Jan 18, 2023
8 minutes to read
According to the media, millennials and baby boomers are locked in a perpetual face-off. It’s supposedly a battle between ideologies. Two generations who’ve grown up in very different worlds and have very different opinions as a result.
Regardless of how true that is in reality, there are some undeniable differences between the two generations when it comes to consumer behavior and spending habits.
Businesses should be aware of these differences. They can have a big influence on which promotions and sales tactics are most effective for each group.
Techniques that are perfect for selling to baby boomers will often have a different effect on millennials. So it’s important to plan your campaigns carefully.
Last year millennials officially overtook baby boomers as the largest adult generation in the US. Generation X also makes up a sizable portion of the overall population. And then there’s Generation Z, the youngest partially adult generation, who have their own unique characteristics.
But, for the sake of comparison, we’ll look at millennials and baby boomers only, as the differences between these two groups are more obvious.
The baby boomer generation was born in the post-war years stretching from 1946 to 1964. They grew up in the 60s and 70s, were the main driving force behind the hippy movement, and had started having children of their own during the 70s and 80s.
Just like every other generation, baby boomers’ consumer characteristics were shaped in large part by the socioeconomic climate in which they grew up. They were teenagers and young adults in the 1960s, a period of high economic growth, high employment, and prosperity in the West.
Many baby boomers then went on to have families of their own in the 80s, a time of economic prosperity and renewed conservatism in the US.
The baby boomers also entered adulthood and middle age firmly within the analog era. The technologies of this era were fundamentally different from the digital technologies we're used to these days.
As of 2021, baby boomers range in age from 57 to 75. They have some distinctive characteristics when it comes to consumer behaviors:
Prefer buying products in-store rather than online
Place importance on the quality of interactions with brands and their employees, both in-store and online
Value trusted recommendations and reviews when making purchase decisions
Most of these characteristics can be linked to baby boomers’ high expectations for customer service. In general, baby boomers tend to look for the following:
Businesses with friendly, helpful in-store sales representatives
Fully-trained customer support staff that they can talk to over the phone (even though they prefer face-to-face interactions)
Good value for money
Millennials sit a generation apart from baby boomers, with Generation X falling in between. The millennial generation spans the years 1981 to 1996, although consensus is still divided on the precise date range. Millennials were the first generation to grow up alongside digital technology, and it’s had a big impact on their social and consumer characteristics. Being ‘digital natives’ they’re much more comfortable shopping online than baby boomers.
Another major influence on the millennials was the great recession of 2007 to 2009. This led to a steep rise in unemployment and financial instability at a time when millennials were entering the workforce.
The effects of this can still be seen today. Many estimates suggest that millennials earn 20% less on average than baby boomers did at the same age.
As of 2021, millennials range in age from 40 to 25. They also have some distinctive characteristics that set them apart from other generations. In general, their key consumer behaviors are:
Highly ‘omnivorous’ in the shopping channels they use (desktop, mobile, online, in-store)
More receptive to social media and word-of-mouth marketing
Much less likely to stay loyal to a particular brand, instead preferring to shop around if better options are available
Enjoy shopping and see it as more of a social activity than earlier generations
Most of these behaviors can be linked to millennials’ familiarity with digital technology and social media from a young age. When it comes to their preferences for businesses and shopping experiences, millennials display the following characteristics:
Often prefer brands with ethical or green ideologies
Look for easy online accessibility with features like AI chatbots and quick payment
Like customer service that’s tailored to their needs
So, millennials and baby boomers clearly differ significantly in their consumer behaviors. Not only do they demonstrate different shopping behaviors, they also have different brand preferences.
This means businesses need to have very clearly defined sales and promotions strategies for each generational cohort.
Being able to differentiate between generations at every point in the sales funnel is essential. Tailored communications, promotions, and messaging will help brands increase sales to baby boomers and millennials.
Some businesses assume that this only applies to younger generations. But a tailored online sales operation will help you increase satisfaction among baby boomers too.
Firstly, you need a source of customer data that you can use to create customer segments. Customer data can come from a variety of different sources, including loyalty programs and first-party cookies. It can also come from third-party cookies, although Google will end support for third-party cookies on Chrome from next year.
Secondly you need to customize promotions specifically for each of your separate customer segments. For example, you could set up separate promotions for customers between the ages of 25 and 40, and customers between the ages of 57 and 75. This way you'll be able to offer each age group more relevant deals, and increase the likelihood of completing sales.
Because millennial consumer behaviors are different from baby boomer consumer behaviors, the types of promotions that appeal to each group also differ significantly. To connect with baby boomers and millennials alike, you’ll want to set up personalized promotions which capitalize on some of the consumer behaviors we outlined above.
While baby boomers aren’t the primary target demographic for many businesses or products, they hold the majority of US disposable income. Regardless of how important baby boomers are for your business, it’s always a good idea to optimize your sales and promotional strategies to account for them.
Firstly, baby boomers’ preference for in-store shopping and value for money offers a great opportunity for tailored in-store promotions. These promotions could be in-store discounts or special bundle deals (either at point of sale or at certain locations via geofencing). You’ll get the best results if you offer these promotions on products you know are popular with the baby boomer age group.
Make sure you follow up with great customer service. While baby boomers prefer to shop in-store, they’re also used to shopping online and respond well to online customer service help too. If there’s one thing that will increase your chances of building a good brand reputation among this age group, it’s quality customer service.
Baby boomers are also more likely to look at online reviews from trusted sources when making purchase decisions. As a result, you may want to seek out partnerships with select third-party websites that can give trusted reviews of your products. This can help drive sales among the baby boomer age group.
One promotional technique that can do wonders for brand image, customer retention, and long-term sales is a customer loyalty program. Loyalty programs are especially popular among the baby boomer age group. Oracle reports that as of 2020, 79% of baby boomers were active in at least one loyalty program, the highest percentage of any generation. When it comes to loyalty program features, baby boomers also respond well to simple rewards which offer clear discounts on products they like.
By comparison, it’s much better to target millennials with referral schemes. While millennials and baby boomers both send a similar number of referrals, millennials' referrals are much more likely to convert.
It’s millennials’ preference for personal recommendations and word of mouth endorsements that makes all the difference here. Consequently, you may want to alter the rewards on offer through your referral scheme to be more attractive to millennials. A perfect example would be additional coupons when they leave a review of your product on your website or another online marketplace.
Also, just like baby boomers, millennials view price as an important factor when choosing a store to shop at, or a product to spend their money on. So, why not offer a high-value discount coupon on one of your millennial-oriented products.
Additionally, you may want to look into omnichannel strategy for sales and promotions. This will help you provide a consistent shopping experience across all platforms.
While this is a good idea just for the sake of general accessibility and ease of use, it’s especially important when it comes to providing a consistent shopping experience for millennials. Out of all the current generations, millennials are the most likely to switch between different shopping channels when researching and buying a product.
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