To successfully market a brand or product, brand owners must have a deep understanding of the characteristics and behaviours of their dream customer.

Although there are many different ways to segment consumers, one approach is generational segmentation. This is when people are divided into groups based on the era they grew up in, such as Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z.

At Brandspeak we’ve conducted exhaustive amounts of research with the six current generational groups, addressing financial matters, holidays, hobbies, cars, relationships – and everything in between. This has given us an acute knowledge of the differences between the groups, and valuable insights into how to market to them.

Talking about My Generation: Understanding Generational Marketing Brand Speak Market Research

In this article we highlight some of the characteristics that we have found to define the different generations, as well as the key marketing channels and techniques that they are most receptive to.

The Silent Generation (born 1926 – 1945)

Key events: The Great Depression (1929), World War II (1939 – 1945)

Newspaper headlines: ‘Britain at War with Germany’ (Nottingham Post, 3 September 1939)

Chart-topping songs: Swinging on a Star, Bing Crosby (1944); Cheek to Cheek, Fred Astaire (1935)

Talking about My Generation: Understanding Generational Marketing Brand Speak Market Research
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

The term ‘the Silent Generation’ was coined in a Time magazine article in the 1950s, and it referred to the fact that the children of this generation were taught to be seen and not heard.

The members of the Silent Generation had direct experience of World War II, which will have shaped their upbringing and their outlook on life.

Members of the Silent Generation generally know how to make do and accept their lot in life.  Their experiences taught them to be frugal, disciplined, realistic and grounded in their expectations. This generation generally respects authority, conformity and the ‘order of things’.

Key marketing channels & techniques

The Silent Generation is the most likely to consume print media, with research stating that they are 56% more likely to read a newspaper than other adults. Adverts in newspapers can be a useful marketing channel, as well as direct mail.

Members of this generation are active TV viewers, so commercials can be an effective way to reach them too.

They tend to be loyal customers, so it’s critical to gain their trust. They value fair pricing and being understood, and family values are also important.

Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)

Key events: Vietnam War (1945-6), Assassination of JFK (1963), Beatlemania (1963 onwards)

Newspaper headlines: US Spaceman Orbits Earth (1962)

Chart-topping songs: Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley (1957); Let’s Twist Again, Chubby Checker (1961)

Talking about My Generation: Understanding Generational Marketing Brand Speak Market Research

Baby Boomers were so named because of the surge in births that occurred after World War II.  It was not until after 1964 that birth rates would begin to decline again.

The Baby Boomer era was influenced both by the austerity of the receding war years and by a sense of renewal and optimism that characterised the investment and rebuilding of the post-war years.

The scarcity of food and materials meant that this generation was taught to be frugal and self-sufficient, whilst the growing economy provided opportunities for those who were prepared to work hard. During the post-war years the value and importance of money was drummed into them, and Baby Boomers are particularly likely to feel rewarded by money.

Key marketing channels & techniques

Baby Boomers are consumers of traditional media like TV, print and radio. However, they have also embraced technology and are likely to be receptive to email marketing and brands with a presence on Facebook.

But be cautious with Facebook retargeting ads, as Baby Boomers are likely to be suspicious that you are trying to trick them into buying your product.

Slow-paced and informative videos may be a more effective way to generate interest in your product or brand, and the availability of both email and phone support will also be an advantage.

Generation X (born 1966 – 1980)

Key events: The Watergate scandal (1972), British steel strike (1980)

Newspaper headlines: ‘Meet Our New Money’ (decimalisation, Daily Mirror, 1970); ‘King Elvis Dead’ (The Sun, 1977)

Chart-topping songs: Hey Jude, The Beatles (1968); Dancing Queen, ABBA (1977)

Talking about My Generation: Understanding Generational Marketing Brand Speak Market Research
Prinkipo/Shutterstock

This generation was born into an era where technology was developing fast, but wasn’t yet readily available. Although Gen Xers didn’t grow up using computers, they adapted to new technology quickly and became accustomed to using it in the workplace.

Generation X is characterised by a sceptical nature that is partly the result of events such as the Watergate scandal and dramatic inflation, which led to large-scale layoffs.

Members of this generation typically have a ‘workaholic’ work ethic, and often struggle to find the right work-life balance in their time-poor lifestyles.

Key marketing channels & techniques

Although 95% of this generation are active on Facebook, they are more responsive to email marketing than social campaigns.

Positive reviews of your product or brand are a key purchase driver for Gen Xers, and can be a great way to gain the trust of this sceptical consumer group. Once they have been won over, they have high brand loyalty and appreciate loyalty programmes.

Gen Xers enjoy shopping (particularly online), but have little time for lengthy checkout processes or websites that are difficult to navigate.

More than any other generation, they appreciate ‘click and collect options when purchasing products.

Millennials/Generation Y (born 1980 – 1996)

Key events: The Gulf War (1990-91), the birth of the internet (1983)

Newspaper headlines: ‘Simpson Found Not Guilty’ (1994), ‘Clone Shock’ (cloning of Dolly the sheep, The Sun, 1996)

Chart-topping songs: Like A Prayer, Madonna (1989); Wonderwall, Oasis (1995)

Talking about My Generation: Understanding Generational Marketing Brand Speak Market Research
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Millennials grew up in an age of information, technology and a war on terror. Although they are fully comfortable with using technology, the digital world is one they have migrated to from their largely analogue childhoods.

This generation is distrustful of big brands and corporations, and values authenticity and transparency highly.

They are also socially conscious, and likely to seek out ethical brands that align with their own beliefs and values. Self-expression and individuality is important to Millennials, and they are often looking for a more personalised shopping experience.

Key marketing channels & techniques

Millennials are always connected, and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all great places to reach them. Although they still watch TV, this is more likely to be through streaming platforms like Netflix rather than traditional channels.

Social media campaigns are more effective than email marketing with this group, and pushy advertising techniques are a turn-off.

Instead, Millennials appreciate honesty and value the opinions of influencers and their peers. They are keen to engage with brands and respond well to user-generated content, as well as positive customer reviews.

Gen Z (born 1997 – 2012)

Image: VectorMine/Shutterstock

Key events: First iPhone comes out (2007), Iraq War (2003 – 2011)

Newspaper headlines: US Election: Obama Wins Second Term (The Guardian, 2012), Osama bin Laden Is Dead (The Guardian, 2011)

Chart-topping songs: Rolling in the Deep, Adele (2011); Bad Romance, Lady Gaga (2010)

Talking about My Generation: Understanding Generational Marketing Brand Speak Market Research
VectorMine/Shutterstock

Generation Z is the first generation to be born into a world where smartphones and mobile technology already exist, and for this reason they can be considered ‘digital natives’.

People in this group are likely to have strong views on politics and current affairs, which they share on social media. Generation Z feels like it has a duty to improve the world it has inherited, and its members are generally willing to pay a premium for eco-friendly products from socially conscious brands.

Generation Z prizes authenticity and quality over brand loyalty, and members of this generation will choose brands that align with their own core values.

Key marketing channels & techniques

Generation Z is all about the mobile experience. This generation of multi-taskers has an attention span of around eight seconds, so marketing content must be brief, relevant and eye-catching.

Videos are one of the most effective ways to reach Generation Z, and YouTube’s six-second bumper ads can be a great tool to generate brand awareness.

TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram stories are also useful channels to connect with this generation, as well as collaboration with popular influencers and YouTubers.

Generation Alpha (born 2012 onwards)

Image: Morrowind/Shutterstock

Key events: Covid-19, Paris Agreement on climate change (2015)

Newspaper headlines: ‘Lockdown 2 to Avoid Disaster’ (Sunday Times, Nov. 2020), ‘The March for Change’ (Black Lives Matter protests, The Daily Mirror, June 2020)

Chart-topping songs: Thinking Out Loud, Ed Sheeran (2014); Sorry, Justin Bieber (2016)

Talking about My Generation: Understanding Generational Marketing Brand Speak Market Research

Although you may not have heard of it yet, Generation Alpha is the next generational group. Since the oldest members are only 11 at the time of writing, it is impossible to know what the defining characteristics of this generation will be. However, it is possible to make a few predictions.

Alphas will be even more technology-literate than their predecessors, with iPads and interactive technology becoming the norm in both home and school life.

This generation is also likely to be the wealthiest yet. This is partly due to staying in education for longer, and partly because many Alphas are likely to be born into single-child households. The number of children per family has been declining since 2012, and this trend is likely to continue as a longer life expectancy and greater opportunities for women mean that they have children later in life, or not at all.

Due to this increased wealth, it is expected that Generation Alpha will be more concerned about ethics and purpose rather than earning the maximum profit.

Cultural diversity and individuality will be of great importance to this generation, as well as social responsibility and instant accessibility.

Key marketing channels & techniques

Members of Generation Alpha are likely to use social media platforms and channels that aren’t even in existence yet.

To connect with this consumer group, brands will need to focus on accessibility across multiple devices, speed and customisation.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will be increasingly important, as this generation will expect brands to demonstrate that they are socially conscious and ethical.

Generational Segmentation and the Customer-First Approach

Generational segmentation is a valuable tool that gives brand owners a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour and motivations, and can be used to inform brand strategy.

However, it’s important to remember that this approach is part of the wider picture, and not the only way to understand consumer behaviour.

At Brandspeak we’ve found that many attitudinal and behavioural characteristics are indeed generational, meaning that they are ingrained and defining.

Others are more transient and related to a person’s life stage, and this context is important to remember during discussions where certain generations are described as selfish or entitled. Although Generation Z are currently on the receiving end of this kind of criticism, in the not-too-distant past the same words were being used to describe Millennials. Looking back a little further, Baby Boomers were also tarred with the same brush by their predecessors.

Rather than one generation being intrinsically more selfish or self-absorbed than another, it seems more likely that these characteristics are common to a particular age group or life stage.

Brandspeak recognises that there are multiple factors that can affect characteristics, behaviour and brand perception, from generation and life stage to gender, geographical location, income and more.

Our innovative customer-first approach uses generational segmentation as well as a range of other factors to help you understand consumers on a deeper level. This enables you to create products and marketing campaigns that speak directly to your target audience and increase your bottom line.

Brandspeak are generational research experts. To find out how we could help your brand, contact us on +44 (0)203 858 0052.

Jeremy Braune

View posts by Jeremy Braune
Jeremy specialises in delivering market research and consultancy programmes that enable organisations to maximise the impact of their brands, products and services, communications and customer experience delivery. His company, Brandspeak, has offices in London and Bristol and since 2004 it has been helping companies all over the UK and globally. Jeremy has also been a guest lecturer and speaker on London Business School's acclaimed MBA course, on the subject of Brands and Branding.

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