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Whether you are marketing your products and services to Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials, or Generation Z, understanding your customers’ channel preferences and behaviors is key to success. Generational preferences about e-mail vs. direct mail, online engagement, mobile usage, and general buying habits should be at the core of your marketing communication strategies. Here’s a quick breakdown to help get you started!


Generation Z

The individuals that make up Generation Z were born after 1995, and they have never known life without the Internet. For these true digital natives, mobile devices are a life essential. On average, Generation Z consumers spend about 2 hours and 38 minutes[1] each day on social media, where they are researching new products (85% use YouTube for this!) and making observations that will ultimately influence their shopping behaviors online and in-store. In fact, 8 out of 10 Gen Z individuals report that social media can convince them to shop at a store they have never visited before. Meanwhile, 69% of them have decided to visit a store based on the retailer’s social media post. Before you get too excited, though, social media is only part of the equation—you still need a good PR strategy, influencers, and customer loyalty to spread positive awareness. It is especially interesting to note that 83% of Generation Z consumers trust product information that is shared by others on social media more than they trust advertising.

This generation of spenders appreciates the hands-on experience of shopping in a retail store. Nearly 98% of Gen Zers make their purchases at brick-and-mortar store locations[2], but this might be because many of them don’t have access to credit cards yet! Although technologies are constantly evolving, some traditional shopping habits are remaining the same. Today’s retailers must be agile enough to accommodate technological changes while also understanding that many consumers still enjoy shopping in-store. Savvy retailers are experimenting with a variety of online and in-store tactics to remain relevant and accommodate evolving consumer demands. Today’s retailers need to deliver more than products—younger consumers in particular are demanding a unique and engaging shopping experience.


Born between 1981 and 1995, Millennials are slowly taking over the workforce and have been an important target for marketers since the early 2000s. With more than $200 billion in spending power, Millennials now represent the largest generation on a worldwide basis at 2.5 billion. Millennials were born and raised in the digital age, so most technologies are second nature to them. At the same time, however, Millennials are not digital addicts—they also respond to traditional marketing techniques. In fact, many Millennials are experiencing digital fatigue. These “always connected” individuals have grown tired of exclusively digital communications, so they are beginning to move away from them. They are bombarded with e-mails every day, so they have become accustomed to ignoring them completely or quickly scanning and addressing only those that matter to them. Although Millennials will respond to traditional marketing methods, this marketing can’t be the same as it’s always been! Millennials respond best to businesses that deliver the authenticity and transparency they crave. These individualistic consumers are demanding personalized marketing messages that truly resonate with them.

Recent studies have concluded that Millennials favor and even enjoy receiving direct mail. 27% of Millennials report that they actually respond better to direct mail messages than they do to digital marketing messages[3]. Furthermore, research from the USPS confirms that 47% of Millennials look forward to reviewing the contents of their residential mailboxes each day.

The lesson for us all is that Millennials are connected across all channels. If engaged in the right manner, Millennials can become marketing advocates—they will share comments and help spread the word about your company and its offerings. Millennials understand that that today’s marketers have a huge volume of information about their buying habits and preferences, and they expect this knowledge to be used when marketers communicate with them! Millennials view themselves as individuals, so they want their messaging to be personalized and relevant.

Generation X

Born in between 1961 and 1980, Generation X is the most highly educated of all generations—31% have college degrees (this compares to 19% of Millennials) and they capture 31% of U.S. income. Gen Xers also have a strong influence on their Millennial and Gen Z children, as well as their Baby Boomer parents. This makes them a very important target for many marketers.

This generation prefers e-mail and text messaging over other channels and participates heavily in social media (80%) with a preference for Facebook. As consumers, Gen Xers are very interested in high-quality online content via social media, blogs, and review sites to help influence their purchasing decisions. Although Generation Xers prefer face-to-face interactions when it comes to making purchases, they are also comfortable shopping online.

Baby Boomers

Born in between 1945 and 1960, Baby Boomers have the most disposable income of any U.S. generation (70%) and account for nearly half of all retail sales (49%). This generation spends more money on technology than any other generation, and they represent the fastest-growing generation in terms of social media adoption. Facebook is the preferred social media platform, and nearly 70% of Baby Boomers have a Facebook account. Although their online use is increasing (85% of these individuals report shopping online), Baby Boomers still prefer shopping at retail stores and engaging in face-to-face communication. In relation to the younger generations, they are more likely to respond to direct mail and are particularly responsive to coupons and money-saving offers.

The key takeaway is that no two generations are the same, and consumers across all age demographics expect to be communicated with via their preferred channels. The key for any good marketing communication strategy is knowledge about your customers. Today’s consumers understand that marketers have a wealth of information about their individual preferences and purchasing habits, and they expect their marketing communications to reflect this depth of knowledge! For this reason, a one-size-fits-all approach will likely backfire. Across all age demographics, consumers expect an individual experience that caters to their unique preferences, and developing an understanding of these preferences is the first step. How is your business aligning its communication methods to match your customers’ preferences?

[1] Source: Retail Perceptions Study, Peanut Labs; Global Webindex Q2 2017
[2] Source: IBM/NFR 2017 Report: The Truth About Gen Z
[3] Source: Annual State of Marketing Communications: Consumer Survey, Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends 2017