How To Navigate The Generation Gap with Relationship Marketing

When it comes to marketing to a mass audience, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all. 

This is particularly true when taking into consideration generational differences. From how we use technology, to how we interact with brands, to what motivates us to buy, different age groups have different preferences. Whether brands recognize these differences, and how they respond to them, can make or break a marketing campaign. 

Relationship marketing pioneer, Marigold, examined the depths of these differences in the recently released 2023 U.S. Consumer Trends Report. Here are the three areas where the generation gap is the widest when it comes to brand marketing outreach. 

Communication Channels: Email vs. Social

While email remains the most impactful channel for customer communication overall, just how impactful depends on the age of the customer. According to the report, older generations (Boomers and Gen X) are much more likely to make purchases in response to an email message as compared to Millennial or Gen Z customers. While the younger generations certainly will buy via email as well, they tend to skew more favorably toward social media channels. 

When asked what format they’ve made a purchase from in the last 12 months, email was the number one response for Boomers (62%) and Gen X (64%). But social channels ranked highest among Millennials (67%) and Gen Z (58%). That’s not to say Boomers don’t use social, or that Gen Z doesn’t use email. It’s just an indication of which channel offers the path of least resistance for which age group. 

Given that banner ads, whether on websites or apps, are the least popular communication format across all age groups, taking the effort to communicate more directly and personally is a step in the right direction. 

Purchase Motivators: Price vs. Convenience

Once you’ve determined how to reach customers across different age groups, next is knowing what message will resonate with them most. Different generations are motivated by different things. Clearly getting the best deal is always something consumers of all ages want. But convenience plays a role as well. Here’s how those levers differ between audiences. 

When asked to self-identify what kind of shopper they are, Boomers and Gen X volunteered price as their top priority, while Millennials and Gen Z opted for convenience:

  • Boomers: Price (51%) / Convenience (15%)
  • Gen X: Price (42%) / Convenience (20%)
  • Millennials: Price (32%) / Convenience (24%)
  • Gen Z: Price (44%) / Convenience (12%)

Brand Consideration: The Price of Loyalty

On the whole, brand loyalty is on the rise. But not to the same degree as every generation. Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to migrate between brands, with loyalty fading easily but also easily won back. Boomers and Gen X meanwhile make fewer brand shifts, but when they do it’s more lasting. 

For instance, 20% of Boomers reported fading brand loyalty in the last year, the lowest of all generations, followed closely by Gen X at 28%. Millennials were the highest at 43%, and Gen Z close behind at 37%.

In terms of what brands could do to keep customers coming back, consumers across generations agree – points/rewards and discounts are the most intriguing. However, the fervor isn’t as strong across different age groups. These types of loyalty offers are by far the most important for Boomers, Gen X and Gen Z, whereas Millennials are much more open to feeling a sense of community and participating in sweepstakes.

The effectiveness of loyalty programs varies by generation as well. Millennials are the most likely to take part in loyalty programs (67%), while Boomers are the least (33%). 

Clearly, different people want different brand experiences and age/generation is one dimension to take into consideration. This makes it even more important than ever to ensure your marketing strategy, message, and channel is not a one-size-fits-all attempt. The single most important component of any campaign is knowing who the customer is and engaging in a way that is meaningful and contextually relevant.

There are a lot more trends and data points in our  2023 US Consumer Trends Report. Being aware of these trends is a good place to start. But the best way to determine the right mix is by getting to know customers and communicating with them appropriately throughout their path to purchase and customer lifecycle. That means establishing an authentic conversation with customers through a meaningful value exchange, listening to what they’re telling you through zero-party data, and responding appropriately. 

That’s the biggest benefit that relationship marketing provides. Less guessing, more knowing. And once established, personalized communication will only deepen your relationship with customers over time.

Contributed by Michele Fitzpatrick, VP of Enterprise Strategy at Marigold

Photo credit:Marigold

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