The age of ageless marketing: looking past the stereotypes
It’s good practice to take your audience’s age range into consideration, but it’s their attitudes and behaviors that need to be the focal point of your strategy
If you’ve ever spent time browsing Reddit, you may have, at one point or another, come across a section of the site called r/FellowKids.
For the uninitiated, it’s a subreddit dedicated to poking fun at brands who have absolutely no idea how to market to anyone under the age of 25.
Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of examples, either.
Surprisingly, despite Millennials and older members of Generation Z making up a decent chunk of the US consumer population, many marketing teams seem to have no idea how to engage with these audiences in a way that doesn’t reek of inauthenticity.
But the message here isn’t that “brands often don’t know how to market to younger audiences.”
The real issue is that generational marketing is a flawed practice in the first place.
Is there value in knowing which generation(s) your target audience belongs to? Absolutely.
But, relying too heavily on this one piece of information will almost certainly doom your marketing efforts from the get-go.
Why and how generational marketing initiatives fail
If we were to nail down a single reason as to why brands often fail in their attempts to market to different generations, we’d have to go with stereotyping.
This unwittingly causes marketers to start seeing their audience members as the “average” of an entire generation, instead of individuals. At a time when personalization is key to a brand’s ability to engage with its customers, this approach just isn’t going to be effective.
As we showed above, content created with a vague idea of what resonates with a specific generation based on surface-level characteristics will almost certainly fall flat with said audience. In some cases, it can even come off as inauthentic pandering:
This stereotyping of different generations also comes into play in the offers companies provide their customers.
A few examples of what we mean, here:
- Younger consumers aren’t loyal to brands anymore
- Social media is just for kids
- Only older generations use coupons
As a 2018 Deloitte research posits, these and other stereotypes of generational consumers are inaccurate at best—and completely false at worst. More often than not, there’s no single “black and white” answer to how an individual within a certain age range shops.
And, again, most marketers likely know this on some level. After all, it’s not like they always act as they believe all people in their age range do. For example…
- The 50-year-old senior team lead likely engages with their favorite brands on social media at least once in a while
- The 30-year-old social media expert probably belongs to one or two loyalty programs
- The fresh-out-of-college, broke-as-a-joke account coordinator would jump at the opportunity to save a few bucks
Still, when it comes to marketing to other people within a specific generation, marketers end up relying on the “tried-and-true” tactics that have supposedly “always” worked best for a given audience segment.
The problem, of course, is that while it is good practice to take your audience’s age range into consideration when developing a new marketing initiative, basing the entire initiative off of this data will likely lead to more missed opportunities than successful ones.
Attitudinal marketing: the solution to generational stereotyping
Instead of focusing on the surface-level characteristics of your generational segments, Deloitte argues that we should be thinking about how an individual’s generational data plays into who they are as an overall person. This is a more nuanced approach to customer profiling, focused on consumer behavior and attitudes rather than demographics.
In its report, Deloitte introduces four examples of cross-generational customer personas:
- Aspirationalists, who are always on the lookout for the newest products and innovations, often make impulse purchases with little regard for price, and will engage with brands in a variety of ways both on- and offline.
- Responsible Go-Getters, who are interested in new trends, innovations, etc., but will plan their purchases to ensure their needs and basic self-care costs are covered first.
- Discerning Achievers, who are typically more health- and environmentally-conscious, focus heavily on the value provided by potential purchases, and make consistent purchases from the brands they do business with.
- Pragmatists, who are very conservative in their spending, yet consistent in the purchases they do make. This segment is the least interested in brand names, and least interested in digital commerce, overall.
Notice that none of these personas say anything about the consumer’s age range.
Of course, that’s that point.
These segments cut across generations, indicating that attitudes are not hardwired by age. Even though each segment may be dominated by one or two age groups, they represent consumers of all ages by virtue of similarity in their behavior.
For the sake of comprehensiveness, here’s where overlaps tend to occur:
- Aspirationalists often belong to Generation Z or are Millennial age, earn a low income and may live at home, and are typically single men.
- Responsible Go-Getters are usually older Millennials or younger members of Generation X, earn an above-average income, and are often married.
- Discerning Achievers are older Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, married, and have a wide income range.
- Pragmatists are female Gen-X and Baby Boomers, who usually have a stable, higher-than-average income and are married.
Notice that we’re still considering the same traditional variables (e.g., age, gender, marital status, income). But, rather than using them as our profiling starting point, we’re using this information to paint a more complete picture of who these individuals actually are.
The takeaway here isn’t to now see these cross-generational personas as the be-all-end-all of customer segmentation. While they’re certainly more insightful and contextual than mere age-based personas, relying too heavily on these templated customer descriptions will lead to further stereotyping (albeit in a different manner).
The real takeaway is that it’s the internal characteristics (and their external manifestations) that turn your target audience into the individual consumers and people they are. These attributes should be the core of your profiling strategy, because they are the areas of your customers’ life that really matter with regard to their relationship with your brand.
And most importantly—a heightened marketing focus on a specific generation shouldn’t blind your brand to the potential and opportunities of other generations. Don’t market to millennials or Generation Z’s. Market to the audiences who share the attitudes and behaviors that make your brand most relevant to them, age notwithstanding.