Post Categories: Market Watch

From B to Z: Marketing to Boomers through Generation Z

By Retail News Insider

Over the coming decade, retailers will need to cater to at least four disparate generations of consumers without alienating the others. How will they do it? Understanding what drives each generation, where they differ and what brings them together—and what other factors come into play on the way to creating a cohesive experience for all—is the key.

As each new generation comes of age, many experts predict the latest generation will be one of disruption, bringing in new ideals, behaviors and trends into the marketplace. Baby Boomers ushered in a period of optimism and high consumption—they were the original “Me” generation. Generation X brought a sharp course correction, cynical of authority and placing more value on time and freedom than things. With Millennials brought the rise of digital. And today, Generation Z is on the precipice of once again introducing more change.

Or is it? It’s true that retailers must adapt to new generations as they enter their prime buying years. But that doesn’t mean forgetting everything we’ve learned from the generations that have come before them.

Understanding the Role of Generations in Retail

Countless studies have shown that each generation has been shaped by a unique set of experiences that inform a unique set of behaviors and preferences. For example, growing up in the post-World War II era, Baby Boomers were often indulged as children and were the first generation of young people to have significant spending power. They often favor products and services that make their lives more convenient or offer a taste of luxury.

On the other side of the coin, Generation X reached adulthood in more difficult economic times than their Boomer parents and as a result, are much more value conscious. They want products and services that are practical and that help them balance the commitments of work, family and their personal lives.

fredGallowayThese are clearly important factors for retailers and brands to consider. But they must understand that there is an inherent risk in losing one set of customers should they focus too heavily on one generation’s defining characteristics—or even on generational factors alone.

“Generational information provides a framework in which to understand consumers,” explains Dr. Fred Galloway, Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education. “But in addition to there being differences between the generations, there are also differences within each generation as well as socioeconomic factors, which may at times be even more important.”

As Galloway describes, socioeconomic factors can include things such as income, gender, race, parenting status and education—all of which can have a significant impact on consumers’ shopping preferences and buying habits. By way of illustration, he says, “Take a 24-year-old single mother and a 24-year-old single man. Yes, they’re of the same generation, but they likely have wildly different concerns and priorities that trump generational similarities.”

Finding a Strategy that Works

All of this is not to say that generational marketing is never appropriate. If a retailer or brand primarily targets consumers of a specific generation—for example, a teen clothing store or an anti-aging cream—then generational factors may have a significant role in guiding their marketing approach.


“Where it gets trickier and a little more analytical is where you say OK—two generations are buying my product: Generation X and Millennials. How can I market something to both generations without losing the other?” he says.

Galloway explains that there are multiple options, depending on the store, the product, the marketing platform and even the sales channel. “One approach is to look at the thin subset of characteristics that overlap the two generations—in analytical terms, we call this looking at the intersection. Then you can use those common characteristics to develop a strategy that speaks to both generations equally.”

For a product or service that appeals to both Millennials and Generation Z, this might mean focusing on providing an engaging experience—a core value held by both according to recent studies by Daymon Worlwide and Interactions Marketing. The Next Generation in Retail showed that “Millennials are experience-driven,” says Vasco Brinca, President of International for Daymon Worldwide. “For this group, happiness is less defined by possessions or career status. They will seek to share their personal time with the people they care about, creating, sharing and capturing memories.”

A recent Retail Perceptions survey by Interactions Marketing found similar results for Generation Z. When it comes to retail in particular, “this group is longing for retailers to provide an engaging in-store experience,” says Bharat Rupani, President of Interactions. “In fact, our study showed when given the choice, over 64 percent prefer shopping in-store versus online.”

“Another strategy is to market completely differently to the two generations using different avenues—for example, using different ads or different advertising vehicles,” Galloway explains. This could mean, for example, using TV commercials to advertise to Baby Boomers (91 percent of whom are likely to watch TV on any given day, versus 71 percent who go online, according to Millward Brown Digital) and Facebook ads to market to Millennials (at least 90 percent of whom have an account and spend 30 minutes a day, on average, on the site, according to analytics firm comScore).


For an in-store environment, Galloway suggests yet another strategy—looking at the union of characteristics for all the generations a retailer serves. This is the sum of all of the key traits of each generation that inform their buying habits. So for example, in a big box store that counts Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials amongst its target consumers, product information might include all of the various traits that would appeal to each of these audiences, such “easy-to-assemble,” “convenient,” “sustainable,” etc. For communication, that might mean offering consumers multiple avenues to connect—for example, via a phone number, an e-mail address and social media profiles.

The Bottom Line: Don’t Oversimplify

In the end, generational marketing does not come down to simply putting consumers into silos based on their age. It’s understanding that generational factors are just one piece of the larger puzzle in connecting with consumers in a targeted, customized way. Retailers and brands who use generational insights to inform, but not dictate, their approaches will ultimately see the greatest success.