A generation is defined as a group of people born around the same time that share similar characteristics. People born within the same generation are subsequently thought to have similar experiences and as a result, similar values and preferences. But how can such a large group of people be reduced to their generational categories, based simply on the years in which they were born?
Statista defines the generational categories by year, as follows:
Generation Alpha: 2013-2019 – Described as ‘the children of millennials’, Generation Alpha are supposedly set to be the wealthiest generation so far. With tech savvy minds and unrivalled education, the possibilities of their impact are endless and so are their anticipated consumption behaviours.
Generation Z: 1997-2012 – Thought to favour security and stability, Generation Z have experienced some of the biggest years of change. Welcoming diversity and witnessing the increasing acknowledgment of the importance of mental health and wellbeing, this generational category is open minded and fluent in digital.
Millennials: 1981-1996 – Often labelled Generation Y, Millennials were the first generation to witness the integration of technology and the internet in their daily lives. This unique generational category values social interaction and human connection, while remaining digital media savvy.
Generation X: 1965-1980 – The children of Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation; having lived through some drastic social changes and witnessed huge developments in history such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, Generation X is thought to value freedom, responsibility and independence.
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964 – Notoriously driven, focused and goal centric, Baby Boomers’ name derives from the spike in birth rates after World War II. They rejected and redefined traditional values after the war years and are now set to be the next generation of retirees.
The Silent Generation: 1928-1945 – Resilient, financially prudent and fiercely traditional, the Silent Generation was one of the first generational categories to be assigned. It is believed that this generation is dubbed ‘silent’ because they grew up in an era when children were expected to be seen and not heard.
Of course, it makes it easier in the world of marketing and communications to believe that the stereotypes associated with each generational category hold some truth, as it enables us to create targeted promotions. However, whilst it is helpful to segment audiences based on shared values, attitudes and communications preferences, it is of course impossible to completely define a single generation by one set of characteristics. Making assumptions based on these stereotypes can work against us, if the groupings are applied as a strict set of rules, rather than a guide.
What is the impact of generational categorisation on preferred communication methods and media consumption?
Used in the right way, generational intelligence allows us to create meaningful strategies that successfully communicate the right information to the right people, in the right places.
Age is notoriously one of the easiest ways of predicting the differences in attitudes and behaviours of individuals. From the prioritisation of certain values, to preferred communication methods and consumption habits, the ways in which we act are subconsciously affected by our age to a greater or lesser degree. Age as a variable allows marketers and researchers to analyse group behaviours, collecting data that eventually informs campaigns and drives a simultaneously tailored, yet generic approach.
Although generational categories were initially developed for analysis and understanding, the characteristics that have been built around the original concept have been invaluable in the process of forming, developing and revolutionising communication tools. Dr Abramson, an expert in this field, claims that the most significant difference between the generational categories are the ways in which they consume media and communicate with one another.
As the oldest of the generations, ‘the Silent Generation’ and ‘Baby Boomers’ experienced a large amount of their life without (or with very limited) technology, relying on face-to-face communication and as a result, this is their most valued communication method. Baby Boomers have experienced massive technological change and have adapted to varying degrees; often comfortable with technology, but less dependent on smartphones than the next generations.
The younger generations grew up with social media and mobile phones as their default communication channels and have subsequently built online communities that span far beyond country and continent. They gravitate away from traditional channels to communicate and often prefer text and messaging rather than speaking on the phone or communicating face-to-face. Generation Z, often referred to as digital natives, have grown up surrounded by a plethora of channels, with social media often their channel of choice. According to Twilio, for example, more than 80% of this generation looks to social media when making a purchase.
Breaking the mould
Given the diversity of today’s society, it is important that marketers don’t rely too heavily on these categorisations. Every individual is unique and poor targeting or bad personalisation based on assumptions can significantly damage brand reputation.
A study conducted by the Global Web Index
in 2019, demonstrated that although the older generational categories did not use the internet and social media to the same level as the younger generations, uptake of social media interactions was on a steady rise, despite characterisation differences. This demonstrates that the assumptions we make about generational categories and the individuals within those categories, are not always correct and there will always be exceptions to any rule.
Some brands have already started marketing to the next generation, which has been named Generation Alpha by researcher Mark McCrindle. The generational boundary started in 2010 and it is thought that this generation will be the last labelled generation, based on an acknowledgement that categories become arbitrary unless there is a marked difference in each cohort’s experience.
Categorisations or persona that inform your communications strategy and the channels you choose can help brands reach the right people with the right message at the right time. However, in a world in which labels are being progressively challenged and in some cases dropped altogether, consumers will not tolerate poor personalisation or brands that treat them as generic entities. They expect an authentic experience based on deeper understanding of their individual needs.
For over 30 years, we have helped our clients achieve a highly personal, differentiated customer experience based on deep, genuine insight and human to human interaction. If you would like to discuss how we can help you refine and tailor your communications strategy, get in touch today.