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February 27, 2020

Defining An Evolving Audience

meara bridges

Generations are comprised of people born in a specific range of time who have experienced similar character-defining social and historical milestones. This shared experience creates similar personal values and views which help unify generations into an identifiable group. Additional defining influences include the economic landscape, technological developments, and parenting. All of this comes together to establish their ideologies. Generations are essentially time capsules of experiences, and knowing their history can help hone your messaging to foster a meaningful connection with your brand.

Although defining characteristics of a generation will predominantly stay the same, age will continue to change. That can affect things like income, spending power, and free time—all variables that can have a huge impact in the relevance of the target audience you’re speaking to. Another influence to consider is geography, since countries experience different socially and historically-relevant events that shape the nuances of each generation. For the sake of discussion, this article will primarily focus on generations within the U.S.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

In 2019, Kasasa identified approximately 76 million Boomers in the U.S., ranging from 55-75 years old. Boomer traits identified by the BBC include a strong sense of commitment, self-sufficiency, and competitiveness. Another characteristic of Boomers has been a high priority for work over personal life. As Boomers transition into retirement, the focus has shifted to leisure time. Due to years of career dedication and minimal debt, they remain a lucrative demographic.

Though Kasasa cites that 90% of Boomers use Facebook, they are the largest consumer of traditional media and are best reached through print, radio, and television.

Generation X (1965-1979)

According to Kasasa, in 2019 there were approximately 82 million Gen X in the U.S., ranging from 40-54 years old. They have been shaped by the end of the cold war and the introduction of personal computers. The BBC notes that Gen X’s experience of life without and with technology has defined characteristics in the generation such as resourcefulness, logic, and strong problem-solving skills. Although the majority of Gen X earn more than their Boomer parents did at their career peak, Gen X carries more debt which results in less disposable income.

Similar to Boomers in their media usage, Gen X brings technology into the mix with a strong handle on digital platforms and a large amount of their time is spent online.

Millennials (1980-1994)

Kasasa notes there were approximately 95 million Millennials in the U.S., ranging from 25-39 years old in 2019. Millennials have been shaped by several factors, including the technology boom of regular internet use and social media, The Great Recession, and 9/11. Millennials are often labeled “lazy” and are the subject of scrutiny. However, the BBC recognizes they actually possess a high level of self-sufficiency due to their technological savvy. They are characterized as confident, curious, and questioning of authority. With limited years in the workforce and substantial debt, most Millennials exercise selective spending, opting for experiential rather than consumerist purchases.

Millennials are technologically-connected, with heavy use of television streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, and a presence on most major social media platforms.

Generation Z (1995-2019)

Often confused with Millennials, Gen Z is the youngest generation to-date. According to Kasasa, in 2019 Gen Z comprises approximately 25% of the population in the U.S., ranging from 4-24 years old. CNN cites Gen Z as “the most racially and ethnically diverse” generation and notes the majority of this generation lives in metropolitan areas of the western U.S. The BBC identifies Gen Z traits including ambition, confidence, and fluency in digital platforms. Gen Z grew up seeing the financial struggle of Gen X and Millennials, which has pushed them to avoid debt and be more conservative in their spending.

Gen Z connects with the world through technology, and spends a large portion of their time on their smartphones, making them a captive audience. However, due to their life-long exposure to and consumption of media, unique messaging is necessary to catch and hold their attention successfully.

Is There One Generation to Rule Them All?

Every generation has vastly different ways of communicating, and each will respond positively to different angles taken in messaging. Understanding of your audience and any secondary or tertiary differentiating factors (e.g. age, location, etc.) is paramount in crafting and spreading your message. But even with research, there is always one consistent principle that should guide you—no matter the generation, you’re talking to people. Despite the sea of generational differences, never lose sight of the fact that we’re all human, and there are fundamental motivators that we share.