Shop Your Age: Does Your Content Target by Generation?

Times Have Changed

It’s no surprise that each generation is different. Those who came of age during the Victorian era were likely worlds apart from the next generation, who reached young adulthood during the roaring ’20s. But is it necessary to market to people based on their generation? Are baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), gen Xers (born 1965 to 1979) and millennials (born 1980 to 2000) really so different that they need different marketing ploys according to shopping styles?

In many ways, yes. Consider the biggest cultural influence of the baby boomers: The Beatles. For gen X? It was The Brady Bunch (go ahead, ask anyone from that generation who George Glass was). Millennials? Their influence was, above all else, the Internet. And it’s theorized that the Internet makes millennials purchase decisions different from the generations before them. Well, that and the economy.

Putting the “Boom” in “Boomers”

Baby boomers are still the largest of these three generations, and they have the most money to spend. Baby boomers outspend other generations by an estimated $400 billion each year on consumer goods and services (U.S. Government Consumer Expenditure Survey).

This spending power is impressive and shouldn’t be ignored, but keep in mind how boomers spend that money. One thing this generation hates to admit is that they’re aging, and they’re slower than their younger counterparts when it comes to embracing new technology. Emarketer.com reports that while Internet users aged 50–69 go online to compare prices, what really motivates them is good old television advertising.

This group also owns fewer smartphones than gen Xers or millennials, and they use mobile devices for comparison shopping less often—they’re big users of home computers if they’re going online to purchase or research.

The Younger Crowd

Generation Xers do embrace the cell phone, and they’re not afraid to use smartphones and tablets to shop. DestinationCRM.com reports that 49% of gen X owns a smartphone and they use it to not only shop but, like the generation before them, to research products. Nelson Barber, an associate professor of hospitality management at the University of New Hampshire, said that “generation X is very motivated to search for purchase-related information … generation Xers tend to use information … as assurance that they are not being taken advantage of by marketers.”

Millennials, he said, are less driven by the worry that they’re being swindled and are more concerned with fitting in. “Generation Y selects and consumes products that help them achieve their goals of blending in with the crowd or a certain group,” Barber said.

Show Me the Money

But this younger group has a less frivolous side, says Claire Suddath in Bloomberg Businessweek. She says that since the downturn in the economy, “millennials have a little less disposable income than they expected, which means that consumer companies are now changing to serve them. It turns out that today’s 18-to-34 set likes clothes and gadgets and cool stuff just as much as earlier cohorts; they just don’t buy quite so much.” In fact, a study by immersionactive.com says that baby boomers outspend younger adults online 2:1 on a per-capita basis. The biggest challenge might be getting millennials to part with their hard-earned cash.

When they do buy, millennials also do research online, like their gen X and boomer counterparts. But according to a study by the Intelligence Group, they “prioritize access over ownership,” so if they can download something right now rather than wait, they will. They’d rather download a book than hold a hardcover, or get the song into their iTunes rather than own the CD.

The Internet Influences All

The three generations may be motivated by different things and look at different media to gather information—but it’s evident that the World Wide Web has influenced how everyone makes purchases and their shopping style. It seems too early to write off the old forms of marketing just yet. One study from Mooseylvania even found that millennials are still influenced by television advertising.

So tell us … what motivates you in a purchasing decision? Look at your age group and see if you match up with the shopping style research.