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From handshakes to hashtags, how marketers can tap into generational buying power

By Mark Stecker




The world is upside down. Apart from wars and recessions, ‘Easter crackers’ are the latest indicator of this deep turmoil. To add to the madness, did you know that Gen Z is boosting the long-dead flip-phone market and that Boomers are one of gaming’s fastest-growing demographics?


“WTF” we hear you say. Marketers need to re-think their generational targeting, but the good news is that people are creatures of habit and stereotypes exist for a reason. There’s still value to be found in targeting generational quirks if it’s approached in the right way – here’s all you need to know.


Understand what makes generations tick


Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, value tradition, hard work, and reliability. Handshakes mean more than hashtags (not even a pandemic could deter them) and they don't care about your pronouns. They tend to stick with the brands they know (so they’ll stay with the bank or insurer they first signed up with, in literally, the last century).


Gen X, born between 1965 and 1980, are about independence and working/playing hard. Also known as the “latchkey” or “lost” generation – they grew up without wearing seatbelts and their parents were either employed full time or divorced, or both. They’re the overlooked ‘middle child’ of the generations, living in the shadow of Boomers’ expectations and drowned out by the ‘me-focused’ millennials.


 Gen X


Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, value experiences and are tech-savvy. They’re nebulous, because those born in the early ‘80s are an in-between group who had an analogue childhood and digital adulthood. Otherwise known as ‘Xennials’, this group is more like Gen X – who like to hold on to the nostalgia of their youth (like their dusty CD collections), but they also embrace the ways of the future. Despite economic challenges due to too much avo on toast, some millennials have significant spending power (think: tech, travel, and food). They hate speaking on the phone, check their email a lot, and value brand authenticity).




Hated by Boomers and millennials in equal measure, Gen Zs were born between 1996 and 2012. They are the TikTok-obsessed ‘digital natives’ with strangely coloured hair who value financial stability. They’ve grown up in a world of instability, with a few lockdowns thrown in for funsies, so they’re always looking for ways to make their lives less complicated. Despite having $360 billion in disposable income, they’re notoriously difficult for marketers to target, as they’re all about ad blockers and they’re thrifty as hell. However, if you offer them transparent and honest communication, and they might make you go viral.


Generational overlap – it’s not so clear cut


Since Covid forced everyone to spend more time on screens, there has been an increasing overlap of generational behaviours. Marketers need to consider that generational differences are less defined due to the world being more digital- first.


For example, during the pandemic, Boomers were forced to use more tech. They’ve played digital catch-up and have adopted online shopping, streaming, and even gaming (Boomers are one of gaming’s fastest-growing demographics; the percentage of Boomer gamers aged 55 to 64 grew by 32% in two years). Plus, the number of Boomers who follow influencers has risen by 12% in the past three years. While Gen X, who, true to form, are often overlooked by marketers, actually spend the most out of all the generations.


TikTok is another case in point: 23.9 percent of TikTok’s monthly active users in the U.S. are 18 to 24, but a whole quarter (25.2 percent) are now 25 to 34. While Gen Z spends the most time on social media across the board (nearly three hours a day on average, in case you were wondering), unlike Boomers, up to a third of Gen Zers want to cut down on their screentime and experience that weird and unexplored place, IRL. Things like BookTok, a revival of old-school devices like point-and-shoot cameras, and the popularity of vintage thrifting point to this phenomenon.


What marketers can do to target each group




No matter the generation, brands need to understand that whatever content they put out needs to a) resonate with the target audience and b) be discoverable. Marketers, you need to know what makes each group tick so you can package your marketing appropriately. It doesn't matter what group of people it is, if you understand them, then you can target them better.


Your content needs to also be discoverable – people will come to you organically if you’re putting out what they feel speaks to them. How we discover new brands and products is constantly evolving – Gen Z are finding products on social media and not on search engines, while ‘deinfluencing’ is gaining traction.


Having said that, each generation does have characteristics that marketers can't ignore. CMOs, if you’re thinking of targeting along generational lines, here’s what we suggest you implement in your next campaign.




Remember, they’re about trust – and they’re starting to get into influencers. They tend to be more sceptical, so one way of gaining their trust is by leveraging older influencers; this way, your brand can talk to this segment authentically and inclusively – which, in a roundabout way, might even appeal to Gen Z.


Educational content emphasising benefits works well with this cohort, too, so if you’re a beauty brand, a CTA for this group could be: Discover the Science Behind Youthful Skin!


Display ads are also useful for Boomers. While they still value traditional advertising channels such as television, a digital approach, minus the video bells and whistles and meme marketing (which they just won't get), can be effective.


Gen X:


Despite being so old (at least to Gen Z and their younger counterparts), Gen X were the original tech trailblazers. They continue to embrace technology albeit in a hybrid way: they enjoy in-person shopping but they’re keen online shoppers, too, they’re big on email and check it on every device imaginable, and they love a good, old-fashioned discount and loyalty programme (but make it digital). 


This generation still appreciates traditional media like TV, radio, and even newspapers, but they’re very much online. Email campaigns are not to be overlooked (it’s also their preferred way of communicating with companies), Facebook is still hugely popular (and to a lesser extent, Instagram), and they’ll happily Google before making a purchase (so SEO targeting is a must).

If you offer them digital coupons and great loyalty perks you’ll have Gen X in your back pocket (plus, you won’t even notice they’re there, jokes).




Keep in mind that millennials are a little bipolar as they’re cynical and optimistic; they’ll pay a premium for a product that's sustainably sourced, but they have no problem with spending on the latest gadget (made using the tiny hands of Congolese child labour).


Engage with them through social media platforms, seamless omnichannel experiences, and cause-related marketing campaigns (the ones that suit them, at least). Real-life results and testimonials go a long way with this group, as they value peer reviews and influencer recommendations.


A good mailer campaign could also work well (seeing that like Gen X, they’re constantly checking their emails), as well as mobile-first video content that highlights authenticity.


Gen Z:


Keep it transparent and use storytelling that makes them feel connected. Short-form video and TikTok content goes without saying, but consider out-of-the-box audio formats. For example, your brand could play around with giving customers the ability to leave feedback via voice notes (millennials will love this, too).


Also, consider the creative you use, like visuals and subtitles. Interestingly, subtitles aren’t just for the hard-of-hearing anymore – Boomers tend to avoid them like the plague due to a sense of pride (“everyone mumbles these days!”), but due to a chronically short attention span, Gen Z has embraced subtitles like no one’s business.


Whether you're targeting Boomers, millennials, or Gen Z, the key lies in resonating authentically with your audience while staying discoverable in an ocean of digital noise. Not easy, but it’s more than doable with the right strategy, leveraging trends, and understanding each generation’s quirks – whether that’s insisting on a firm handshake, having weird hair, or accepting that Easter crackers are now a thing.



Enjoyed this article? Share it with your peers so you look clever. Don’t know your Gen Zs from your Xennials, or are you a Gen Xer who just needs to be seen? Contact us; we can help with that.


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