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The Detail and Nuance of Generational Marketing

The Detail and Nuance of Generational Marketing

Segmenting audiences in marketing further defines very specific traits, like demographics, customer behavior, lifestyle, location, and personality. With 4 generations of customers dominating the makeup of brand audiences, it pays to better understand the differences between these consumers. Looking through the lens of different generations drills into how each group makes decisions, and how they prefer to receive information.

The 4 generations are clearly defined by birth year:

  • Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
  • Gen X: 1965-1980
  • Millennials: 1981-1996
  • Gen Z: 1997- 2012

Each of these generations engages in distinctly different ways with differing expectations. The trend of personalization highlights the need to understand what each generation expects, and by tailoring campaigns to these groups, companies can engage thoughtfully and genuinely. It’s not enough to be a great storyteller to these diverse audiences. How you tell the story matters just as much as the story itself.

Baby Boomers

It may come as a surprise that this generation walks the line by embracing new technology while still being receptive to traditional marketing. This generation includes 70.23 million Americans, making it the second-largest audience of the four. Considering that Boomers contribute $7 billion in spending, you cannot ignore their financial impact. Boomers possess nine times the wealth of Millennials, with the highest median wealth of any generation at $90,060 (according to the US Census).

Baby Boomers can be considered influencers in their own right since they have a lifetime of experience that is passed down to children and grandchildren. The purchases this group makes are a combination of purchases for themselves and an investment in the needs of their family. With the rise of multi-generational family households, the crossovers in marketing messages will directly affect more than just this demographic. As age expectancy increases, so does the lifespan of loyalty to a brand. If you can capture the attention of a reluctant Boomer, you likely have a devoted fan.

Baby Boomers prefer direct, unambiguous messages, so slang or acronyms are best avoided in marketing messages. This generation prefers email marketing, where they are the most likely of any other generation to open an email. With the rise of Boomers as the fastest-growing e-commerce audience, curating messages that resonate from social media to email strategy will win attention and loyalty.

Gen X

Generation X is the generation that grew up navigating technology while observing sweeping social and economic changes. This segment is currently in the prime of their professions, with responsibilities straddling caregiving across generations as well as work. Even though Gen X is a smaller segment of 65 million people in the US, its generous disposable income can be attributed to the average household income of $102,512.

Gen X loves nostalgia and is a big proponent of “retro” or throwbacks - at any premium. The positive associations with nostalgia marks a hopefulness and self-confidence that further reinforce these reboots. This devotion to nostalgia also translates to brand loyalty, where Gen X similarly sticks with what they know. As a result, loyalty rewards programs are a hit with this segment, especially with the perk of discounts and customized programs. This independent group has had to weather tremendous change, and brand loyalty may come because of this generation coming of age at the dawn of consumerism.

Like the Boomers, Gen X lives in a multi-generational household, but they are more likely to head this household. The importance of family to Gen X is highlighted by the sense of responsibility this generation has for caring for their combined households. Gen X is also the most likely to donate time to charitable causes and insist on researching whether or not companies are making the world a better place.

In the same surprising way that Boomers can also be considered influencers, Gen X will very shortly retire and graduate to the same buying habits as Baby Boomers.


The Millennial generation is the largest market, with 72 million US citizens, surpassing the Boomers to become the largest market in 2020. Millennial consumers shake things up by challenging consumerism as we know it, with significantly different experiences and buying habits. This generation grew up with access to the internet, and their buying habits reflect lives lived (and researched) on the internet. The access to information, instantly, makes Millennials far more skeptical than any other generation, as they can fact-check anything on the spot.

The relationship Millennials have with marketing is…. complicated. They value authenticity over sales pitches, and the skepticism of this segment is not afraid to call companies out publicly. The sweet spot in messaging any Millennial is to provide value through useful and relevant content. Please note that Millennials are the most educated generation in US history, supporting their love of research and data-driven campaigns that make an impact. Millennials are also more likely to trust a friend’s authentic recommendation over an advertisement.

Spending power for Millennials comes in at $2.5 trillion, but this staggering statistic does not reflect the downturns that this generation has weathered with 5 recessions, more student debt than their parents, and slower wage growth. The perception of economic insecurity contributes to the choice to live in multigenerational households. Millennials are more likely to plan their spending, understanding how to downsize life to prioritize expenses. The preference for experiences over things tracks perfectly with the Millennial lifestyle.

Millennials expect more from brands, even a higher social standard. Whether it’s doing charitable work in the world, or supporting customers through every stage of a purchase, this segment requires more from favorite brands. Millennials rely on interaction with brands through social media, their preferred source for purchasing decisions (as well as blogs and online news sites). Social media allows for better transparency and authenticity for this generation that cares about connecting in a different way than previous generations.

Gen Z

Gen Z is the newest generation on the block with unique points of view, as one of the most connected generations. With 69.5 million US citizens, this generation is reported to have $360 billion in buying power. In the same way Boomers influence family spending, Gen Z influences their parent’s choices. This generation has not yet fully realized its earning potential as they continue to enter the workforce, so this estimate will only increase over the next 20 years.

Gen Z values privacy and takes extra steps to keep boundaries in place. Building trust with this generation is a challenge, where there is an expectation for data security. Brands can establish this trust and loyalty with Gen Z through personalization as well as rewards programs offering great savings. The idea that brands should be more socially responsible, as well as price-conscious, carries over from Millennial expectations. Combining personalization with rewards programs seems to be the sweet spot for capturing Gen Z’s attention.

Gen Z entered the workforce earlier than any other generation, working more hours at this age than previous generations. Making money and achieving success play into motivating Gen Z, where this segment wants a challenge and the sense of forward progress. The mindset of Gen Z is unique to their connected, recession-weathered sensibilities. They see the world differently, and they're just getting started.

This generation feels connection through authenticity and relies heavily on recommendations and social media. Weaving storytelling with technology creatively is a reliable way to market a message to savvy Gen Z shoppers. Showcasing the 'behind the scenes' process, running campaigns that are less Photoshop and more “real life”, and incorporating influencer content can boost campaign effectiveness with Gen Z. The greater challenge in getting marketing messages through to Gen Z may lie in the fact that this generation is distracted, even when connected. Capturing attention with visually appealing content should be top of mind when designing for this generation. So, while your beautiful responsive design on a mobile device can capture attention, Gen Z shoppers prefer in-person purchases.


With the nuances of generational behaviors, it can be difficult to reach audiences with just one campaign. As a marketer, if you pay attention to the intersections of generational preferences, patterns emerge. Companies prioritizing authentic, personalized campaigns with loyalty rewards will win the hearts of entire households. And those flawlessly executing a seamless online/offline customer experience will enjoy the devotion of multiple generations of shoppers. One thing is certain, the preferences and expectations of consumers will evolve again as we welcome Generation Alpha.

Julie Cropp Gareleck is an experienced strategist, author, and founder of Junction Creative Solutions, where she works with global and growth stage brands on developing the right strategies to grow their business. She has been recognized as an industry experience and leader, featured on NBC affiliate Atlanta & Company, as well as in notable publications as the USA Today. Find Julie empowering business owners and entrepreneurs @JulieCroppGareleck.

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