The Millennial-Baby Boomer Divide

One of the risks of being friends with or related to journalists is that they often use those relationships as inspiration for stories. I’m definitely guilty of this. I’ve written about my family, friends, and significant other dozens of times on this site. And this week’s blog post is no exception.

During a catch-up call with my dad last week, my father told me about a fantastic article he read in The Wall Street Journal. He said he could send it to me, and I willingly accepted his offer.

I checked my inbox regularly, but still didn’t see his email address pop up. It wasn’t until I checked my mailbox two days later that I found an envelope containing the following.

I couldn’t resist sharing the clear symbol of a generational divide with my social network. So, like any good millennial would, I snapped a photo of the newspaper clipping with my iPhone and uploaded it with the hashtag #ClassicDadMove to Facebook, where it received numerous likes and an approving comment.

I decided to call my dad later that week while waiting in line at Chipotle to inform him that I had received the article. When I asked him why he didn’t email me the story, my dad’s answer was simple: “Because it was in the paper.” I told him that he could have just found it online and sent it, but he argued that The Wall Street Journal’s gated content policy made it too difficult to do so (even though a quick Google search later granted me immediate access to the article).

As I weaved my way to the front of the Chipotle line, I asked my dad to hold on a second so that I could order my veggie burrito bowl. “Dad, have you ever eaten at Chipotle?” I asked while fishing for my wallet inside of the black hole that is my purse. He said he hadn’t but informed me that the company’s stock had done well this past year.

I could sense the generational differences piling on like the extra-cost guacamole.

Now, I’m not saying that my dad is totally out of the technology loop—he did head a major software company’s legal team for years—nor am I generalizing that every Baby Boomer has the same level of digital savvy that’s portrayed in this Amy Schumer clip:

What struck me, though, is how different our mind-sets are. The thought of sending my parents an article in the mail would have never crossed my mind; yet for my dad, it was the logical thing to do.

This split in thinking led me to wonder what other generational differences exist between the 18- to 34-year-old millennials and the 51- to 69-year-old Baby Boomers. So, I compiled a list of four key divergences marketers should consider when targeting each audience.

1. Millennials have higher expectations. Millennials have set the bar high for brands, more so than any other generation before. The following graph from marketing consultancy Brand Keys shows that millennials scored higher in overall customer expectations than both Baby Boomers and Gen X consumers.

Marketers should want to keep their millennial customers happy. Consider: The Boston Consulting Group estimates that U.S. millennials account for $1.3 trillion in annual spending, of which $430 billion is discretionary. To better serve these young shoppers, marketers must address their emotional needs, such as the desire for personalization and the feeling that their voice is being heard. After all, Brand Keys’ research shows that 80% of millennials’ brand decision-making comes from their emotional values, compared to the 20% that comes from their rational ones.

2. Millennials crave innovation. Millennials like to be the first in their circles to test drive a new product. In fact, data from research firm Lab42 shows that 45% of millennials buy first-generation products, compared to only 6% of Baby Boomers who like to do the same. So, make sure to reach out to this young audience the next time your brand launches a new product.

3. Millennials live in a digital world. According to “The Global Mobile Report” by comScore, millennials comprise 37% of the United States’ total digital population, while Baby Boomers make up a quarter.

It’s important for marketers to take consumers’ preferences into consideration when communicating with them. If marketers know that millennials are digital natives, for instance, then they should reach out to them via digital channels, such as through email, online content, or social. At the same time, marketers must ensure that they’re not alienating their Baby Boomer clientele and provide alternative engagement opportunities, like knowledgeable in-store employees. The best option? Consider implementing a preference center to take out the guesswork of how your customers want to engage.

4. Millennials embrace mobile. At 90%, millennials have the highest smartphone penetration rate in the U.S., according to the same comScore study. And at 57%, Baby Boomers have the lowest. In fact, 61% of the time that millennials spend consuming digital media is spent via smartphones, versus 31% via desktop. Contrastingly, Baby Boomers spend 51% of their digital media consumption time on desktop devices and only 30% of it on smartphones.But, Baby Boomers are more likely to consume digital content on their tablets than millennials. To put this into perspective, 18% of the time that Baby Boomers spend consuming digital media is spent on tablets, compared to only 8% for millennials.

So, it’s vital that marketers make their emails, videos, and other forms of digital content suitable for any device. Also, marketers may want to rethink the content they send each target audience. Instead of sending Baby Boomers an email encouraging them to download an app, for instance, marketers might want to direct them to their brand’s website. 

Ultimately, though, there’s one thing both generations can agree on: It’s all about meeting the customers’ needs and preferences.

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