Generational marketing: targeting Gen Z, etc.

How do you tailor your marketing to Gen Z and others? What appeals to them and makes them tick? We have the answers!

Generational marketing centers around marketing strategies for Gen Z, Y, X, etc.
Image: © Djomas / AdobeStock

Online marketing for Gen Z and others: what you need to know

It goes without saying that you’ll only reach your target group if your marketing content reflects their interests, speaks their language, and strikes a chord. But where do you get the information you need for that? You’ll no doubt be familiar with complex and time-consuming target group analyses. Getting to know your target group by understanding the generation they come from is a great alternative. Generational marketing is all about planning and implementing campaigns with the target group’s generation in mind.

After all, a generation is characterized by more than just fashion style and music taste: the social and geopolitical climate prevalent in a particular era significantly influences the kids and teens growing up during that time and is reflected in their values, priorities, and lifestyles. This makes it worthwhile to take a closer look at the various generations and learn what appeals to them as well as how and why.

By definition, the difference between Generations X, Y, and Z is their age. Measured by when they were born, people can be grouped into the following generations:

  • Traditionalists (born between 1922 and 1945)
  • Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979)
  • Generation Y / more commonly known as millennials (born between 1980 and 1994)
  • Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2009)
  • Generation Alpha (born in 2010 or after)

What characterizes the different generations?

This piece explores what makes the individual generations unique and how to reach them with your online marketing. In this respect, the younger generations are especially relevant because they are generally more at home in the digital realm and online media compared to the older generations. It’s why many companies focus on certain generations and direct their marketing solely at Gen Z or Gen Y, for example. However, we don’t want to completely disregard the older generation – the traditionalists – so we’ve made sure to touch upon them here, too.

Traditionalists (1922–1945)

Traditionalists lived through the Second World War and the postwar era as children, adolescents, or young adults. Work is the defining factor for this generation, as it constituted a large part of their life. Unlike for later generations, technology was not as advanced in their childhood and youth, so computers and the Internet are often an unfamiliar concept.

  • Typically characterized by: experience of the war, uncertainty, clear rules on how to behave, respect for authorities
  • Values: resilience, loyalty, respect
  • Attitude toward work-life balance: work is life!

Baby boomers (1946–1964)

Baby boomers are the first postwar generation after the Second World War. They experienced the subsequent economic upswing and developed a mindset centered around performance and prosperity. The economy was booming, which translated into a high birth rate during these years. Their daily life was shaped by movements for peace and the environment. Many of them are almost ready to retire and thus on the cusp of a new stage in their life, with more time for hobbies and new experiences.

  • Typically characterized by: economic growth, high birth rate, ambitious career goals, competitiveness, adaptability
  • Values: health, idealism, creativity
  • Attitude toward work-life balance: live to work.

Generation X (1965–1979)

This generation experienced economic crisis, major advances in technology, unemployment, and environmental disasters (Chernobyl). A high divorce rate, financial prosperity, a great degree of loyalty, an emphasis on status symbols, and strong brand awareness define this cohort. As the first generation to grow up without any direct impact from the war, they do not prioritize work over other needs, instead seeing it as a means to an end.

  • Typically characterized by: economic crisis, unemployment, environmental disasters, high divorce rate, technological advances, pursuit of a better quality of life
  • Values: individualism, search for meaning, independence
  • Attitude toward work-life balance: work in order to afford a comfortable life.

Generation Y / millennials (1980–1994)

The millennials witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Internet and other new technologies are a part of their day-to-day life, and they have high educational attainment. They don’t separate work and personal life; instead, they see them as two sides of the same coin. This generation sets little store by status symbols and wealth – work enjoyment, freedom to explore personal interests, self-fulfillment, and leisure time are much more important.

  • Typically characterized by: experience of terror attacks (through the media), digital natives, well-being, self-interest
  • Values: self-fulfillment, networking, teamwork, optimism
  • Attitude toward work-life balance: live your life; work is secondary!

Generation Z (1995–2009)

Today’s teens and young adults will be the world’s biggest consumer group in about 10 years, which explains why many companies are already targeting their marketing at Gen Z. People in this generation grew up with the Internet and digital technologies and view them as a natural part of their working and personal life. Generation Z is driven by individuality and freedom for personal development, but also craves stability and order. This generation especially values the support of family and champions values such as nature conservation.

  • Typically characterized by: a permanent state of crisis, terrorism, difficulties in communication, dating on social apps, an addiction to attention and feedback
  • Values: self-fulfillment, pursuit of freedom for personal development
  • Attitude toward work-life balance: work and life are kept strictly separate.

Generation Alpha (2010 and after)

This generation has been completely shaped by technologies of the 21st century, and their way of thinking and way of life are digital through and through. Digital transformation, political instability, and demographic change are the defining features of this generation.

Typically characterized by: digitalization, smartphones and tablets from a young age, voice assistants in day-to-day life

The people making up Generation Alpha are still children, so we’ll have to wait a few years or even decades to see what values and life attitudes they develop.

How can you reach the different generations in online marketing?

Taking a closer look at the generations and understanding what motivates them and why can help you unlock and leverage interesting insights to craft suitable generational marketing strategies. Here’s a summary of the key findings:

Traditionalists: play a minor role in online marketing because they prefer more traditional communication channels

Marketing for baby boomers: lean toward traditional media but are also active on social media (mainly to stay in contact with family members)
Channels: combination of traditional channels and online campaigns
Content: a focus on enjoyment, benefits, and support in day-to-day life
Tip: Technology-focused companies can particularly tap into this generation with robot vacuum cleaners, smart homes, etc.

Marketing for Generation X: values personal contact more than automated processes and stays loyal to brands
Channels: all media channels, newsletters, mailing lists, TV commercials, predominantly Facebook and Instagram in terms of social media
Content: tailored to personal fulfillment through work, brand awareness, and status symbols
Tip: Phone-based customer support, ironic jokes, and references to pop culture are well received.

Marketing for Generation Y: isn’t as easily convinced by products and services
Channels: social media ads, reviews, celebrity endorsements (for persuasion)
Content: highlights the benefits and purpose of products and services
Tip: Social proof (recommendations by friends and family) and user-generated content work well.

Marketing for Generation Z: climate action and sustainability are top priorities
Channels: social media, YouTubers, influencers, video content (Instagram Reels and Stories, TikTok)
Content: short and snappy, powerful, aesthetically pleasing, easy to consume, music, and emotions
Tip: Videos are most likely to catch the attention of Gen Z, especially in a mobile-friendly 9:16 format.

Marketing for Generation Alpha: digital media has been omnipresent since birth
Generation Alpha has had access to smartphones and tablets from a young age. At the moment, those making up Gen Alpha prefer to consume video content and are very active on social media. These channels will probably be the best way to reach them once they become relevant to you as a target group. Only time will tell what kind of content will appeal to them most at that point.

Catering to all ages: marketing for Gen Z and other groups

We already learned about the importance of generational marketing at DMEXCO 2022, when Dr. Sven Hasselmann from Deutsche Bahn spoke about what communication and marketing strategies really appeal to Gen Z. Watch the session here! If you want to take a deeper dive into what motivates and drives Gen Z – arguably the most promising consumer generation for many businesses right now – then read our story on the topic.