Best Ways to Message Generations, From Baby Boomers to Gen Z

Family at ThanksgivingThanksgiving. What better opportunity to observe the marketing and communicating across generations? Let’s look around the table. Traditional, it is not — at least not in a Norman Rockwell kind of way. Boomer grandparents are on their smartphones or iPads, catching up on Facebook and posting pictures of the family gathered around the table. Their Gen X children are snapping digital photos of the braised Brussels sprouts with bacon and tart cranberries to impress their friends on Facebook, while perusing pre-Black Friday sales online. Their Millennial children are Instagramming the same Brussels sprouts, but with an artsy twist and the hashtag #foodporn. Their Generation Z teenage siblings are sending Snapchat photos, streaming YouTube videos, checking WhatsApp to see when their latest crush was last online, and basically moving between social sites faster than the crescent rolls are disappearing. Any one of those people could be taking selfies (with relatives or Brussels sprouts).

Is the gap between generations as wide as it used to be? It would seem not — at least not on the digital front. The effective use of digital media now spans from “leading-edge” Baby Boomers to the technology-driven lifestyles of Gen Z. However, the difference between generations lies in the extent to which digital – or any other media for that matter – is used and its intent, or the purpose for which it is used.

Let’s talk extent first. Leading-edge Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are transition generations. They both have one foot in the analog world and one in the digital, with Gen Xers definitely leaning more into the digital. These two generations are accustomed to responding to direct mail and TV, as well as digital. An integrated media mix that covers all the bases is needed to satisfy their multimedia needs.

Millennials are up to their chests in digital and Gen Zers are up to their eyeballs in it. Digital budgets go up and other media budgets down for these two cohorts. In the case of Millennials, traditional media like direct mail and TV can work, and TV has been particularly successful. Millennials will multi-task between traditional media and the Internet. However, for Gen Zers, digital is really the only way to reach them.

The intent of a medium, or the purpose it serves for the prospect, varies by generation, and even within certain segments of a generation. For leading-edge Boomers (born from 1946 to 1955), one of the primary uses of the Internet is for information. For many of these Boomers, they were the first in their families to graduate from college. They will often use the Internet as their initial source of information before they contact a company directly. Why? They feel the need to be educated about something before they speak. To them, knowledge is power. What that means to you as a marketer is that both your search program and content had better be up to speed to meet the demands of this generation. They want relevant content that’s an easy click away.

Along with the even more digitally savvy and younger “trailing-edge” Boomers, there are leading-edge Boomers who want to use their smartphones to access information on mobile-ready sites, as well as send and receive emails and texts as optional modes of communication. Texting is often not on the radar of marketers when it comes to this older generation. However, many Boomers are comfortable both receiving and sending texts, having been forced into learning to text by their children and grandchildren. It was either learn to text or never hear from them. Offering texting as an optional way to receive messaging demonstrates that your company truly understands this segment of the mature market.

Erica Yanoshak is a Millennial and a DMW Direct account executive. Reach her at