In 1923, Hungarian sociologist Karl Mannheim published an essay titled “The Problem of Generations” that claimed people were significantly influenced by their socio-historical environment, forming social generations that, in turn, became agents of change and gave rise to events that shaped future generations. As controversial as Mannheim’s opinion may have been at the time, the notion is now widespread that generations, and the gaps between them, truly exist and impact the way businesses reach consumers.
As such, marketers have depended for years on character sketches or archetypes of various generations to try to better understand and effectively market to them. But what are these generations exactly?
Comprising 76 million consumers, baby boomers represent those born between the 1940s and 1960s, and are individuals who focus on hard work, individualism and social activism. Many are retired or soon will be. Born between the 1960s and 1980s, Generation X covers almost 65 million Americans and is an important target market. These individuals are at the peak of their earning and spending years. While they weren’t born into the internet era, the majority use smartphones and regularly access social media.
According to the report “Across the Ages” by the National Retail Federation, there are more than 80 million millennials, those born between the 1980s and late 1990s. This generation has grown up dependent upon and familiar with technology, surpassing baby boomers as the largest working age group. Millennials have proven to be more educated, with more choices than any other generation that precedes them. The newest generation to marketers, Generation Z, is comprised of approximately 60 million consumers in their early 20s, who were born between the mid-1990s and now.
Thanks in part to the vast amount of recent changes in consumer technology and digital avenues available, many marketers are beginning to question the effectiveness of targeting generations solely based on common characteristics. According to a 2003 academic paper, “Cohort segmentation: An exploration of its validity,” only 45 percent of the respondents actually align with their generation’s characteristics. Therefore, it’s become more clear that generational marketing pigeonholes and oversimplifies the differing age groups’ needs and wants.
While it’s speculated that older generations are more removed from technology than their younger counterparts, recent findings from the report Local Mobile Trends Study by the Local Search Association indicates this is simply not the case, especially for shopping trends. In fact, the majority (75 percent) of those who fall in the baby boomer category rely on their mobile devices when shopping in-store, while 94 percent of Generation X and Y consumers do the same.
With not even a significant statistical difference between the age groups, all generations cite comparing prices as well as receiving coupons and offers as their top two reasons for using their smartphones while shopping. In addition, they all highly desire the ability to search for valuable information to become smarter shoppers and consistently make knowledgeable purchasing decisions.
With this in mind, retailers in the digital age should focus marketing efforts to their entire consumer base by delivering location-based and highly relevant information — e.g., product details, reviews, recommendations, special offers and coupons — to shoppers’ smartphones as they walk store aisles. This type of engagement allows brands to transform themselves into personalized shopping concierges and assist with purchasing decisions, all in real time, giving consumers exactly what they want when they want it.
However, the benefits aren’t just for consumers; it’s equally as beneficial for brands and retailers. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, including an app-less experience or a universal app. Through an app-less solution, retailers can use text codes, QR codes and/or geo-fencing techniques to drive shoppers to a branded mobile microsite where they’re immersed in a circumstantially and geographically relevant retail shopping experience.