Marketing to the Millennial vs. the Boomer — What you need to know

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Tony Tie, senior search marketer at Expedia Canada, shares his insights into the similarities and differences between marketing to Boomers and Millennials.

Millennials may be starting their professional lives while Baby Boomers settle into the freedoms of retirement, but both generations want to experience life — albeit in different ways, for different reasons, and with different expectations.

Millennials are open to trying new things — especially when it comes to technology and user interfaces. But that affinity for adventure applies to experiences, too. Airbnb found that the majority of Millennials report prioritizing travel over purchasing a home or paying off loans. When it comes to how they receive marketing messages, they prefer promotions that feature real testimonials and engagement with a product. When they like a brand, they’re willing to proclaim their love on social media, and nearly 50% of them trust user-generated content about a brand.

Boomers, on the other hand, aren’t as credulous, with only 36% trusting user-generated content. They value promotions — often in written form — based on the product itself. This type of messaging is perfect for more complex products and services such as insurance, but don’t be so quick to write this generation off. Boomers are more apt to spend money on travel, home improvement, and charities. In fact, about 40% of affluent Boomers plan to spend more on travel next year.

Faced with these differences, it’s no wonder digital marketers don’t know where to focus. But creating content that speaks to their unique values is key to striking a chord with both Millennials and Boomers.

Appealing to Millennials

Millennials are a force to be reckoned with. This year, they’re expected to spend over $200bn — and $10t in their lifetimes. To capitalize on that massive purchasing power, here are three elements that marketers need to keep top of mind:

• Communicate purpose and authenticity. Millennials have learned to tune out traditional advertising campaigns but still value authentic information, even if it’s coming from a brand. Authenticity shines through when a company showcases its ability to be transparent, relevant, and caring.

Marketers need to avoid a hard sell; provide either educational or entertaining content instead. (But keep in mind that Millennials are also discount-savvy; nearly two-thirds will like a brand on Facebook just to obtain a coupon or discount.)

In the travel industry, capturing a mood can be very effective when marketing to Millennials — especially when there’s an emphasis on self-discovery and adventure. Airbnb has executed this strategy beautifully with its ‘Belong Anywhere’ messaging. Perhaps that’s why about 60% of the company’s customers are Millennials.

• Focus on mobile. Millennials don’t go anywhere without their phones — 54 percent report they’re constantly checking them throughout the day. They’re practically married to their devices, so at the very least, brands should optimize websites and landing pages for mobile. This means fast load times and a mobile-friendly call to action. From there, marketers should consider other elements that attract Millennials, like a reward system or gamification.

Remember, Millennials are known to multitask while consuming media, which makes it difficult to capture and maintain their attention. They’ll tune out even faster if a campaign isn’t compatible with their favorite device.

• Go social.
Social media has changed much about the way humans portray their lives. When it comes to traveling, in particular, Millennials gravitate toward social media — sharing their latest adventures with their followers. That said, marketers can join in the conversation by providing young travelers with custom Snapchat geofilters, for example.

Brands should diligently manage their own social accounts as well. Live check-ins and updates provide an interactive experience to followers, and any digital marketing campaign needs to include images and video. In fact, 88% of Millennials want video in the digital ads they consume. These consumers want to see the product and brand in action, not necessarily read about it.

Appealing to Boomers

Millennials may have surpassed Boomers as the largest generation, but Boomers still command the most financial assets. As a group, Nielsen reported that Boomers control over 70% of the nation’s disposable income. This generation has money to burn, so it’s key that marketers focus on what makes Boomers tick.

Consider these three elements regarding digital marketing campaigns for this generation:

• Put it in writing.
Boomers make up more than 30% of the United States’ 200m-plus Internet users. But in stark contrast to their Millennial counterparts, Boomers are more likely to consume online content from news or magazine-style websites. They tend to research and read reviews before making purchase decisions and are less interested in images and videos.

When planning a trip, over half of Boomers rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, but about 40 percent also head online to browse travel sites and read up on reviews before making a decision. More so than Millennials, Boomers focus on quality, luxury, and safety. So brands that want to reach this older audience should incorporate these messages into their content.

• Be visible on local search. Boomers are known to do a good deal of research online before swiping their credit cards. But unlike Millennials who gather intel from social media influencers, 82% of Boomers and seniors use a search engine to find information. So marketers would do well to optimize their sites for keywords to build their rankings in local search engines.

• Don’t count out social. Contrary to stereotypes, Boomers are active on social media — and Facebook is their network of choice. Of the 8.8m Facebook users over the age of 65, 15.5% spend more than 11 hours a week on the site. In comparison to the average consumer, Boomers are just as active on Twitter and even more engaged on professional sites like LinkedIn.

Brands need to have presences on these platforms, with content that engages Boomers in ways to stimulate conversation. But don’t expect them to respond while they’re on the beach: Two-thirds report they won’t post on social media while on vacation.

Marketing to different generations isn’t about creating cutesy content for Millennials or enlarging the font sizes for Boomers. Instead, digital marketers need to find ways to incorporate their content into formats that resonate with each generation. By keeping these tips in mind, companies can attract consumers of all ages.

Tony Tie (pictured top left) is a numbers-obsessed marketer, life hacker, and public speaker who has helped various Fortune 500 companies grow their online presence. Located in Toronto, he is currently the senior search marketer at Expedia Canada, the leading travel booking platform for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and local activities. Connect with Tony on Twitter @tonytie.

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