COVID-19’s Impact on Millennial and Gen Z Media Habits — And How Marketers Should Pivot

Within a very short period, the way Millennials and Gen Zs buy products and consume media also has changed dramatically. And while many of these shifts — such as the changes to their media habits — can be attributed to the global pandemic, some of them may be here to stay.

Depending on their age and stage of life, the nation’s two youngest generations are getting a first taste of what it’s like to be a remote worker, home-schooling parent, or web-only shopper. Within a very short period, the way Millennials and Gen Zs buy products and consume media also has changed dramatically. And while many of these shifts — such as the changes to their media habits — can be attributed to the global pandemic, some of them may be here to stay.

“When U.S. advertisers pulled back spending dramatically in March, one of the earliest noticeable effects on the display ad market was falling CPMs (the price of 1,000 advertisement impressions on a single webpage),” eMarketer reports. Concurrently, marketers were lowering their demand for ads and consumers were spending more time on social and traditional media properties, thus increasing the supply of impressions.

“Where we’re getting the demand right now is from people who are driving sort of more online conversions, direct response, so it’s not like we’re seeing a shift of reach and frequency dollars to us,” Facebook’s Dave Wehner said in an April earnings call. “I think what we’re seeing is people who are driving the kind of direct response actions taking advantage of low prices.”

Feeling the Impact

With COVID-19 affecting all facets of everyday life, it’s no surprise that marketing is also seeing the dramatic impacts of the pandemic. And while some of the changes simply solidify what was already happening in the market, COVID is definitely adding more fuel to the fire. For example, TikTok has become a household term in a world where just a few months ago the typical parent was unfamiliar with the short-form mobile video platform — a platform that  has become a viable channel for reaching younger consumers. The youngest Gen Zs are likely getting as much socialization as possible on platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, all while binging on Netflix as they wait out the COVID-19 threat and state shutdowns.

The crisis is going to change consumers across all age groups, and no one knows for certain what the total impact will be. What we do know is that the shifts are already starting to happen, as evidenced by the TikTok videos featuring parents and their children dancing together, and the fact that Instagram Stories usage is up 15% since the outbreak. These and other platforms are keeping people connected, and they’re also presenting new opportunities for marketers that need ways to reach their youngest consumers.

TikTok added over 12 million U.S. unique visitors in March, reaching 52.2 million, according to eMarketer. “TikTok has been on a growth spurt for several months, even before the pandemic,” the firm points out, adding that as of October 2019, TikTok’s app and websites had 27 million unique visitors, with the app alone accounting for 18.6 million. “But the month-to-month growth between February and March was particularly notable in comparison with previous monthly gains.”

What Are Gen Z and Millennials Up To?

In surveying Gen Z about its routines, media habits, and lives during the viral outbreak, Brainly found that most are turning to social media to pass the time and stay connected, with Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook getting the highest marks from this generation.

Here are other important, COVID-related trends that Hawthorne Advertising has been tracking internally:

  • In terms of social media, Millennials are gravitating toward Instagram and Reddit.
  • There’s also been a big uptick in Twitch usage over the last two months, with live performers among the most active participants on that platform.
  • More Millennials are using YouTube as an information source during the pandemic.
  • Zoom has emerged as the videoconferencing platform of choice for Millennials.
  • Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are popular “binge” targets for both Gen Zs and Millennials.
  • Fans of Instagram, TikTok, Hulu, and the Amazon Firestick, Gen Zs are receptive to pre-roll ads and other targeted advertising approaches on these platforms.
  • Gen Zs are also using GoToMeeting, Zoom, Houseparty, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime to stay in touch with friends and family during this period.

In assessing Gen Z and Millennials’ post-quarantine media habits and content consumption, YPulse says Netflix will be their must-watch TV platform of choice, but notes that social media content could begin cannibalizing the time these younger generations spend on streaming services.

“While streaming services are reporting massive numbers of new subscribers, our data indicates that the real winner of quarantine viewing is social media,” YPulse reports, noting that a recent survey found that 48% of 13 to 39-year-olds are watching more videos on social media during quarantine, and 40% are now watching videos weekly or more on Instagram (compared to 34% in November 2019).

Get Ready to Turn on the Dime

For marketers who are trying to wrap their arms around these shifts, the best strategy is to embrace the changes and take careful note of their pace of acceleration.

Understand that when we emerge from this crisis — whenever that occurs — you’re not going to be operating in the same world that was put on pause in early-2020. Marketers also need to consider more targeted and customized messaging, as well as dynamic creative optimization, to maximize the engagement with Millennials and Gen Z audiences.

Consider this: In a recent DoSomething survey, 75% of Gen Zs said the top action they wanted to see from brands was ensuring employee and consumer safety, with 73% wanting brands to protect their employees financially. Brands that share positive messages on social media while failing to support their staff are being noticed, Vogue Business reports. “If you’re not authentic, Gen Zs will be the first to raise a red flag. If you are trying to take advantage of the moment, you will lose them so fast.”

Educate yourself on these changes, test out some new strategies, and strap yourself in. It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride filled with both challenges and opportunities, the latter of which will be most available to the companies that stay flexible and fluid enough to turn on a dime right along with their target audiences.

Tailoring Your Marketing Messages to Gen Y and Gen Z Consumers

Generation Y has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both of these generations.

Generation Y, or better known as Millennials, has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group who is 24 to 39 years in age and a formidable force across all consumer markets, has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both Gen Y and Gen Z consumers.

As marketers continue developing and refining their Millennial-targeting strategies, they are now shifting their focus to Gen Z. This group of anyone 23 and younger is now coming to financial maturity, and consists of a massive and influential cohort made up of 65 million individuals. According to Gen Z Insights, as of 2020, this generation makes up 40% of all consumers in the U.S.

This youngest generation will soon outnumber the Millennials, and graduate from allowance-based buying power, bringing their own likes, dislikes, and opinions with them. But if there’s one thing that marketers should know about both Gen Y and Gen Z, it’s this: Don’t assume these are just huge, homogeneous groups who will respond to generic marketing messages.

The Millennial who turns 40 next year, for example, will have decidedly different media consumption and buying habits than, say, a 25-year-old who is just beginning to sort out life’s intricacies. Geography, gender, education level, income, and other individual attributes all have to be factored into the equation when targeting these broad, generational segments. Skip this step and you could find yourself wasting money, time, and energy chasing down way too large of a potential customer segment.

Apple, Xerox, and Nike have all found innovative ways to carve out specific niches within the larger context of both Gen Y and Gen Z. According to YPulse’s latest “youth brand tracker,” for example, YouTube, Nike, and Snapchat are the top three “top cool brands” for Gen Z, while Nike, Netflix, and Savage x Fenty claim the top spots for Gen Y.

Let’s dive into exploring generational segments, identifying some incorrect assumptions marketers make when tailoring their messages to Gen Y and Z, and highlighting some of the most effective platforms for getting messaging across to the nation’s two youngest generations.

Effective Platforms for Messaging Gen Y and Gen Z

Here are the main platforms that marketers use to deliver very targeted messages to Gen Y and Gen Z:

Connected TVs and Devices. This includes any TV or device that’s connected to the Internet and allows users to access content beyond what’s being shown on screen at the time. Connected advertising is an extension of the traditional TV buy that complements a brand’s existing presence on a specific platform. The connected nature of this medium allows companies to measure their reach and frequency across all devices, drill down into specific audience segments (i.e., iPhone users between a certain age range) and gain insights across the full customer journey.

Instagram. Not limited to celebrities who upload their well-posed vacation photos to the platform, Instagram’s photo-and video-sharing social network is actively used by nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Z adults (ages 18 to 23 years old). This presents a major opportunity for marketers who want to get their products in front of these young consumers, and who start forming bonds and creating brand awareness with these young adults early in their lives.

TikTok. A social media app where Gen Z vies for 15 seconds of fame on the small screen, TikTok is the fastest-growing social media app, with about 500 million regular users. Users post 15-second videos on the app, which is estimated to have been downloaded more than a billion times on app stores. Marketers can use TikTok to create a channel for their brands and then use it to upload relevant, engaging videos. They can also tap into the platform’s large “influencer” base and leverage it to expose their content to a broad, yet well-targeted, audience of Gen Z consumers.

YouTube. This well-established video-sharing platform has 2 billion users who log in on a monthly basis, including the 81% of American 15 to 25 years old. Among 18 to 34 year-olds, the platform is the second most-preferred platform for watching video on TV screens. With people uploading 500 hours of video every minute, the platform is pretty cluttered. Standing out and growing a YouTube channel requires a targeted approach that includes a unique channel name, a good viewing experience across all devices, calls to action (i.e., to subscribe, share videos, etc.), and incorporating the channel into emails, blog posts, and other social media posts to improve its ability to be discovered.

SnapChat. With 51% of Gen Zers viewing their generation as more creative than any of its predecessors, social apps like SnapChat give them the space they need to be creative in the digital world. They use it to create videos, share images, communicate with friends, and share moments throughout their days. Marketers can harness this platform to post their stories, push out user-generated content, and connect with influencers. For example, Taco Bell was an early SnapChat user that leveraged the platform’s storytelling capabilities to spread the word about new products.

Additional Social Media Channels. As a whole, social media has opened the doors for marketers who can creatively use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to connect with their audiences, build their brands, drive website traffic, and grow their sales. Because each platform has its own mission, goals, and user base, the companies experiencing the most success on social media are the ones that take the time to segment their audiences and use very specific targeting strategies for those consumers.

The Power of TV and Mail

In the rush to select platforms that they think Gen Y and Z naturally gravitate toward, marketers often overlook the power of TV, direct mail, and other mainstays. They wrongly assume that these channels don’t work with younger audiences, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.

In a world where Nielsen says U.S. consumers spend nearly 12 hours daily across TV, TV-connected devices, radio, computers, smartphones, and tablets, the opportunity to engage the younger generations from different angles definitely exists.

Americans aged 18 to 34 watch a daily average of just under two hours of traditional TV and spend an additional hour per day using apps and the web. Consumers aged 12 to 17 watch about an hour and a half of TV daily. Craving personalized, non-digital experiences, younger generations spend about 9.7 minutes reading mail daily (versus about 8 minutes for both Gen X baby boomers).

These numbers translate into real opportunities for marketers that take the time to segment their audiences versus just lumping them into different generational groups. Where you still need a presence on mass platforms like TikTok and Instagram, for example, the messaging itself must be customized, targeted, and experiential.

Not Just Another Number

Marketers who overlook traditional platforms just because they assume Gen Z or Gen Y can only be reached on pure digital platforms are setting themselves up for failure. That’s because both generations are obviously still digesting video content, movies, and TV series via cable, a connected TV device, or on a platform like YouTube.

Target your audience properly, customize it for that consumer group, sell that group an experience (not the product itself), and you’ll come out a winner.

Regardless of which platforms you’re using, remember that Gen Z and Gen Y aren’t cohesive, homogeneous groups. As you use geotargeting and other strategies to segment your audience, be sure to personalize your messages in a way that makes your customer feel like a VIP — and not just another number.

 

 

 

 

How-tos for Generational Marketing to Millennials vs. Gen Z

Millennials and Generation Zers have both broken out of a shell that generations prior were determined to mold themselves to. This fact, along with their closeness in age, have led many to believe that they have a lot of commonalities that can accommodate similar generational marketing strategies.

Millennials and Generation Zers are both notorious for shaking up the status quo in more ways than one. They’ve both broken out of a shell that generations prior were determined to mold themselves to. This fact, along with their closeness in age, have led many to believe that they have a lot of commonalities that can accommodate similar generational marketing strategies.

While they are adjacent generations, the qualities in which they have gained notoriety differ, especially as consumers. The rise of the newest wave of consumers, who make up roughly 40% of all customers in the market, is certainly creating changes as Gen Z’s desires are not perfectly aligned with their older generational neighbors. The people who make up this group were born between 1997 and 2012.

At the same time, this does not imply that advertisers should stop pushing their marketing efforts toward Millennials. Simply put, Millennials largely contribute to the U.S. economic capital with a generational wealth estimated at $24 trillion. This group is made up of people born between 1981 and 1996.

With these statistics in mind, it is important that brands learn how to make the most of both unique generational consumer behaviors. Here are different elements advertisers should keep in mind when targeting a Millennial vs. a Gen Z demographic.

Similarities

Before we break down the differences these two generations have as consumers, it’s important to acknowledge they do still have quite a bit in common. First, both groups are well-versed in social media and the amount of time they spend plugged in doesn’t vary too drastically.

Even at an average of 20 minutes less per day, Millennials were young and impressionable when the age of the Internet came to be and, as such, they are just about as savvy in social media as is Gen Z.

Second, both generations place importance on diversity, equality, and progressive social values. In contrast to generations prior, Millennials and Gen Zers have questioned many social norms that Boomers and Gen Xers have accepted as reality.

Though there are undoubtedly many similarities in the grand scheme of things, these generational differences must also be considered in order for marketers to successfully cater to both.

Attitude Toward Spending

Interestingly, the way Millennials’ and Gen Zers’ finances differ is quite great.

Many Millennials were young adults when the Great Recession hit the U.S. in 2007. Growing up with a poor economy at large taught this group to place value on quality over quantity, as they remain mostly optimistic about their personal finances.

With Gen Z being quite young at the start of the economic downturn, this generation adopted the notion of practicality and financial preparation from an early age.

How Can Brands Successfully Cater to Both Spending Behaviors?

For Millennials, quality over quantity means they are looking to invest their money in brands that create a unique product or experience that will noticeably enhance their quality of living. Millennials are inclined to do significant research before making a purchase, ensuring they’ve found the most beneficial product or experience for them. This is good news for marketers, as Millennials are constantly on the lookout for the next best thing to help them in their everyday lives. All brands need to do is prove they are the ones Millennials should be investing their time and money in, and they may have customers for life.

For Gen Z, it’s best to get right to it. Let the consumer know exactly why the product or experience is the best one for them and why it’s worth the money. As previously mentioned, this generation is very focused on responsible spending as a result of their early memories of the Great Recession. So, if you want to sell to Gen Z, make sure you keep your brand’s feet firmly planted on the ground. Approach selling in a practical manner and make sure your product has a clear purpose for its consumer.

Feeling Connected Through Social Media

It is apparent that both generations are avid social media users, and the feeling of connection that social media creates is well enjoyed by both. However, the ways they best receive those feelings of connection vary.

Millennials feel most connected through the more traditional sharing, pinning, and forwarding; predominantly on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Gen Zers have had social media at their fingertips for the majority of their lives and, as a result, they consume more media on fewer platforms. This group is very visual and prefers rapid consumption, mainly through Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and, most recently, TikTok.

How Can Brands Leverage Connection in Their Marketing Efforts?

Millennials prefer the more traditional social media platforms and sharing techniques, because they’re easy ways to feel seen and heard. Brands can leverage this in their customer journeys through interaction: asking consumers questions, encouraging them to communicate in comments sections, and more. This creates a space where Millennials feel valued and contributes to their attitude that a brand can better their lives on a deeply personal level.

Gen Z’s short attention span makes their marketing needs exclusively geared toward them. Cut to the chase and get down to benefits of the product — this is the best way to reach them on their preferred social platforms. Utilizing influencers for brand marketing is an effective way to connect to this audience. With 10-second Instagram stories and #sponsored posts, brands can use their preferred social platforms to connect in a unique way that feels authentic to Gen Z.

Embracing Generational Differences as Marketers and Advertisers

As two groups who came one after the other, it’s no surprise that Millennials and Generation Z are very similar. Both known for questioning common ideas the predecessing generations easily accepted, the two generations have redefined marketing in a new era for brands. They value authenticity, social responsibility, and inclusion. But both have different consumer behaviors when it comes to their finances and how they connect. For marketers, it is more important than ever to optimize and strategize based on their ever-changing habits as consumers

Omnichannel Marketing Is Preferred by 85% of Consumers

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing from the CMO Council. She shared findings from a recent study done by the CMO Council in partnership with Pitney Bowes titled “Critical Channels of Choice.” The study surveyed 2,000 consumers across five generations (Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation).

According to Miller, “Everyone assumes that Millennials and Gen Zers are all digital and that is the best way, and in some instances the only way, to communicate with them. The most critical finding from the study indicated that the channel of choice was in fact, omnichannel.” Consumers expect a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick and mortar store location.

When asked to describe their communication preferences, consumers overwhelmingly agreed that one path to the brand simply isn’t enough … they want them all. Some 85% of consumers surveyed agreed that their ideal channel is actually a blend of channels, opting for a mix of both digital and physical experiences (Figure 1).

According to survey respondents, consumers prefer to have omnichannel marketing efforts directed toward them.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

Miller explained that print is alive and well. She said, “Perhaps most telling of this openness for omnichannel is that printed mail, considered by some to be one of the more ‘traditional’ channels in today’s marketing mix, is essential. It continues to be a highly valued channel of choice. One out of every three consumers surveyed expected printed mail to be part of their ideal communications mix. Brands need to reevaluate how they are leveraging and deploying all of the tools available in an omnichannel toolkit.”

While you might expect a divide across generations in terms of channel preferences, that isn’t the case. The research found that all respondents, regardless of age demographic, prefer a blend of digital and physical channels to pave their communications journey with a brand (Figure 2).

Based on key findings, there is a preference for a blend of digital and physical communications in marketing efforts, regardless of age.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The study also pointed out that the deciding factors for channel usage by consumers include convenience, reliability, speed, personalization, and trust (Figure 3). Whether it is print, social media, or email, consumers are looking for channels that meet their expectations.

Critical attributes of must have channels.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The Bottom Line

Given the drive for a seamless omnichannel experience, your customers will be looking for partners to help deliver the solutions consumers want. Print will continue to be integral to the marketing mix, but your offerings will need to be blended with social, mobile, and online channels, as well as brick and mortar point of purchase solutions. Service providers need to evaluate the role they want to play in an omnichannel world.

Are Boomers Really Underserved by Digital Marketers?

Marketing to Millennials is out-sized in digital media, probably because of the upside potential. Digital marketers see future lifetime value is always bigger when you’re going to live another 50 to 70 years.

Did you hear the one about the entitled calling out the entitled?

I’m entitled. I was born during the peak year of the Baby Boom — and one thing I never had to think about was being ignored by marketers. Even digital marketers today.

Riding the “age wave” as a consumer, I was courted by brands from a tender young age. I was taught young how to be a good American consumer, and I was duly paid attention to by marketers.

And though the peak year of the Baby Boom presented challenges growing up — we all competed fiercely for college placements, job placements, housing, and status — it also prepared us well for the Reagan era’s rugged individualism, a concept and social structure that seems to have gone far, far away in our “it takes a Village” reality today. At least in the ’80s, I could afford to move to New York — though barely.

Witness a new generation — the children of Baby Boomers, Millennials — who are rising to dominate the workforce, and asserting new social values (built on inclusiveness, sustainability, fairness, and tolerance) and, gee, are brands paying attention to them! No, I’m not jealous — I’m thrilled. No, really!

Transparency, Authenticity, Sustainability, Diversity, On Demand — Brand Attributes That Appeal

According to a newly updated Deloitte Insights study, there are nearly as many Millennials as Boomers in the United States. These two generations are both forces for economic growth — as consumer spending drives two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Boomers certainly have more disposable income — and Millennials have more debt relative to income. But where digital strategy drives the marketing, Deloitte reports, Boomers may matter less, at least in practice. My guess: Marketing to Millennials is out-sized in digital media, probably because of the upside potential. Future lifetime value is always bigger when you’re going to live another 50 to 70 years.

Also, Millennials live, work, and play online. Boomers consume digitally, too. But when you tune into the nightly television news, you know the audience is comprised of Boomers and the Silent Generation before them. (Granted, when I watch TV news, I’m also skimming my smartphone.) Just watch the ads for prescription drugs, incontinence products, memory care, nutraceuticals, and other products for an aging audience — and you know there’s hardly a soul under 40 (or 50) watching scheduled newscasts anymore. The cord-cutting is rampant when “triple-play” packages cost hundreds per month, and Millennial-led households and individuals don’t see any need or logic to pay like their parents do, even if they can afford it.

They consume media completely differently, and always can steam any live events, news included, from their own trusted sources fairly easily. Media consumption, disrupted.

Brand attributes are changing, too. Many direct-to-consumer brands, popular among Millennials, have arisen not just because of perceived convenience and superior product, if that is indeed true — but because they connect using data flows that recognize the consumer from device to device, and learn in the process (that matters). They also connect because of what the brand represents, by establishing emotional and identity connection. Does the brand speak to the individual with respect and display a social aptitude? If the answer is yes, you have a better chance of gaining business and loyalty. It helps, too, that marketing is personalized at mass scale – and product personalization is booming. As “social” a cohort as Millennials are, they still demand “rugged individualism” when tailoring the product or service to their own wants, needs, and interests. For any of us at any age, we love such personalized connections, too.

So let’s congratulate Millennials, their digital prowess, and the brands’ love affair they are experiencing on their devices — and that I’ve enjoyed for decades elsewhere everywhere. It’s not as if I’m ignored online, I know I’m still coveted. But let’s not talk about sex.

digital marketers
Photo: Chet Dalzell, Photo inside JFK – Alitalia Lounge, 2019. I’ve enjoyed the attention. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

Millennials Are Spending More on Health and Wellness

According to The Center for Generational Kinetics, Millennials are spending both their own money and that of their Boomer parents’, and what has their focus the most is health and wellness. Brands can tap into this, even if outside of the traditional health and wellness industries.

Millennials may have more educational debt than any previous generation, but they also have disproportionate spending power. According to The Center for Generational Kinetics, Millennials are spending both their own money and that of their Boomer parents’, who are providing more access to money and credit than we’ve seen before. So with all that spending power, what are they spending it on — and how should brands reach them? The secret is to emphasize health and wellness across diverse industries.

The Importance to Millennials About Signaling Their Own Health and Wellness

To understand just how important health and wellness are to Millennials, it may help to look at a particularly narrow market: luxury water bottles. Remember the rise of Nalgene in the mid-2000s? Relatively modest by today’s standards, these colorful, indestructible bottles were the first “status” water bottles. Today, that market is dominated by pricey S’well bottles, but also includes Yeti, bkr, Hydro Flask, and others. And according to NYU marketing professor Tülin Erdem, flaunting these bottles are about more than hydration.

In Erdem’s interpretation, water bottles are a way that Millennials signal health and wellness, and those signals are important. They also do drink more water than previous generations, but even those with little physical investment in wellness sport high-end water bottles, athleisure, and other wellness markers on a day-to-day basis as a means of attracting like-minded peers and making a statement about their identity.

Food and Drink Are Obvious Targets

One sector that has an obvious edge in marketing to Millennials are food and drink brands, those companies who produce goods directly implicated in health and well-being, but there are also brands putting a spin on this classic angle. Consider, for example, the stark contrast between tea and alcohol.

Both tea and alcohol are getting a lot of buzz with Millennials, and both are leaning hard into the wellness message. This is easy for tea; products like matcha are popular precisely because they offer functional health benefits, which adds to its appeal. Traditionally alcoholic beverages, on the other hand, are typically bad for one’s health and are a harder sell. As such, brands are making small adjustments like making beer more like juice in order to market what seems like a more “refreshing” beverage. The repositioning of beer brands is an effort that other industries also could use to make their products more appealing.

Health and Wellness Extends to Pet Products

At the most basic level, the pet food market is an enormous growth area, expected to surpass $8.21 billion by 2024, not including additional products like supplements, treats, and toys purchased by owners, but the area that’s really growing is natural pet food products. That’s because 29% of U.S. buyers seek to avoid artificial ingredients in pet treats. They want their pets to eat how they eat, and they even budget for it. Millennial pet owners, in particular, are especially likely to spend money on grain-free or other “free-from” pet diets.

It’s also no surprise that pet treats have also taken on a functional bent — and that’s getting these products into the hands of users. In fact, Pedigree’s DentaSTIX tooth cleaning product won a major advertising award in 2018, and the company saw 24% sales growth, year over year. The product offers pet owners what marketers call “a positive treating product” as an alternative to many of the other options on the market, and this boost in sales hinges largely on Millennials.

Making a Marketing Move

Following family, health and wellness are Millennials’ top priority, with 53% deeming these issues important to them, far above spirituality and career — and marketing departments and brands must keep this in mind. Unlike so many other brand trends, health and wellness are changing the entire shape of what people buy at a structural level. It’s a big change, and even classically “unhealthy” products — snack foods, alcohol, etc. — need to find ways to reorient their brands in every sector, from clothing to home goods to transportation, to reach today’s buyers.

How to Perform Generational Targeting in Direct Mail Marketing

Generational targeting in direct mail can be instrumental in increasing your response rates. As brains age they change, and the way we need to target people also changes. Because the majority of the buying public falls into three generations now, we will focus on Boomers, Gen X and Millennials.

Generational targeting in direct mail
Credit: Getty Images by Jasper Cole

Generational targeting in direct mail can be instrumental in increasing your response rates. As brains age they change, and the way we need to target people also changes. Because the majority of the buying public falls into three generations now, we will focus on Boomers, Gen X and Millennials.

Generational Targeting in Direct Mail

Boomers — As we age, it becomes hard to filter out distractions. This means that your direct mail should have a clear message in a big font. Do not clutter the mail piece with tons of copy and a bunch of images. Include white space around your copy and images to allow time for absorption without distraction. Because older brains filter out negative messages, you should accentuate the positive benefits of your product or service. They have time and, therefore, value more information before making a decision — unlike Gen Xers and Millennials. Make sure to respect their intelligence and include details about your product or service that are relevant to them. The more they are exposed to a message, company and brand, the more it becomes true for them. So make sure that your messaging on your mail piece matches your message on other channels.

Gen X — The first thing we need to note about Gen Xers is that they are very busy people; you will need to grab their attention quickly. Coupons are a great way to reach Gen X. They love a good deal. They love companies that do “good for society.” So when they make a purchase, they can also help out others. They like loyalty programs that help keep them on track through busy weeks and months. Keep in mind that this generation loves direct mail. Of course you need to send them mail pieces that are relevant, but you should expect good response rates from them. Because lack of time is an issue, make sure that you go with less copy and get right to the point of how your product or service can help them.

Millennials — The most important thing to know about Millennials is that they value social issues over economics. So you need to make sure that your messaging taps into that need. Another factor is innovation. This generation is always looking for the next best thing. How can your product or service fix their problems in a new way? Millennials love reviews, so make sure you provide real testimonials from customers on your direct mail pieces. They, like Gen X, are big on loyalty programs; so make sure you have a robust program.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that each generation is comprised of unique people; not everyone will respond the same way. Don’t replace your other demographic targeting and segmentation strategies. These notations should help you shape your direct mail concepts, but by no means should they become the “be-all, end-all” strategy. Are you ready to get started?

Generational Marketing: Gen Z Goes to College

I’ve taught in colleges since 2005, and have shared my observations about Millennials in several Target Marketing blog posts. Recently, I realized that most of my current students aren’t Millennials, so my curiosity about psycho-demographics has me trying to observe the generational marketing characteristics of this new cohort of college students, arbitrarily defined as those born starting in 1997.

I’ve taught in colleges since 2005, and have shared my observations about Millennials in several Target Marketing blog posts. Recently, I realized that most of my current students aren’t Millennials, so my curiosity about psycho-demographics has me trying to observe the generational marketing characteristics of this new cohort of college students, arbitrarily defined as those born starting in 1997.

Of course, changes in generational attitudes don’t occur overnight, and so I didn’t walk into class one semester and say, “Wow, these kids are different!” The oldest Gen Zers were freshmen in 2015 and because the lines between the generations aren’t always distinct, I don’t have a large sample on which to base my generalizations. But here are some of my initial observations based on some recent classroom encounters.

Technology and Ageism

Unlike the students of five-plus years ago, the current group does not automatically assume that older people (myself included) are digital idiots. Perhaps that’s because their parents are more technologically savvy and their grandparents have social media accounts. Although most identified their grandparents as laggards when it came to smartphone adoption in a recent assignment on the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, they don’t automatically assume that older people are technologically clueless. (See my post from 2016 on “Millennial Microagression”).

Financial Awareness

The cost of their education is always top-of-mind. It comes up frequently in classroom discussions about their consumption habits. Their formative years were marked by a time of economic uncertainty. In a recent marketing class at Rutgers, we were discussing how the economic environment affects marketing strategy and tactics. When I referenced the financial crisis of 2008, I realized that most of the students were in elementary or middle school during that time. Whether or not they experienced a parent’s job loss or home foreclosure firsthand, most understood that times were difficult and the financial future was not always assured.

Social Media-Cautious

In a recent assignment about retargeting, I asked them to cite examples of how their online activity led to seeing ads about things they posted or searched. Most referenced Google searches, and one student claimed that she was disadvantaged in coming up with examples because she has no social media accounts. Some have abandoned Facebook and, while they use Instagram, most keep their accounts private. By contrast, my experience with Millennials is that they were, and continue to be, much freer with their social media activity.

Look for more about Gen Z in upcoming posts.

Do Buzzwords Get in the Way of Progress?

Have you read a column in the past week, month or year that’s void of buzzwords? Probably not. In the age of 5,000-plus choices of what partners, technologies or agencies to choose from, I find it uncanny how the marketplace is fraught with complex ways to explain simple things.

Have you read a column in the past week, month or year that’s void of buzzwords? Probably not. In the age of 5,000-plus choices of what partners, technologies or agencies to choose from, I find it uncanny how the marketplace is fraught with complex ways to explain simple things. Blame it on analysts who define industries? Blame it on a competitive marketplace and people trying to stand out with that killer phrase that describes what they do? Blame it on retailers striving to explain and justify what they do to their corporate leaders? Or startups striving to associate new ideas to mainstream challenges? Or blame it on consultants for making the simple complex and charging for it.

What it doesn’t help are retailers. In a perfect world, retailers live their brand. They look for simple ways to communicate with a broad spectrum of customers, and need creative yet practical approaches to words. You’re a merchandiser, an e-commerce company, and a lifestyle brand, and it can be a cultural challenge to balance buzzword frenzy with simple words the market needs to hear about your company. My main problem with buzzwords — and I’ve been as guilty as anyone in the use of them, just read a few of my columns — is using terms in loose context can minimize the impact of the term and make it actually more confusing. Therefore, in the spirit of no buzzwords, this column is just that: real talk for real retailers.

Lets start with a few buzzwords:

  • Disruptive technology: This begs the question of how disruptive your disruptive technology has to be for you to claim that it’s truly disruptive vs. just moderately irritating.
  • Ecosystem: This buzzword got big in mid-2014, 2015 as Luma Partners really promoted its Lumascape. Next thing you know every vendor is using it and every internal IT team began following suit to describe their “data lake strategies” and “technology road map.” I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to referring to my business interdependencies using the same terminology we use to talk about global warming and our attempt to save the planet.
  • Millennials: Are millennials really a buzzword? They might be. They’ve become more than just another generational grouping. As more millennials enter the workforce, replacing the retiring baby boomers, we will continue to spend a lot of time talking about the impact they’re having on the intersection between business, technology and our interpersonal lives. Maybe more importantly, we will continue to try to figure out why they break up with each other via text.
  • Thought leadership: This buzzword was prevalent for many years, and I still don’t really know what it means — or maybe I thought I did and really didn’t. I was awarded Thought Leader of the Year in 2016, and had trouble describing the award outside of … unfortunately, it seems to be entrenched and positioned to bother us for another year. I’ve been trying desperately to think of a new term that could supplant it, but question if I’m enough of a thought leader to make that happen.
  • Storytellling: I have to confess that I’ve coached and advised leaders to use stories to convey important things about their businesses because a good story resonates better than death by Powerpoint presentation. Now we’ve got storytelling classes, storytelling departments, and even storytelling gurus. Once gurus come into the picture, we’ve officially hit buzz status
  • Artificial intelligence/machine learning: These are likely the most overused, misunderstood and confusing buzzwords. How many times have you heard, “We have AI.” While this area of discipline and technology advances will reshape much of what we know today, any buzzword that conjures up impending doom of the human race isn’t helping in a dynamic business world.
  • Big data: I have trouble with anything that starts with “big” as a modifier of an industry trend. What’s big, and is there bigger? Much like the term disruptive, big data is an overused phrase that doesn’t serve many outside of its sellers. Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, Microsoft, Apple have big data. If you really want to understand big data in our society, there’s a great book: “The Human Face of Big Data.” Warning, this book is big, literally. In the end, the term does little to help you contextualize marketing problems or your own internal data challenges.

We’re in a world of endless information. Buzzwords in my opinion distort real talk and make complex concepts harder for the masses to address in situational marketing. Have fun with it by infusing a NO Buzzword culture or, better yet, force the offender to fully explain the term in the context of your business. And remember the goal of words is not to show how smart you are versus; they are a way to level set on complex ideas.

Make the complex simple!

Marketing and Beyond: The Evils of Inertia vs. a Bias to Act

Inertia is a terrible thing. In marketing and beyond, inertia breeds complacency. It defeats initiative. And often leaves us stuck in life and work situations that very much prevent progress.

“The chill of inertia, the failure to make an ongoing effort to progress, is the greatest barrier to success and happiness in life.” Yogananda

Inertia is a terrible thing.

In marketing and beyond, inertia breeds complacency. It defeats initiative. And often leaves us stuck in life and work situations that very much prevent progress.

In our free democracy, where we have full opportunity to act with will as citizens, as voters, as employees (and employers), as consumers, as individuals too often we find ourselves victims of inertia; often ,in the form of our own indifference, or bias to do nothing.

This summer I’ve seen three instances of inertia local, national and global, each with their own potential for terrible outcomes. All are preventable.

Inertia Hurts My Savings

For three of the past four years, my cooperative has sought to introduce a transfer fee where the seller of an apartment pays a fee to the cooperative as a sort of “kiss” goodbye. The funds generated from the sale are dedicated to a reserve where such proceeds can finance many predictable capital projects over time. Building such a reserve lessens the need for high maintenance increases and/or a series of one-off assessments to fund necessary capital projects. In a buoyant New York real estate market, the fee often can be recouped in the sale price. Having such a reserve in good standing also keeps our building attractive to buyers. These are all wonderful benefits of having a transfer fee in place and why it’s part of a fee structure in many New York co-ops.

Yet getting the necessary two-thirds of our shareholders to pass such a common-sense measure had been trying. Despite pleas and prods from the board, we could never muster enough votes at our annual meeting. It wasn’t that shareholders en masse opposed the proposal a far majority of those who voted did favor it it’s just that we couldn’t get enough favorable ballots to meet the mandatory two-thirds threshold of our governing rules. So this year, we took a “vote over time” approach, where we used the summer months to garner the two-thirds majority. It took one tremendous effort interacting as we could with each shareholder by phone, email and visits and we achieved our goal.

Still, nearly a third of shareholders did nothing, said nothing, and paid no attention … inertia. Even when confronted with a worse outcome, they failed to take notice and act. Thankfully, in this situation, enough neighbors picked up the slack. A potential financial emergency has been averted.

Inertia Hurts Democracy

It’s the day after Labor Day and now we start our march to vital mid-term elections. Left or right or in the middle, the decisions of our elected officials matter during the next two (Representatives), four (Governors) and six (Senators) years. Guess which age cohort of voter could hardly be bothered?

A new survey from NBC/GenForward reveals insights on inertia and ambivalence on a growing and key voter bloc Millennials and there’s a potential high price to pay through inertia.

Yes, that’s 43 percent who are uncertain or will probably not or definitely not vote. I understand why many younger individuals may have less faith in our political institutions than prior generations, but we get exactly what we deserve when we don’t show up to vote. Staying home cedes control to someone else. Is this purposefully not voting to stoke some imagined revolution or is this ambivalence? The effect, in any measure, is inertia and the status quo is hard to change when we keep sending the same people back to high office. Voting is the means to change, if you show up to vote.

We healthfully debate guns, police brutality, immigration, healthcare access and affordability, gender equality, climate change, conflicts of interest and Russian meddling. This voter bloc diverse as it is is the very generation who is empowered to make a difference! Folks, we just need to vote for the change and culture we believe in! There’s a lot more behind these survey results, I fear, that I have room to expand upon in this blog. Suffice it to say inertia, again, hurts all our interests.

Inertia Hurts Advertising

And now to a marketing issue wholly predictable and preventable. Europe has instituted a data freeze called the General Data Protection Regulation. I doubt it’s helpful to the average European and I know it is harmful to American interests. It actually institutes inertia as public policy.

Whole categories of beneficial information use in marketing the use of web-viewing and app-usage data for more relevant messaging, for example have been prohibited subject to opt-in permissions. Let’s revisit my co-op example: how many people opt-in to “anything” when it’s wholly desirable and beneficial for them to do so? Very few. Add a little doubt and fear political scandal, hypothetical evils not based in reality and the opt-ins are even harder to come by.

With a stroke of well-intended but ill-informed law, European Parliament slammed publishers, advertisers and consumers alike all in the name of privacy and they are proud of this accomplishment! Time will tell the true toll. But already, Europeans have less information, less choice, less competition, less revenue and more generic advertising all in the name of chasing ad tech profits as a privacy surrogate. These negative effects may not be immediately apparent to the consumer how do you count a beneficial offer not received? The familiar retort behind this law is “privacy is a fundamental human right.” Well, we can see how well that’s going again, all very predictable and preventable.

Let me be clear: I believe in privacy rights, too most certainly. [Disclosure, I work with a digital advertising privacy program for U.S. consumers, the YourAdChoices program.] But let’s make sure that mere annoyances a pop-up ad, for example don’t get conflated with government surveillance of citizens, or personal information misuse by the private sector where consumer harm is likely where privacy concerns as a society are truly legitimate. There are annoyances, which can be managed by ethics and best practices, and there are scenarios where privacy indeed is at risk. One needs to grade privacy protections accordingly. I’ve long argued U.S.’s current and extensive privacy regimen a thoughtful sectoral approach dutifully enforced, complemented by ethics, self-regulation and business contracts is far superior to Europe’s one-size-fits-all prescriptive approach. In short, Europe has mandated that inertia freeze (or even undo) responsible data use. Thus, in this zeal for consent, the tremendous flow of benefits accrued through responsible data deployment largely ceases.

In short, I’m hopeful, stateside, that we shun this European import. Transparency, choice, security and sensitive data we have effective, existing means in the United States to deliver toward these laudable aims. We have other ways to assert such privacy protections, yet we still allow beneficial information flows and innovation to continue.

So, will this be a summer and fall where we let inertia win? Or will we have a bias to act, to keep all-too-predictable sorry outcomes from happening?