Adland needs to stop stereotyping generations

Not all millennials have a staple diet of avocado and goji berries. Not all baby boomers are technological luddites. Here, Amanda Taylor unpicks the stereotypes adland has convinced itself are true, and offers a more productive way to approach generational marketing.

As someone born in the late ’70s, I have never really identified with either Generation X or millennials.

Having grown up in the UK, I remember the Thatcher era, which brought with it private sector power, widening social inequalities and high unemployment, but at the time I was too young to become disillusioned with the establishment like Generation X.

Many of the big Gen X movements passed me by altogether. I was too busy watching the A-Team to notice the punk scene, though I did enjoy the later inventions of indie and house music.

I also don’t fit the description of a millennial. While I know my way around an iPad and Facebook, I don’t consider myself a ‘digital native’ and a selfie stick would be a most unwelcome birthday gift.

Another day, another generation

Until recently, I had come to terms with feeling slightly at odds with both generations, until a professor from the University of Melbourne came up with the concept of a micro-generation called xennials, born between 1977 and 1985.

Young xennials played outdoors as kids, got giant mobile phones and Hotmail accounts in their adolescence, just about scraped onto the property ladder and, importantly, are neither depressed like Gen X or overly optimistic like millennials.

While I was excited to finally have a label that fitted, the emergence of this new cohort also got me thinking. In the worlds of PR and marketing, we have become obsessed with labelling customers in a bid to ensure products and services ‘resonate with the target audience’. But the problem with these tags is they are often extremely backward-looking, analysing what people experienced in the past and not who they are now or what they plan to do in the future.

Not all millennials switch jobs every year and have a staple diet of avocado and goji berries. In the same respect, not all baby boomers are technological luddites who want to cruise into the sunset with the takings from their multiple investment properties. Consumers today identify with ‘tribes’ rather than age groups and I suspect many of us find these generational stereotypes irritating.

The nuanced picture

In the PR and communications industries, we can play a key role in remedying this by helping businesses to produce age-neutral, inclusive communications, rather than excluding certain consumer groups from the outset.

Market research group Forrester conducted a survey of 30,000 adults across nine European countries and unveiled five segments it believes brands should consider when marketing goods and services.

It found the average age of early adopters or ‘progressive pioneers’ was 34, while highly engaged customers known as ‘savvy seekers’ had an average age of 38, suggesting that younger people are not always the most engaged or demanding when it comes to new products and technology.

So, if age is nothing but a number, how can businesses go about identifying their high-value customers?

Website behaviour is often a good starting point. Users who actively and consistently take action, for example by regularly reading online content or writing comments, should be recognised as brand advocates and rewarded. Analysing website data also provides an opportunity to create targeted communications, for example if a customer has abandoned a purchase or has a history of buying a certain type of product.

Social networks are also excellent sources of sales prospects and customer data. By allowing visitors to a website or app to verify their identities using their social network, businesses can access hundreds of data points to help them understand customers’ interests, behaviours and lifestyles and eliminate misleading biases.

So, let’s up our game and move beyond the recent trend for demographic stereotyping to create communications that treat consumers as the unique and complex humans we really are.

Amanda Taylor is a senior writer at Honner.


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