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Is the Customer Journey the Same Across Generations?
July 26, 2022

Is the Customer Journey the Same Across Generations?

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Stephanie Donelson

The customer journey is the single most important element in building a loyal customer base. By mapping out each touchpoint, marketers can find out how they fit into their customers’ lives.

A thoughtful customer journey allows companies to:

  • Identify customer intent and track behavioral data
  • Anticipate a customer's needs and deliver before they look elsewhere
  • See a better return on your advertising ad spend
  • Raise the lifetime value of each customer

Your customer journey may be cut and dry if you work with a highly targeted audience. But most marketers have more than one customer persona to consider. One of the simplest ways to segment your marketing efforts is by generation.

To assess how each generation engages with the customer journey, you must understand them. Their motivations, their fears, ambitions, and unique preferences all play a role. This in-depth knowledge allows marketers to speak to each audience with the right messaging and timing.

Generational characteristics

No generation exists in a vacuum. Each one grew up in a specific time and place, and the surrounding culture heavily impacted their development and how they saw the world. Coming into adulthood in vastly different technological climates is one defining factor that separates today’s dominant generations: Gen X, Millennials, Boomers, and Gen Z. Of course, all are familiar with using the internet, and smartphones are ubiquitous across groups. But research shows little nuances in how each group is using their devices. Furthermore, surveys show some surprising differences in how the generations engage with direct mail.

Baby Boomers

Generation: 1946-1964

History: Baby Boomers are the oldest generation on the list. Unlike millennials, they’re less concerned about a brand’s values, and unlike Gen Z, they aren’t as impatient during the buying process.

Pain point: They are often teased as the least tech-savvy. This is reflected in the data, but it’s also somewhat of a fallacy. While Boomers were far less likely to make a purchase through a social media ad, 48% still reported that they had in the past year (source). Though, this generation does seem to prefer in-person and physical interactions with a brand compared to digital.

Segmentation strategy: Many Boomers are retired or preparing for retirement, which may play a role in their purchasing decisions. Boomers also enjoy long-term brand loyalty, so a rewards program may go a long way with them. Baby Boomers can also be competitive due to the silent generation, or post-war generation, that came before them and success can be important to this generation.

Gen X

Generation: 1965-1980

History: This generation grew up with minimal technology but was still young in the dawn of the internet age. Generation X has been in the job market the second longest of all the following groups, making them one of the most financially secure groups. Gen Xers lived through a time when the old-fashioned advertising gimmicks were still being used, so they have a sharp eye and can quickly weed out what they don’t like.

Pain point: Gen X was also hit hard during the 2009 recession. This has given them a practical, financially conservative edge and many marketers use coupons or discounts as a marketing tactic for this generation.

Segmentation strategy: They look for security and quality products. According to Basis, Gen Xers are said to spend more time researching before buying a product than any other age group. And despite stereotypes, Gen X is just as confident with technology as younger generations and (perhaps unlike younger folks) has the patience to hunt for a good bargain.

Millennials (Gen Y)

Generation: 1981-1996

History: Millennials were the first generation to grow up with the Internet. They’re strong social advocates and were ranked as the generation most likely to be loyal to a brand for its values (e.g., emphasizing local community, making environmentally friendly products, or having strong social equity policies).

Pain point: Millennials are often teased for their strong values, but this group may be the best brand advocates, according to research. While all of the generations reported that they expressed brand loyalty by spending more money, millennials showed their loyalty through word-of-mouth - promoting products to friends and family.

Segmentation strategy: As a values-driven, group, millennials appreciate personalization and are impulsive shoppers according to FirstInsight. Millennials prefer self-service, so making things DIY will greatly help your brand reputation in their eyes.

Gen Z

Generation: 1997-2012

History: Gen Zers are known for being hooked to their tech devices. But these youngsters aren’t as tech-obsessed as many assume. A study by Retail Dive showed that most Gen Zers would rather shop in-store than online.

Pain point: One thing is certainly true about growing up in the Internet age: Your attention span suffers. When marketing to Gen Z, market researchers recommend being quick and snappy. Long wait times and unresponsive technology are not what this generation is used to.

Segmentation strategy: Unsurprisingly, Gen Z and Millennials are slightly more affected by social media ads than Gen X, some of whom still rely on traditional marketing channels like newspapers and radio ads.

Digital marketing for the different generations

Millennials and Gen Z are typically thought of as digital natives, but that doesn't mean Gen X and Baby Boomers aren't using digital channels to connect with brands. It's shown across all the generations that consumers are channel switchers and require multiple touchpoints across the customer journey. While the younger generation may be quicker to adopt new channels and devices, all of them use a variety of digital and direct channels on the path to purchase. Let's take a closer look at some of the digital channels marketers use and which generation is more likely to use them during the customer journey.

  • General web search: Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z
  • Web content (resources, blogs, etc.): Gen X
  • Paid search: Baby Boomers
  • Google Display Network/Retargeting: Gen X, Gen Z
  • Email marketing: Baby Boomers, Gen X
  • Organic social media (Facebook): Gen X, Millennials
  • Organic social media (Instagram, TikTok): Gen Z
  • Paid social media (Facebook): Gen X, Millennials
  • Paid social media (influencers): Millennials, Gen Z
  • Video (YouTube): Millennials, Gen Z
  • User-generated content: Millennials
  • Podcast ads: Millennials
  • Review sites: Baby Boomers, Millennials
  • Chatbot/AI: Baby Boomers, Gen X
  • Mobile/SMS marketing: Millennials

Marketing has had to evolve over these generations to meet consumers where they're spending their time, which is predominantly online. What was once a print ad in a popular magazine is now a banner ad on a popular website, or what was once sent through the mail is now sent through electronic mail. But, as we've learned from these different generations, what goes around comes around and offline marketing channels are coming back around as consumers want real experiences instead of only virtual ones. Let's dive a bit deeper into how the generations interact with direct marketing tactics, specifically direct mail.

Direct mail in the generational marketing journey

Direct mail is one marketing channel that all the generations have grown up with. It's one everyone is familiar with and one that pulls its weight in an omnichannel marketing strategy. A study by InnoMedia, NuStats, and Vertis found that direct mail is a huge hit with Gen X as 86% of the population brings in the mail every day and 68% have used coupons they received in the mail. But they're not the only generation loving direct mail marketing.

Let's get into the good stuff on how consumers of all ages react to direct mail. From stats from our own State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights, here's what we know about the different generations and how they react to direct mail marketing. Overall, 62% of consumers have taken action after reading a direct mail piece.

From our State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report, we found that younger consumers are more likely to visit social media when taking action on a direct mailpiece than older consumers.

Checked the brand or service’s social media:

  • Consumers aged 18-34: 27%
  • Consumers aged 35-54: 19%
  • Consumers aged 55+: 5%

Checked other social media to gauge others’ thoughts:

  • Consumers aged 18-34: 30%
  • Consumers aged 35-54: 14%
  • Consumers aged 55+: 4%

But, when it comes to search and visiting websites, the generations act more similarly.

Searched for the brand/product/service online (organic search):

  • Consumers aged 18-34: 38%
  • Consumers aged 35-54: 30%
  • Consumers aged 55+: 21%

Went to the brand or service website:

  • Consumers aged 18-34: 38%
  • Consumers aged 35-54: 45%
  • Consumers aged 55+: 45%

Some of these consumers are digital natives and prefer communication and engagement via a screen, but they still like a paper trail. In fact, 72% of those 18-24 report they still receive at least some paper statements from brands, with 17% reporting they have not opted in to paperless for any brand.

Though we did find that the preferred form factor does change among the generations: Respondents 18-34 are significantly more likely to prefer to receive letters and envelopes than those 35+, while those 35-54 are more likely to be interested in postcards.

Learn more about how consumers feel about direct mail marketing by watching the State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights webinar.

Generalizations about generational marketing

At the end of the day, consumers of every generation want the same thing: a good experience. While we can make generalized statements about the different generations, it really comes down to your specific audience and where they spend their time or what communication channels they prefer. Modern marketers have a plethora of marketing tools available to help gauge engagement, conversions, and ROI of specific marketing channels and you might just be surprised at how your target audience responds to different marketing methods. While the ideas presented in this blog can provide ideas of how consumers of different generations will behave on certain channels, only your own data and metrics can prove if that's true for your brand.

Recommended reading

5 Personalized Direct Mail Examples to Inspire Your Marketing Campaigns

Buyer’s Guide for Choosing Eco-conscious Mailers

2022 State of Direct Mail

Ace your customer journey with direct mail

Regardless of age, almost every individual is in digital overload at this point. A study by the US Postal Service found that over half of those surveyed reported digital fatigue from marketing emails and 75% said receiving personal mail made them feel special. Additionally, 62% said they'd visited a store after receiving direct mail.

Use direct mail to bolster your bottom line and reach the right customers for your business - all in the white (read: non-digital) space. Equipped with data that shows your conversion rates, cost per acquisition, and ROI, your team can create an iterative direct mail process that gets increasingly better results. Our platform helps companies seamlessly monitor and tweak their direct mail campaigns for a better customer journey.

Curious how intelligent mail fits with your marketing strategy? Find out by exploring Lob for marketers.

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