Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. These are the four notable generation groups that make up today’s consumer landscape. As a business, it’s important to understand the differences and similarities between these generations.

You may not be selling to all of them, but gaining clarity into what makes these groups tick will help you hone your messages and communicate more effectively.

To that end, we had a chat with the lovely Jasmine Glasheen, a writer, speaker, and thought leader who assists retailers with crafting top-performing content strategies.

Jasmine provides thought leadership in the form of presentations, live video content, webinars, and podcasts; everything she does is geared towards helping businesses strategize to meet the needs of various demographics.

We spoke to Jasmine about how brands can market to different age groups, particularly in the age of COVID-19.

Check out her thoughts below.

How different generations have reacted to the pandemic

It’s no secret that the coronavirus has shaken the lives of people globally. And while each person has their own way of coping with the pandemic, there are general similarities with how different generational groups are dealing with COVID-19.

Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)

Jasmine explains that while Boomers have primarily been brick-and-mortar driven, COVID-19 has prodded many of them to start shopping online. Physical retail is still important to them though, which is why most Boomers are opting for curbside pickup. And according to her, the retailers that are succeeding with Boomers are the ones that are accommodating their physical retail needs while keeping their health and safety in mind.

“One of the interesting things that I've seen some retailers doing, is they’re giving them [Boomers] specific hours for curbside pickup and really focusing on what they're doing as far as sanitization procedures in their marketing campaigns,” she says.

Just as important, states Jasmine is for retailers to show Boomers that they're striving to keep the store clean and safe.

"Boomers are taking this very seriously, as they should, and if a store is talking about everything they're doing, but then an employee walks up without a mask to greet a customer, that's kind of a recipe for emotional disaster for the customer."

The takeaway? If you’re a retailer selling to Boomers, you need to clearly communicate your health and safety policies, and you have to ensure that your entire team follows through with those measures.

Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)

Gen X is starting to warm up to online shopping, but they haven’t mastered it completely, explains Jasmine. Online retailers selling to this generation need to beef up their product descriptions to reduce returns.

Members of Gen X "Are less accustomed to shopping online, less accustomed to looking at what the materials products are made of, and they may not always think about how items look from different angles. They’re also not used to online price comparison and cross shopping and making sure that nobody else is selling it cheaper."

"So, in the case of trying to reach older consumers, but really across demographics, I think that retailers really need to provide as much product information as possible to reduce those returns. That's one of the biggest issues with e-commerce and with everybody buying online right now."

What does this mean for you? If you’re selling to Gen X, it may be worth reviewing your product pages and marketing comms. See to it that your descriptions are detailed and accurate, and try to showcase the product from various angles or in different environments.

Take note of the changes you’ve made, and track your sales and returns. If the numbers improve, then you know that you’re on the right track.

Millennials (born 1981 – 1996)

During COVID-19, the retail industry has seen "a huge push towards home goods shopping," at least where Millennials (aka Gen Y) are concerned.

According to Jasmine, “Millennials have always been crafty and a lot of them are parents of younger kids. I think just to get a sense of control or a sense of normalcy, or just to make the most of this situation, there's a lot of home goods shopping happening with these demographics.”

Jasmine also points out the Millennials are big on social commerce and communities. “Most Millennials have made purchases on social media during this pandemic, and I think a lot of Millennials are finding the community that they crave. Millennials have always been really community and value-driven.”

Take note of these insights if you cater to Millennials. If you sell products that can be used in people’s homes, consider marketing them more heavily towards your Gen Y customers. Now would also be a good time to cultivate a sense of community and strengthen relationships between and among your customers.

Gen Z (1997 – current)

As for the youngest consumer group, Jasmine says that “Gen Z is definitely having a mental health crisis during this pandemic.”

According to Jasmine, out of all generations, Gen Z consumers are the ones craving for normalcy the most.

“A lot of them are missing out on really important milestones. And when it comes to Gen Z, some are really interested in going right back to physical stores and just trying to get life to feel like it did before the pandemic. And, like Millennials, they are looking for community online,” she adds.

“A lot of Gen Z has paid for live services that they'd normally get in person. Maybe that's yoga classes, maybe cooking classes. They're just more interested in actually paying for those snippets of normalcy.”

If you cater to these consumers, find ways to give them that sense of what life was like pre-pandemic. Maybe you could hold virtual meet-ups or if possible in your area, or organize small-group events that take place outdoors.

It’s also important to be authentic and transparent with your messaging. Gen Z consumers are not fans of sugarcoating. As Jasmine notes, “One of the things that I've seen a lot when researching Gen Z has been how transparent they want retailers to be about social issues and mental health.”

So, recognize that your customers may be going through a tough time and show up for them in an authentic and non-patronizing way. When done right, you’ll build trust and strong connections that’ll outlive this pandemic.

Other tips

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it

Another tip when crafting your generational marketing strategy is to be mindful of each group’s attention span and content preferences.

“One of the biggest differences in advertising for the different generations is obviously advertising on the channels that they use, but also understanding their attention spans and how they digest content,” says Jasmine.

“Gen Z wants really fast-paced, humorous, visual, eight second-advertising, where Boomers might want something that's a little bit more engaging.”

Make sure you’re aware of these distinctions. In addition to coming up with the right thing to say to different consumers, make sure that the “how” components of your messaging (i.e., the channel and delivery of your messages) are in line with the consumer group that you’re talking to.

The importance of using real and relatable imagery

It’s not just all about generational differences, though. If there’s one thing that these consumer groups have in common, it’s the desire for realism.

The notion of realism and authenticity in marketing was spearheaded by Gen Z, but other generations have adopted this mindset, explains Jasmine.

“Gen Z-ers want to see real people in advertising and people that look like them, but then we’re seeing Boomers and Gen X being like, ‘Us too. We want to buy from brands that actually show images of people our age.’”

“So, I've been seeing older models in advertising, which is really cool and it's something that I believe that older demographics or more mature demographics are going to start to demand from brands.”

The bottom line: no matter who you’re talking to, see to it that your messaging and imagery are relatable to your target audience. If you’re selling to Boomers and Gen X, it wouldn’t be effective to use a 16-year old model in your marketing. Similarly, if you’re targeting Millennials and Gen Z (both of which are big on values and authenticity) then make sure that you’re using models who look real, rather going for overly-Photoshopped ads.

Generational marketing should be a focus for brands

One size definitely does NOT fit all, particularly when it comes to different generations of consumers. No matter what you’re selling or who you’re selling to, it’s essential to understand the differences and similarities between various groups. In doing so, your marketing messages will be much sharper, compelling, and effective.