating campaign strategies.

Another perk of gen theory is that it can coincide with the type of info that we can gather using analytics tools. For instance, many sites have handy software that keeps track of their users’ ages and search and shopping habits. This makes it easy to group browsers’ tendencies with the characteristics of their age brackets.

The cons

Although a person’s age and the era in which they grow up can indicate certain aspects of their behaviour, it isn’t gonna determine everything. That’s the problem with generational theory; people are defined by the most prominent characteristics of everyone born within 20-or-so-years of their birth year. This leaves a ton of unknowns. Case in point, even though each generation grew up facing similar national and international issues, (ie. The G.I. Generation, born from 1901 to 1924, had head-on encounters with the Depression and WWII, while many Millennials came of age during 9/11 and the War on Terror) they didn’t all respond to these the same way. Moreover, people aren’t just defined by the major crises that occur in their lives. Most of the time it’s the day-to-day stuff that shapes who we are, which is different for everyone.

The other problem I see is that researchers don’t even agree about certain important parts of the theory. For example, the famed Strauss-Howe Generational Theory suggests that Millennials were born between 1982 and 2004. Others assert that they were born between 1980 and 1997. I wouldn’t be this nit-picky save for the fact that, according to advocates of the theory, behavioural habits drastically change when one gen ends and another begins. A Boomer born at the tail end of 1964 is a lot different than a Gen Xer born just one year later. In reality, it’s safe to say this is hokum. But if we follow the method to a T it seems important to get your time frames straight or else you could attribute the “wrong” traits to a large group of people. Oops.

But I think the most notable issue with gen theory is that it’s an example of stereotyping at its finest. We see it in everyday articles like “Millennials: the Me, Me, Me Generation,” and “Baby Boomers are What’s Wrong with America’s Economy.” It also works the other way with, “Why Generation X Might Be Our Last, Best Hope” and “The Traditionalist Generation – Still Killin’ It!” These bold statements aren’t inherently wrong, they’re just incomplete and one-sided. This is why companies ought to be wary of becoming too influenced by them.

The solution

If generational marketing just isn’t cutting it for you, don’t worry. Here are some more accurate ways to understand and reach your customers:

  • Look beyond your target audience’s age group. As they say, age is just a number. This is especially important to do if you’re trying to appeal to people from multiple age brackets.
  • Figure out what platforms your audience prefers to use. Are they Facebook fanatics who also happen to watch a lot of TV or do they prefer to lounge with a newspaper while listening to the radio? It’s crucial to know so you can effectively reach them.
  • When possible, be personable with your customer base. Don’t treat them like a faceless bunch since they’re really a group of individuals. You can do this particularly well on social media, where brand-to-customer interactions have become increasingly popular and easy to do.
  • Keep track of how your customers’ preferences evolve. Trends and values change and the more up-to-date with these your company is, the better. People are more loyal to brands that “get them.”

 The conclusion 

Generational marketing has its ups and downs. It’s not the best tool to rely on but it’s also not the worst. If it has proven to be successful to you, feel free to continue using it. Simply bear in mind that your efforts can be even more fruitful if this approach is used along with other methods. Plus, it’ll make you a lot more credible.

Alexandra Latremouille
alex@imaginativegroup.com
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