I remember a period of time as a teenager when I considered my father to be a bit of a rube.
He’d open spam mail, click on pop-ups, download off-brand virus scanners that were viruses themselves—pretty much everything a babe on the internet shouldn’t do. So of course, in that ever-common folly of youth, I took what was merely inexperience to indicate ignorance. I allowed myself an embarrassing measure of conceit, like there was something inherently more impressive about Millennials that made us inherently more intelligent, savvy, and able.
But as with most truths about the world that teenagers are sure of, a few years later I came to a very different picture of my father. While pop-ups may have had a learning curve, he was also the man who managed to buy a new car for our family at 20 percent off list price by bouncing between some local car dealerships. While he might not have known the difference between sincere email and spam, he could immediately rattle off the varying levels of credibility of any number of catalogs for everything from kitchen appliances to consumer electronics. It quickly dawned on me that without the internet, I had the approximate discernment of a toddler, whereas my father only needed to learn the ropes of a tool that has been built in many ways to be intentionally convenient and intuitive.
With the rise of digital channels, marketing to Millennials rapidly became vogue. From high interactivity on social media to their growing buying power, it’s no wonder that many marketers have heavily targetted them. But in the meantime, ‘Boomers have begun to redefine what it means to age, and in doing so have retained an immense amount of marketing potential that so many marketers miss out on.
Marketers are artificially creating a generational gap, and as a result, your brand may be missing out on a huge and powerful audience.
Both Millennials and Baby Boomers present big opportunities for marketers, but the reality of a generational gap scares off many marketers (particularly digital marketers). For some reason, we’ve come to assume that some new mediums or brands couldn’t possibly be engaging for older audiences—from pop culture saturated tech brands like Spotify to youth populated social spaces like Instagram, it can be easy to assume that these spaces are meant for younger folks. But with numerous brands beginning to capitalize on the ever-more-youthful state of getting older, there are a couple misconceptions that marketers should lose if they want to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.
Log into Facebook right now, and you’ll likely find two or three videos aimed at Millennials in your News Feed. From humorous web shorts to anthemic commercials and everything in between, digital video has long been associated with social media active youth.
But there is nothing inherent to the nature of video that makes it more or less suited for Millennials or ‘Boomers—there are only attributes inherent to your media’s content and placement that orients it one way or another. When creating and positioning any kind of content to tell your brand’s story, consider what the most basic emotion and ideas of the content are. If there isn’t anything in the material that would overtly obscure this from viewers (for instance time sensitive pop culture references), then there isn’t much reason why you can’t use this material to target both sides of the generational divide.
Dads have begun to shop for the same flannel as their kids while Millennial hipsters pay top dollar for vintage furniture. Moms and daughters walk around malls in matching Uggs while Hollywood continues to crank out crowd-pleasing revamps of old film and TV franchises. Throughout the market today, it has become apparent both Millennials and ‘Boomers are making efforts to see the value in the stories and products that come from both of their generations.
In this, an opportunity is presented to marketers so long as they are able to orient their storytelling both toward modern innovation and timeless values. Nostalgia is a powerful tool that brings older consumers back and suggests to new consumers that they’ve been missing out on something for a long time. Novelty appeals to the savvy of youth and can revitalize the lifestyles of those who’ve done it differently for decades. Never assume that just because your brand is defined by one generation it cannot appeal to another.
Marketers, particularly those focused on marketing to Millennials, are missing out on clear opportunities with their storytelling. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that every brand wants to be capturing everyone—for some, it is more strategic to keep your brand youthful or wizened. The primary situation in which this is the case is one that I like to call the “drowning man” scenario. Any lifeguard worth their salt can tell you that when you approach someone who is sinking they will instinctively start clawing at you for buoyancy, and in the process likely pull you both underwater. Minus the desperation, a similar thing can happen to some brands—welcoming in younger or older audiences can sometimes mean damaging the reputation of your brand with your original audience.
In these cases, typical marketing segmentation will do most of the work for you to keep your material in front of those whom you want to see it. But for added measure, marketers can create content with exclusive appeal to keep their material in their age bracket. Directly divisive messaging, however, should be handled with extra care—who knows how your brand might develop in the future, or what audiences might eventually want to grow into your brand? Alienation is not a good long-term tactic for content marketers, but individual service can leave doors open for your brand well into the future.
Today, my father knows how to filter spam from family email, and he’s gotten himself a working and clean anti-virus. He’s joined the millions of other web users who block ads with third-party plugins and always has new features on his smartphone to show me when I visit. As for me, I still can’t tell the difference between a tabloid and a warehouse catalog, but I shop for the same brands as my father through Amazon. Context certainly may be different between Millennials and older generations, but a good story will always transcend the confines of your marketing channels. Both the greatest opportunity and hardest challenge is presented to marketers who want to capture their whole, ever-young-at-heart audience.
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