It’s said that age is nothing but a number, but if that number correlates to your bottom line, it’s a very important number. Marketing that takes a consumer’s age into account can help you determine the best way to communicate with a specific segment, the channel they prefer, the language they understand, and the information they need to make a purchasing decision. It can inform the tone of your piece and appeal to the specific wants and needs of each group by taking their world views and values into consideration. As far as important numbers go, the age of your target audience and audience segments is at the top of the list.
Generations Are Formed by a Unique Mix of Factors
As Pew Research Center states, “An individual’s age is one of the most common predicators of difference in attitudes and behaviors,” and the easiest, simplest, and most recognized way of organizing segmentations by age is using generational marketing. While there are no hard and fast rules on what makes a generation, Pew Research considers “a range of factors including demographics, attitudes, historical events, popular culture, and the prevailing consensus among researchers.” That being said, there are no distinct, universally agreed upon years that define each generation, but most researchers have settled on these age ranges and groups (give or take a year or two) of current consumers:
- Silent Generation: Born between 1928 and 1945; age 77-94
- Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964; age 58-76
- Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1976; age 46-57
- Millennials: Born between 1977 and 1995; age 27-45
- Generation Z: Born between 1996 and 2010; age 12-26
But let’s be clear: generalizing your audience by any one factor can be detrimental to your business. Like any other data point, age is just one small brush stroke needed to form a complete picture of your audience. Other important factors include location (urban, suburb, rural, etc.), ethnicity (Hispanic, African American, Asian American, etc.), and education (high school, college, doctorate, etc.). All inform what a person relates to, understands, values, and ultimately buys. However, as far as starting points go, age is a great first step in breaking your audience down into segments for more personalized, targeted marketing.
Generational Segmentation Allows Marketers to Dig Deeper into what Makes a Consumer Tick
Starting with age allows you to arguably discern the most data points and characteristics than any other grouping factor. From this one bite of information, a marketer can reasonably determine the following:
Aesthetics — What Appeals to Them
- What’s trendy: who their influencing peers are; what catches their eye as something new or exciting
- What’s expected: how they expect information and offers to be presented; what they are most comfortable with
Practicality — What Works for Them
- Font size/readability: the font style and size, sentence structure, and length that is most appealing and comprehensible
- Language and slang: what their vernacular includes; what terms make sense or are more commonly used
- Channel: where they are spending their time; how they like to receive information
Reference — What Speaks to Them
- Cultural: major events they have witnessed that may cast a shadow on how they view things
- Socioeconomic: what kind of climates they have lived through and at what stage in life (formative years vs. “active” years)
- Technology: what technology they are they used to; what they learned to use in school, on the job, or had to learn themselves
Values — What Resonates with Them
- Core values: what’s been engrained as being important, usually based in part on their experience (see reference) growing up (sustainability, social justice, patriotism, etc.)
- Current life stage: what their “next big thing” is (going to school, buying a home, starting a family, retiring)
Marketers Beware: Look to Data, Not Your Own Understanding
One thing to note is that the reality may look different from the supposition. Take millennials, for instance. Millennials grew up with modern technology, are comfortable with using it, and spend a great deal of time on their computers, tablets, and phones. That information alone would inform a novice marketer to stick to digital communications, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the most effective means of communication.
Millennials — more than any other generation — are more likely than not to check their email frequently or open messages from brands. Sleep Advisor found that one in three millennials check their email as soon as they wake up, and a 2018 Adobe consumer email survey found millennials spend an average of 6.4 hours a day using email. To a marketer looking at these data points, an email campaign may seem the best option to communicating with a millennial, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.
It turns out that 74% of millennials say that they receive too many emails, and 70% are frustrated by irrelevant emails sent by brands, according to a study by SmarterHQ. This digital fatigue and inbox overload make hard copy communications like direct mail a much more appealing option, and one that stands out more from the flood of emails and online ads. In fact, one study by the USPS showed that 75% of millennials said that receiving personal mail makes them feel special. Because of this, 62% of those same respondents said they had visited a store in the past month based on information received from their mailbox.
Age is not just a number. Generational segmentation is just the first step in creating personalized, targeted marketing campaigns, but it’s a big one. While it’s important not to stereotype or put age groups in a box, using data and insights from generational research can prove extremely effective at helping you better understand your consumers’ motivations, values, and preferences. By utilizing those understandings, marketers will be better able to tailor their messages and offers and create deeper, more meaningful connections with all their customers, both big and small, old and young.
Ashley Leone is marketing and corporate communications coordinator at IWCO Direct, where she researches and writes for a variety of channels on a range of topics, including millennial marketing trends and purchasing habits. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2022 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.