There is a strong correlation between different generations, and different behaviours and attitudes.
However the spending power of over 50s is greater than ever. This group makes up a third of the UK’s population and holds around 70% of household wealth. Brands should beware of the risks of ignoring digital strategies for older customers in favour of Millennials.
There’s barely a brand we work with that doesn’t use a generational slant in their segmentation, or wrestle with generational differences in their customer base.
Gen Z-ers are often portrayed as the first true digital natives and older generations (such as Baby Boomers) are stereotyped as being off the pace in terms of technology and their use of digital devices. The going-in expectation in a study of Post-digital Customers is that there’ll likely be clear divides across the generations. And that digital engagement – and the consequences of this for brands – rise as one looks to younger generations. This is broadly true. However, there are important subtleties behind this, which are easily missed with broad brush-stroke caricatures.
Looking at older generations with a post-digital filter changes how we see them. A noteworthy 80% of customers aged 55 or over – the two oldest generations in the study, combining Baby Boomers (55-74) and the over-75s – state they’d be more likely to use brands that use technology to create better products and services.
As an illustration around one in ten customers aged 55 and over now use voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. That’s despite it having only been available in the UK for just over two years. This shows a promising uptake in a segment often dismissed as slow to adopt.
It’s also worth remembering that 82% of Baby Boomers say they’re more likely to use brands that continually try to simplify things and make them easier to deal with.
Year-on-year analysis of the attitudes of customers over 55 reveals that their digital aptitude is growing steadily. Ease of use and engagement are key drivers, with 45% of Baby Boomers promising repeat returns to a brand’s app or mobile site if it’s easy and engaging to use. Subconsciously, a habit loop will be forming here.
At first, glance some of the evidence we uncovered appears contradictory. Taken together, the two older segments are much less keen to share data readily than younger cohorts, much more intolerant of unsolicited marketing communication (particularly texts and emails), and even more so if they feel bombarded by it. Just over half opt out of marketing communications, with a similar figure ignoring or deleting emails from brands without opening them.
However, conversely, nearly 7 in 10 customers over 55 also expect a highly personalised service. It’s tempting for marketers to throw their hands up in exasperation at this ornery generation, and to go after the easier quarry of younger, more open customers. But, we think it’s worth digging further. What we unearth is that personalisation for customers over 55 isn’t about getting an email with their name dropped in the custom field. It’s about receiving the human contact that they became accustomed to earlier in their lives.
Linda, in her 70s, is typical of many of her generation: “I’ve always liked the service you get in a bank, but now you go in to pay something in and they direct you to a machine. I say, ‘I understand how to use it, but I’d rather have done it through you because it’s nice to have some contact with people.’”
Without looking below the surface caricature, older generations can seem resistant to digital. But all Baby Boomers and beyond are asking for is meaningful digital engagement. While they state a preference for face-to-face communication, we believe that they can be swayed to a more digital experience if it is intuitive, simple and seamless, and develop allegiance towards the brand, providing it is deemed worthy of their trust.
Circling back to their spending power, brands may need to reconcile themselves with a higher cost-to-serve built around human contact. Understanding where to deploy this most effectively and prioritising investment is critical. It may be harder to win the custom of the older generations, but the rewards are generous when you do.
Life for Millennials is portrayed as ‘so hard’ that even Hasbro’s ‘Monopoly for Millennials’ (launched 2018) has ditched property buying in the game. As thegamer.com writes: “Instead of players trying to buy property and seize total control of the real estate market, players try to accumulate more experiences than everyone else and post them to their social media channels.” The website goes on to say: “We wish this was a joke, but it’s not.”
Hasbro may be onto something. Our study shows that 61% of Millennials are regularly engaged in social media activity. Almost half (47%) like to create content to post online to demonstrate their personality, and 44% say that they use social media to project an image of themselves. Accumulated experiences on Monopoly may be just the ticket…
More than one in three (37%) of Millennials also say that they often click on advertising links on social media, and 43% are comfortable with brands they follow on social media having access to their personal profile and data.
We start with social within our Millennial view because, according to eMarketer, social media advertising is forecast to outstrip TV spending by 2020 and accounted for 25% of digital spend in 2018, with more than £3bn spent by marketers on social networks.
As they’re the largest generational demographic – and now coming into their financial maturity – marketing to Millennials on their terms is critical. Afterdigital.co.uk states that 47% of Millennials claim to check their social media accounts over 4 times a day. The blog goes on to say:
“Ads are getting specifically seen by people who are more likely to engage with them, whether that’s conversion or liking and sharing the content. A high percentage (72%) of Millennials like hearing from brands on social media (specifically Facebook) and 55% of them also follow brands on social media just to keep up with their news and content.”
Beware, though, of trying to be ‘woke’ without an authentic social conscience. According to our study, 65% of Millennials believe that social media brings out the worst in people and 68% feel that people share too much of themselves online.
Known to be a highly socially aware generation, they can be just as irritated on social as delighted, and particularly irritated about inauthentic brand behaviour.
Beware also piling everything into image without providing great service. Maybe more than for any other generation, digital for Millennials is about a brand’s whole attitude rather than a mere marketing channel. We found 71% of Millennials expect a highly-personalised service and 58% want to deal with a person, whether face-to-face or online. Additionally, 31% have used Facebook or Twitter to complain about poor service, 19% have encouraged others to boycott a company because of poor service received, and 38% believe they have become less tolerant of poor service.
And, finally, if brands are going to play the social game and seek use of their customers’ data via advertising clicks, 60% of Millennials expect a personalised service as a result of what brands then know about them. Optimising personalisation requires a new breed of ‘customer permission’, but the brand benefit is that it builds data capability for the future.