What changes, not just technological, have most affected the younger generation, profoundly influencing the way they communicate with brands? How has the way younger consumers enjoy content changed? And what forms is the customer experience of Millennials and Gen Z taking? To answer these questions, we will adopt the perspective of generational marketing, an approach that leverages the specifics of individual generations to develop targeted initiatives, create profiled content, and calibrate different business propositions. After briefly describing the key characteristics of Millennials and Gen Z, we will focus on an essential dimension of a marketing strategy: content marketing. Finally, we will take all the ideas discussed and see how the customer experience designed by brands changes as the communication preferences of the new generations change.
What is a generation?
According to Wikipedia, a generation identifies a set of people who lived at the same time and were exposed to particular events that influenced them. The term “generation” denotes a distinct entity as opposed to “cohort,” which is instead an eminently statistical concept. Unlike the latter, members of a generation are characterized by adherence to the same value system and adoption of a common perspective on the future. Thus, a generation is also defined culturally.
What are the “new generations” according to marketing?
What are the “new generations” whose communication practices and behaviors we want to investigate? According to marketing there are basically two: Generation Y or “Millennials” (1981-1996) and Generation Z, Gen Z, or “Centennials” (1997-2012).
Due to age and demographic issues, both Millennials and Gen Z are now firmly at the center of companies’ marketing and communication strategies. In both cases, we are talking about people who, although considered “young,” have financial resources to spend independently and participate fully in the purchasing and consumption system of contemporary society. If we combine the two population groups, we obtain an extremely significant global market share that is characterized by growing spending (for example: in the United States, the per capita spending of Millennials is set to increase by more than 10% by 2025).
This explains companies’ interest in Millennials and Gen Z. This also explains their increasingly numerous, increasingly tenacious attempts to capitalize on the differences between the different groups and to identify marketing obstacles and opportunities for each generation. This is precisely the basic assumption of generational marketing, which seeks to exploit the specifics of different generations to segment them more accurately, with the goal of building even more centered business propositions. Let’s explore this further.
What is generational marketing?
According to Marketing Insider Group, The term “generational marketing” is coined to segment and target markets based on age rather than other demographics such as gender, location or income.
A generational marketing approach involves first understanding the urgencies, problems, and habits of each generation and then, based on the information gathered about each segment, developing specific content. Not all people within a generation share a single mindset, obviously, but they probably face common challenges or experience similar desires. In this sense, taking on the collective experience of each generation by focusing on common behaviors is a good starting point, to be followed by even more refined segmentation, achieved by introducing additional discriminating demographic elements.
Generational marketing can produce knowledge that is extremely operationally useful: it can extract insights that can be immediately used both to broaden the target audience for the company’s messages and to articulate communications by reaching profiled audiences with messages that are best suited to them. As we will see later when we talk about content marketing, this is the point: different generations tend to consume different types of content online and spend their time on different platforms. That is why it’s important to reach them in the virtual places where they prefer to be found, offering content that is relevant to them.
Now, let’s shift the focus to Millennials and Generation Z and discover their key characteristics.
Millennials: the most educated, the most influential
The Millennial generation refers to people born toward the end of the millennium and is the most populous age group in modern history. In general, Millennials were born into a technological world and came of age in the new millennium. They are also old enough to have experienced and understood 9/11. They have witnessed the early developments of digital transformation. Worldwide there are 1.8 billion Millennials, or 23% of the world’s population, and among all generations they are the most educated ever (among other things, for the first time women’s education levels exceed men’s, at least in the richest countries) and currently among the most influential.
- Millennials tend to claim meaning in their actions. This quest for meaning seems to mark every aspect of their lives: from work, to shopping, to cultural consumption.
- For Millennials, the status quo and hierarchies are not untouchable.
- Millennials grew up as connectivity evolved, and they are comfortable using different mobile devices. They are therefore open to technological change, to which they are able to easily adapt.
- They believe in continuous learning and the value of training.
- They are considered more progressive, creative, and forward-thinking than previous generations, at least according to the Pew Research Center.
Generation Z: digital natives, but prefer face-to-face interactions
Generation Z, born after Millennials, are now entering adulthood and are just starting their careers (or will be shortly). They are the true digital natives: they have never lived in a world without powerful mobile devices or internet access. Although 50% spend 10 hours a day connected online and 70% watch YouTube for two or more hours a day, Gen Z seems to prefer face-to-face interactions (e.g., in the workplace).
- Gen Zers have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and perhaps in part because of this they are much more aware of mental health problems than previous generations and have played a significant role in breaking the stigma surrounding them.
- They have a strong focus on social issues, on inclusiveness and diversity, and on issues involving environmental sustainability.
- They are also very financially responsible: they tend to think carefully before making a purchase, no matter how large it is.
These are some of the main distinguishing traits of Millennials and Gen Z. How do they affect the tactics used by marketers?
Content marketing strategies for the younger generation
From political and social events to cultural movements, from economic trends to technological evolution, to the forms taken by the collective imagination: generational marketing is developed from the investigation of events that have shaped the personal and professional lives of consumers, not taken individually, but grouped by generation. And they use the results of this investigation to set up initiatives that tend toward increasing personalization. If the view of the world varies from generation to generation, so do buying preferences and communication habits. In practical terms, this means that each generation requires different content marketing strategies.
Content marketing tactics for Millennials
Although the average consumer’s attention span does not last for more than a few seconds, Millennials show a propensity to learn that does not wane as time passes. That is why the content that is most likely to establish and maintain contact is that which offers insights: long form such as articles and white papers, podcasts and videos.
- Long-form content. Don’t hesitate to write an article longer than the skimpy blog posts that have been recommended by any easy-click guru for years. The important thing is to organize it clearly, structure it in short, logically connected paragraphs, use language that is appropriate to the target audience, and include explanatory images or infographics, preferably interactive ones.
- Podcasts. Millennials, more so than Gen Z, are strong consumers of podcasts, a format that can easily be enjoyed via mobile and while performing other activities.
- Video. Millennials are accustomed to streaming services and love to watch video content. Video marketing is probably the most effective tactic to connect with this generation. Again, rather than limited duration, it is important to break it down into minimal units of content, which must be connected by causal links and a strong narrative thread.
These are just a few examples of different types of content that can be used to build a relationship with Millennials. Let’s take a look at those favored by Generation Z.
Content marketing tactics for Generation Z
Gen Z is online almost constantly. Gen Zers consume most of their content via streaming: for this reason, videos must be of a decidedly limited length. This is the generation—raised on smartphones and social media—on which traditional marketing simply does not work, so much so that the most effective form of marketing is not even directly created by the brand, but by influencers. Building a relationship of trust is, again, crucial.
- Short-form content. Short, very short videos: in fact, TikTok is incredibly popular among Gen Z even though globally Instagram is their preferred social platform. This means that every word and every image is inherently valuable and it is imperative to use them intelligently, to make them resonate with an audience that is accustomed to recognizing when you’re trying too hard or a lack of authenticity .
- Video marketing. Video marketing is also important for Gen Z, starting with the use of memes and GIFs. It’s even better if the communication of products and services is integrated into a narrative that talks about other, higher themes, such as respect for the environment or diversity.
- Influencer marketing. Convincing influencers to promote products and services is an excellent move that, supported by a branded content strategy, can greatly improve conversion rates.
Of course, there is no single perfect content marketing formula that combines the same mix of formats, tactics, and channels that will be equally effective for all Millennials or all Gen Z.
Identifying common socio-cultural traits that can form the basis for later profiling, however, provides brands with the knowledge they need to build generational customer experiences, approaching the mythical frontier of one-to-one marketing.
A new customer experience for new generations
If there is one trend we can identify in the way Millennials and Gen Z experience products and services, it’s the need to incorporate their ethical convictions into everyday consumption, the desire to witness a belonging with their purchasing choices that we might call “ideological.” Ideal tensions of this kind translate into precise expectations about the expected (indeed, increasingly, demanded) customer journey: about how the service is to be provided, the quality of the product, and the cost of the goods and services offered. To provide them with the best possible customer experience, companies will need to develop their communication system along three main lines.
Have a recognizable presence on social media
If 93% of internet users are on social media on a daily basis, it is from here that a company must build a strong online presence. The risk, otherwise, is not so much of not being remembered or recognized than of not being seen at all. Maximizing all social media features becomes crucial to reach a wider audience, respond in a timely manner, increase brand awareness, and strengthen customer relationships.
Fueling a conversation
Companies must use every possible opportunity to interact with the younger generation, offering spaces and tools to establish a true dialog. When Millennials and Gen Z contact the help desk, they expect support that is flexible, dynamically responsive, timely, professional, and receptive to criticism. Reviews and feedback are decisive for a young audience that increasingly demands the assurance of social proof, and these should be integrated immediately into a careful brand social engagement management strategy. Chatbots and machine learning programs are excellent resources: incorporating live chat tools and artificial intelligence applications into messaging channels can simplify the transfer of information and speed up problem-solving processes.
Customer service must adapt to their specific needs, which is why Millennials and Gen Z are also willing to divulge sensitive data to gain access to personalized service. Companies must optimize their customer care platforms to gather information on buying habits and browsing patterns. A personalized customer experience tailored to the needs of the new generations is inevitably data-driven, multichannel, and mobile-first.
In conclusion, the goal we should strive for when we talk about customer experience for the younger generation is to build a smooth and frictionless experience that they can access on each of their target channels.
Millennials and Gen Z, unexpectedly, are resisting labels and proving to be much freer and more aware than they are often portrayed: being able to respond to the changes that will occur in the way they communicate is certainly a challenge but also a great, unfailing opportunity for growth.