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Emily Nash

By: Emily Nash on July 8th, 2021

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Let's bust some generational myths

Lead Generation & Growth Strategies | member engagement | new generations

I'm a Millennial. And I can say with confidence, that even though my generational brand says I have the attention span of a goldfish, I have enough of it to write this blog 😜

So what do these generational labels really mean? How accurate are they? More importantly, how much do they come into play when it comes to your marketing efforts?

Our recent Spring VirCon 2021 session, You Sound Just Like My Mother—1.21 Gigawatts of Gen Z, which I had the fortunate opportunity to participate in, explored these questions and more, in a multi-generational, multi-disciplinary panel discussion. 

In our session, we discussed how the existence and evolution of technology impacts how each generation (Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z) responds to marketing messages and interacts with the world around them.

Because, let’s be honest—stereotypes abound when it comes to the generational continuum. To put some clarity around an otherwise obscure picture, we went deep into these stereotypes to debunk some myths and reveal some helpful, strategic truths. 

Myth 1—Boomers are tech averse
When younger generations picture “Baby Boomers,” all too often, they envision their grandparents struggling (or refusing) to use a smart phone. And sure, there are some folks from older generations who will never see the value in adopting the latest and greatest in technology. But not all. 
 
The truth is, a number of Baby Boomers have the disposable income to invest in smart home and high-speed internet technologies. They have even more of a need for support and efficiency, and are, in some cases, just as interested in keeping up with their younger counterparts.
 
 
In fact, AARP reports that most smartphone owners between 50 to 59 years old use their phones to check email, get directions, browse the internet and watch the news. And more than half of them use their smartphones to play games and make purchases (Forbes).  
 
They're still buying. They're still connected. So, it's clear they're still a viable target when it comes to digital marketing. So where do you go from here to build synergies with them in a meaningful way?
 
How to get 'in' with them 
  • Don't discount them—Include Baby Boomers in your digital marketing strategies, and spend time fine-tuning your images, interfaces, and messaging to appeal to their experience and interests. 
  • Long-form is a good thingWhile Millennials and Gen Z may find quickly changing visual content (think Instagram stories and TikTok videos) most engaging, Baby Boomers are much more likely to take the time to read through your messaging from start to finish.
  • Take the time to connect—Relationship building and brand loyalty are key with this group, so spending that time with them will pay off in the end. Methods like email or phone are more conducive to this longer-form communication, so it’s best to save your snappy SMS messages for your younger groups. 
  • Camaraderie counts—These are individuals that want to be part of a group for the long-game. They're nostalgic. They're devoted. And they'll join organizations to create long-lasting friendships with others sharing similar interests. Play into the networking and collaborative aspects of your organization whenever possible.
Myth 2—Gen Xers are skeptics
In many ways, Gen X is somewhat of a “forgotten middle child” given the stark contrasts often drawn between Boomers and Millennials.
 
However, Gen Xers are uniquely positioned as they straddle the line between these two larger groups. These are individuals who often help their Boomer parents use their technologies while raising children with the internet at their fingertips.
 
And perhaps this intermediary position is why this group has fallen under the prevailing stereotype of skepticism. However, after looking closer at this generalization, what presents as skepticism is actually a by-product of life-long self-sufficiency, and a desire for effective approaches and results. 

Gen Xers were the original “latch-key” generation, learning to take care of themselves from an early age. This experience of autonomy drives Gen Xers to find out answers for themselves and determine their own best course of action when it comes to their professional and personal lives.

As it relates to technology, many Gen Xers grew up with early versions of personal computers at home. They have a long-held familiarity with desktops but may juggle a number of devices in their work setting. Whereas their younger counterparts may feel more comfortable operating exclusively from mobile tech.

Gen Xers have seen technological and digital marketing trends come and go.  They want to see what really stands the test of time, and shows effectiveness. This group is unlikely to jump on the latest social media bandwagon, but will continue on tried-and-true platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.

How to get 'in' with them 

  • Push the flowery stuff aside—Lose the fluff, prove your value through your marketing programs, don't discount their experiences, and demonstrate that you mean business.
  • Play to their ego—Gen Xers make up a substantial portion of the C-Suite within organizations. Recognize and appeal to their expertise, and demonstrate what your organization can do for their teams.
  • Proof is in the pudding—Fend off that natural skepticism (or self-reliance) by proving the value of what you’re offering through real-world results. This is where testimonials, case studies, and 'meet a member' programs may come into play.
  • Be device-mindful—Take the time to think through all of of the devices they’re using throughout their day—many juggle desktop, laptop, and handheld tech. Be thoughtful about the platforms you’re using and the delivery on each. 
Myth 3—Millennials have zero attention span
We’ve all heard it before: Millennials just don’t have the attention span to sit through your entire webinar, or read your whole article, or even spend more than two  minutes on a given task at a time.
 
This group has grown up with a whole lot of noise. From traditional TV and radio ads, to the swath of social media, to smart home, to mobile technologies—Millennials pulse off of all of it.
 
Social media has been a central part of most Millennials’ lives since very early ages. So, they’re adept at consuming news and trends in quick, attention-grabbing headlines. Because Millennials have multi-channel wiring, scanning and honing is their super power. 

So yes, they do a lot of jumping around, meaning your message needs to be everywhere in a truly omnichannel, omni-format approach to capture their often divided attention. Think email, social, organic web content, SMS, videos, podcasts—Millennials will "scan-sume" all of these formats to find the answers they’re looking for.

Like their younger counterparts (Gen Z), Millennials are thorough researchers because they’ve grown up with access to lots and lots of information. When they discover your association across these platforms, they’ll start to dive into your content with more focus, so you have to keep their attention long enough for them to first trust you, and then come back for more. 

How to get 'in' with them 

  • Show up—Be present, stay consistent, and stay interesting across all channels. A single email likely won’t do the trick, but an entire omnichannel campaign around the content of that email might.
  • Solve, don't push—This generation will see right through anything that feels too “salesy” or forced. This is an extremely nurture-worthy group. They want to be wined and dined with thought leadership and different perspectives.
  • Given them virtual connection—Millennials often seek out communities online. Providing a platform where these professionals can learn from their more seasoned counterparts and from one other (especially in the age of remote work) is a great way to keep them sticky with your organization. 
  • Don't shy away from controversy—Given their nature to sift through volumes of information, they're more than inclined to take in and reconcile diverse perspectives.
Myth 4—Gen Z is "too sensitive"
You might be thinking, “Wait a second, I thought Millennials were the youngest members of the workforce!”
 
Yep they were—ten years ago.
 
The average Millennial today is in their 30s, with close to a decade of professional experience under their belt. So, scooch over Millennials into your mid-level, 'no longer scraping by' salary position, and starter family.
 
Enter your fresh-out-of-college, newbie professional—Gen Z. While Millennials might have had to wait until high school to get a flip phone to text their friends, Gen Z was watching cartoons on smartphones as toddlers. 

This is the group that came out of the womb, device ready. That readily-available wealth of information has impacted this generation in ways that make them appear to be “overly sensitive.”

However, taking a deeper look, it's clear that constant access to information often makes Gen Zers feel compelled or even burdened to educate themselves on every possible topic out there. 

Knowing a lot about world issues, particularly environmental and social justice concerns, means caring a lot about things. “Burying their heads in the sand” is simply not an option for Gen Z. They want to be part of movements that matter, and they seek out organizations that contribute to meaningful causes.

Not only are Gen Zers inclined to research topics in great detail like their Millennial counterparts, they have grown to expect content served to them in a way that's curated, searchable, and bite-sized. Think TikTok, Instagram, and other similar platforms.

How to get 'in' with them 

  • Serve it up in bulkConsider ways that you can aggregate content that is particularly applicable to Gen Z and serve it to them in e-blast, video, or social media formats. This delivery will capture their attention, lend credibility to your organization, and make Gen Zers feel like you’ve really taken the time to get to know them and their interests.
  • Dabble in new platforms—This group knows social media inside and out and are early adopters of new platforms. They're quickly becoming the tech tastemakers for older generations. 
  • Lean into cause-based programmingMillennials and Gen Z are the future of the workforce, and both groups expect to see the companies and organizations they support standing up for something.  If a commitment to social justice consciousness has just not been on the radar yet for your association, now’s the time to brainstorm.
  • Exercise authenticity—Serve them curated content with a lens on social justice, legislation, and policy-making. But do it in the most authentic way. If you're just checking off a box or you're not truly standing behind your tune, you risk losing them entirely.
Myth 5: You have to be an generational expert
Knowing the traits of each generation is interesting, and helpful when designing your marketing approach, particularly when it comes to messaging, content format, and programming. But it's just one piece of a much larger picture in terms of audience segmentation. 
 
To hit your multi-generational mark, start with these generational propensities and crosstab them with each of your data categories—demographic, firmographic, behavioral, transactional, and psychographic. 
 
You'll want to use all of this available data to build personas within your organization so that you're categorizing and communicating with your members and customers, regardless of generation, in a meaningful way.
 
Watch this session and more
Spring Vircon on demand-1
 

 
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About Emily Nash

Emily is a Digital Advisor with 10 years of blended experiences in inbound marketing strategy, email marketing & marketing automation, marketing technology, content production, social media, and advertising. With a versatile background in freelance, consulting, and corporate settings, Emily specializes in identifying and implementing effective digital strategies for associations and businesses. She’s also a host of HighRoad's Rethink Association podcast, where she discusses mainstream marketing and technology solutions and how association growth and recruitment goals can appeal to younger generations.