EXPERT INSIGHT

Can Your Content Bridge the Generation Gap? [Audio Extras]

Throughout history, younger generations have perplexed their elders. That can be baffling enough for parents, but seasoned marketers need to understand what makes each new generation of consumers tick if their strategies are to succeed.

A special thanks to Pace for its sponsorship of this section of CCO, which includes its participation in this interview.

Listen to the full interview

It isn’t just new technology that can leave marketers behind. Each new generation of consumers has different behaviors, expectations, and values – including content habits and marketing tactics. Are you bridging the generation gap?

Brand storytelling agency Pace specializes in the luxury brand market, which is adapting to a new type of young consumer – one that doesn’t necessarily respond to marketing in the same way as their parents.

I talked to Pace’s chief marketing officer Gordon Locke about their recent research into generational attitudes and if content marketers are doing enough to keep up.

Are generational concepts such as millennials and Gen Z useful audience segmentations or should marketers focus on other factors to better understand consumer behaviors?

GL: I think they are certainly helpful delineations to a degree. I would also say generational segments such as Gen Z and millennials contain multiple sub groups, income levels, and sociographic views.

There’s a lot of overlap. We can’t say definitively that the oldest members of Gen Zer at age 22 are completely different from the youngest millennials at 23. There are many factors that go into the fringes of these generations. But, generally, the cohorts set up by the research industry, and acknowledged by the marketing industry, do have similarities and differences worth noting when you dig deeper.

Why are these generational cohorts more useful than, say, using age bands such as 20 to 30?

What’s more important is for marketers to look at the mindset across generations or segments. Mindsets can make or break generational stereotyping.

While older millennials may be approaching 40, they can hold similar values to some younger millennials, even to some of the older Gen Zers. But there can be a distinct shift once we get to Gen X and older generational groups.

In our own research, we looked at some simple statements to hopefully illustrate the difference. For example, one statement was: “I regularly make an effort to investigate a company’s social or environmental record.”

If you look at the youngest millennials, aged 23 to 30, 46% agree with that statement. If you look at the oldest millennials, aged 30 to 39, 45% agree with the statement. But when you get into the 40s (Gen X), that agreement drops to 21%.

We’re still doing a lot of research – everyone in the research community is – around Gen Z. But when you hone in on millennials, you start to see specific patterns that hold up for younger millennials as well as older. It’s important to note that, while this topic and mindset proved to be consistent with millennials, we know other topics are likely not to test that way.

In January 2019, the Pew Research Center revealed that the differences within generations can be just as great as the differences across generations. The youngest and oldest within a defined cohort or group feel more in common with bordering generations than the one they are assigned.

So, it’s really important for marketers and brands to pay attention to mindset, in addition to generation. Someone who’s 20 could hold a lot in common with someone who’s 26, depending on where they were brought up, what their psychographic or sociographic scenario is, and where they are in the world.

Are marketers doing a good or bad job of keeping up with the changing generations?

I think a mistake a lot of marketers make is they’re so hyper-focused on decision-makers that they forget the influencers who will become decision-makers someday. There are huge populations of Gen Z and younger millennials that are smart, cynical, and empowered at work or home to say, “No, not interested.” If you can turn them into a “yes,” and put them in the room with the decision-maker, a lot of magic can happen.

What are some of the generational trends you’ve seen when it comes to content marketing?

Most but not all millennials tend to veer towards brands as ideals, as vehicles for self-expression. This is especially true in the affluent/luxury market. Gen Z is veering more towards selective and curated experiences across brands, and the products or services that give them the experiences they want, while being more suspicious of social media and influencers.

“Most … millennials tend to veer towards brands as ideals, as vehicles for self-expression,” says @gpricelocke, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

There are a lot of reasons for this, including that they’ve grown up in an era of security and fraud; they saw their parents struggle through the global financial crisis; and they didn’t experience the onset of social media. What they see is people trying to make money from social media as influencers and a lot of oversharing of personal details.

I read a Reddit stream the other day discussing Gen Z customers in the affluent space; how hard it is to form an emotional attachment with them because it’s a generation that doesn’t need to see an influencer taking 3,000 selfies a year to promote a product family – the same brand’s shoes, accessories, and perfume propped up in an inauthentic way. The typical Gen Zer looks for the authenticity, picking and choosing across brands to create their own experience.

I think you’re going to see a much more pragmatic generation with Gen Z, one that’s a bit more selective, mixing it up across brands. Again, using luxury as an example, a millennial might buy everything Prada, while a Gen Zer might buy new Prada sunglasses, a used Balenciaga bag, wear Levi’s jeans, and stay at a Waldorf Astoria – and fly coach to get there. Instead of the self-expression of opulence – doing everything in a luxurious way – they’re selectively choosing their experience.

The secret with content then becomes understanding the consumer propensity in these instances.

You mentioned the changing attitudes toward brands and their values. Does that mean the younger generations are more cynical or resistant to obvious marketing tactics?

I think so. We run regular Pulse Polls of CMOs at Pace, and the first for 2019 focused on attitudes to advertising among younger generations. The responses suggest Gen Z aren’t saying, “Send me another advertisement.” Few are saying, “I can’t wait to see all these self-designated Instagram influencers talk about a new product.” Instagram isn’t the only factor influencing their decision.

Gen Z wants to see and experience people and brands in person, enjoying a store environment while also using their iPhone to check out who’s using the brand. It’s blending those things together instead of the various channels competing to win the customer over.

“Gen Z aren’t saying, ‘Send me another advertisement,’” @gpricelocke says about recent research from @PaceComm, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Paid influencers aside, if Gen Z are seeking a people experience and investigating who is using a brand, is this about finding more authentic forms of social proof?

Yeah. Let’s talk about user-generated content. Research by Ipsos and Gartner both report similar findings, which also jibe with Pace’s Pulse Polls: User-generated content is 35 to 40% more memorable and 50% more trusted within these groups than other types of media – younger millennials and Gen Z especially. And while most consumers, in general, say that recommendations are preferred, Gen Z has a strong distrust of recommendations. They will check them out further to see how authentic the brand is.

One of my favorite examples of UGC overlapping with experience is Burberry did something cool with The Art of Trench [in 2018]. They invited consumers to be part of the storytelling. Consumers showcased their style in the iconic trench coats, which had a great halo effect on the brand.

It wasn’t just a bunch of reviews and recommendations or influencers with staged photos in a Burberry trench coat. This signals a very big shift in storytelling, and how to engage and communicate with this emerging generation of consumers.

By focusing on a simplified profile of a generation, do marketers risk presenting a view of the customer their audience doesn’t recognize?

I think it’s more of a cautionary tale. It can be easy for brands to generalize how they portray their “best customer.” Everyone is trying to chase after that same ideal persona. If the storytelling only represents one facet of your potential customer, everyone starts to look the same. This can also alienate other consumer segments, especially when diversity is needed, and ageism is a turnoff.

One of the things we’re encouraging a lot of brands to do, not just in the luxury and affluent space, is to avoid homogenous storytelling efforts around an ideal persona. They have very different products and services uniquely made and curated to build emotional connections with an array of customer types.

Supported by research, Pace advises many global brands that, to win over new generations of customers, their storytelling needs to take a micro-view to character-develop the brand without alienating other current and potential customers.

For example, if you’re going to show a millennial woman indulging in your brand alone – which is an almost ubiquitous cliché in luxury marketing – how do you represent the social contexts, cultures, ethnicities, and different viewpoints of your broader customer base?

When using personas in their content, so many brands are on autopilot.

“When using personas in their content, so many brands are on autopilot,” says @gpricelocke, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

What are some of the content marketing tactics you’ve seen that are more likely to drive positive action with younger generations?

The whole point of content marketing is to move audiences to action. Sephora is a great example. Sephora markets and sells products of every ilk and every price point to a variety of audience types, but one of the things I love about them is the interactive experience they’ve created digitally and in-store. My sister did this with her Gen Z daughter. On the Sephora website they were able to try out different cosmetics and different looks online. While Sephora’s artificial intelligence learned more about them as customers, it’s also fun and engaging. It drew them into the store. This is another way that UGC, storytelling, and generational data are coming together.

Artificial intelligence is also changing how content marketers regard search engines and SEO.

Think about Alexa or Siri. How we ask questions and have those conversations is turning those technologies into recommendation engines, not just search engines. It changes the nature and structure of how digital storytelling is done.

They pull users into the experience and increase social interaction. “Hey, what are the coolest shoes at Paris Fashion Week?” “Which is the best restaurant in Hong Kong?” “Show me the best little black dresses.” Search marketing is going to work differently than today where it’s about being on page one of Google.

How you write and use content is going to change pretty rapidly over the next 24 to 36 months.


Author: Jonathan Crossfield

Jonathan Crossfield describes himself as a storyteller because writer, editor, content strategist, digital marketer, journalist, copywriter, consultant, trainer, speaker and blogger wouldn’t fit neatly on a business card. Jonathan has won awards for his magazine articles and blog posts on digital marketing, but that was so long ago now it seems boastful to keep mentioning it in bios. He lives in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, with a very patient wife and one very impatient cat. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Kimota.


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