Generational Marketing Preferences

by Aug 12, 2020

It’s a Jungle Out There

Out in the world, things are fragmented. Modern marketers have to deal with multiple issues like omnichannel advertising, technical issues, social and economic issues, and now, a pandemic.  One of the most important segments a marketer has to deal with is generational marketing preferences.


In the ‘50s and ‘60s, marketing was designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience. This was the era of Madmen and mass marketing. Consumers didn’t have things they needed, or they didn’t even know what they needed! Marketing stepped in and created demand, by showing people what they were missing.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and marketing is focused on targeting specific demographics and market segments. From a marketing-cost perspective, the marketplace is simply too broad and diverse to address as a monolith converted into targeted marketing.

Pick your segment, choose your demographic, and customize your message and content. Apply your resources where you will get the greatest return. One way to segment the market is by aggregating age groups around significant milestones in our culture. Let’s take a look behind some of these generational targets.

Generations and Preferences

Generations communicate, learn, and think differently based on their assimilation with technology.

Generation Z
Ages 5-25
The smartphone generation
The internet generation
Digital natives.
Social media: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat
Communication: Texting, social media.
Millennials (Generation Y)
The computer generation.
Digital natives.
Communication: Texting, social media, Facebook.
Generation X
Ages 40-55
The color TV generation; the beginning of the computer generation.
Digital immigrants.
Communication: Telephone.
Baby Boomers
Ages 56-74
The TV generation.
Digital immigrants.
Communication: Telephone.

If you search on generational preferences, considerable research has been done tracking the influences which shape the generations. Several major significant events (WWI, WWII, and the Industrial Revolution for example) preceded the time frames we’re focusing on in this article, and they deserve recognition, but from a marketing perspective, they are fading from the forefront of awareness.

Although the following is not an inclusive or even exhaustive list, some significant milestones are listed below to provide a perspective of the issues which shape our thoughts and preferences.

GenerationApproximate Time Frame
The civil rights movement1560s and 60s
The Space Race and the moon landings1960s
Cell phones, smart phones1970s+
Berlin Wall/collapse of the Soviet Union1980s
The personal computer1980s
Wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf War)1990s - 2011
The Internet1993
Individual rights diversity/inclusion movement2000+
The 9/11 attacks2001
Climate change movement2009
COVID-19 pandemic2020
Racial equality movement2020

Marketing to Generations

To be effective, marketing must acknowledge generational differences in communications and expectations. Thought leader Marc Prensky presented the concept of “Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants” in a paper published in 2001, to explain that recent generations — Millennials and Gen Z — “think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.” The paper was targeted at educators to explain why the education system needed to change to accommodate differences in learning. Since marketing has communication and education at its foundation, it would be reasonable to expect that marketing must also consider a different approach to these generations.

The following table illustrates some of the traits and characteristics of the various generations.

Survey results - What makes your generations unique?

Five Areas to Consider When Marketing to Digital Natives

  • Take advantage of technology. In 1964, thought-leader Marshall McLuhan published the concept that the “Medium is the Message,”  (the method of communication influences the way it will be perceived). Fifty-six years later, the concept is still valid when applied to smartphones and tablets. Digital marketing rules!
  • Take advantage of generational insights. Research your target demographic and seek to understand the ways of these generations. They are in management positions; they are consumers and industrial buyers, and they may be your target audience. The buyer’s persona should take into account generational insights gained through research.
  • Search for missing elements. This could be elements in your messaging, campaign, or approach. Is there something you can exploit which resonated with another generation?
  • Communicate in the language and style of the demographic you are targeting. Clear, concise messaging transcends generations.
  • Consider the values of the generation you are addressing (see Fig. 3.2). Your content and messaging should resonate with their values in an honest sense. Don’t try to position your company or your products as something they’re not.


Generational marketing may be one of the most fascinating areas of marketing because of its dynamic nature and the intrinsic effects that can be realized if it’s done correctly. While there is plenty of research, there is also a lot of speculation. Because we are, in essence, living through this topic, some future blogs will delve deeper. Stay tuned!

If you need help with generational marketing, contact us for a 30-minute consultation.

<a href="" target="_self">Gerry Broski</a>

Gerry Broski

Born in Cleveland Ohio, Gerry has a long and colorful career working in marketing, sales and product management for tech-driven companies. He’s worked with teams and managed projects and people to successfully develop new products, penetrate new markets and generate positive results. Creative, inquisitive, and an avid reader, Gerry is now focused on using his skills and experience to help others navigate the wild world of digital marketing as a member of the FounderTraction Team.

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