• Developing a keen understanding of your customers—including demographic information like age and the associated preferences—is key to establishing a trusted relationship.
  • Because they grew up with digital screens, Generation Z consumers are extremely open to video messaging, mobile marketing, and quick response (QR) codes that can be scanned to connect them back to their screens.
  • Despite any preconceived notions, many Baby Boomers are spending quite a bit of money on new technologies, but they will often want to interact with a person before making a decision.

By Eve Padula


Marketing to consumers based on known demographics like age is not a new concept, but it’s not getting any simpler. The members of a specific generation often have their own unique preferences about how they like to shop, how they spend their money, and how they want to be marketed to. To further complicate matters, these preferences are in a constant state of flux and always subject to change based on personal experiences, major life milestones, and even the lingering uncertainties associated with a global pandemic.

Today’s marketers must work harder than ever to establish that all-important connection with their customers so they can foster loyalty and build trust. The same marketing campaign that works quite well for younger consumers might prove ineffective or off-putting for older individuals, or vice versa. In addition, targeted campaigns that were successful just a few years ago might fall flat today thanks to consumers’ constantly evolving preferences. Communicating with customers based on their age is a sound strategy, but it must be done correctly. Effective age-based marketing can provide a much higher return on investment than attempting to group all consumers into a single audience.

For the purposes of this article, we will categorize the major adult generations into four basic categories, which are defined in the Table below.

Table 1. The Major Adult Generations


Marketing For the Ages

According to PPC Protect, the average person saw between 500 and 1,600 ads per day back in the 1970s. Of course, this was before the dawn of online marketing. In 2021, Lunio estimated that the average person encountered an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. With the constant barrage of marketing messages coming at us these days, some might expect consumers to prefer fewer touchpoints or contacts. In actuality, consumers want to be regularly contacted by familiar and trusted brands. Developing a keen understanding of your customers—including demographic information like age and the associated preferences—is key to establishing a trusted relationship. When a customer is made to feel like an individual, this goes a long way toward fostering familiarity and trust. Marketing messages will resonate better, because the consumer will feel like the brand truly understands his or her personal needs.

Age-related marketing can deliver the personalization and individualization that all consumers demand, but it should be remembered that the various age groups often want different things.

Generation Z

Whereas the older generations likely remember a time before digital marketing, the members of Gen Z have been exposed to information overload for basically their entire lives. Because they’re experts at filtering through enormous amounts of information, marketers have a very limited window in which to capture and keep the attention of a Gen Z consumer. Members of this generation are used to instant gratification, so marketing content must be engaging and clearly beneficial to capture their attention and be worthy of their time.

Gen Zers crave authenticity and will quickly reject brands that don’t align with their personal beliefs and values (e.g., environmental friendliness, gender equality, support for the LGBTQIA community). In addition, talk is not enough—Gen Z consumers know the difference between a company that is simply going through the motions and one that is truly making a difference. Younger consumers want to do business with brands that demonstrate a commitment to their community. Although it can be difficult to capture the attention of Gen Z, they can become powerful and loyal brand ambassadors for companies that they trust and believe in.

Because they grew up with digital screens, Generation Z consumers are extremely open to video messaging, mobile marketing, and quick response (QR) codes that can be scanned to connect them back to their screens. That said, it’s important not to overlook more traditional marketing like direct mail, even among the youngest consumers. Since they are exposed to so much digital messaging, print-based communications are more of a novelty for younger consumers, and print can cut through the clutter of their digital lives in a meaningful way.


Now that they are fully entrenched in the workforce and settling down with families, Millennials have an incredible amount of purchasing power. They grew up during a time of rapid technological innovation, so they are always interested in trying new things. Quality will sometimes override price as the most important factor, but Millennials still want to get their money’s worth.

As the very first Facebook users[1], Millennials are social media natives who put a lot of credence in peer reviews. In some cases, a series of positive online reviews can be more compelling than any form of official brand advertising. To effectively reach Millennials, brands are tasked with being able to share positive reviews via multiple channels, even channels that better lend themselves to shorter messaging (e.g., Twitter). Because Millennials place so much credence in online reviews, these reviews should be as visible as possible. When using direct mail or other forms of physical advertising, consider incorporating QR codes that can be linked to product reviews, and encourage/incentivize your consumers to post reviews of their own. Be sure to address any negative reviews and strive to improve a poor customer experience, because a bad review carries just as much weight as a good one.

Much like the members of Generation Z, Millennials expect the brands that they do business with to know them as individuals. Because they like to feel recognized, rewards programs are a great way to keep Millennials engaged with a brand. Encouraging Millennials to watch videos, share to social media, or leave product reviews—and then rewarding them for doing so—can be quite effective. Millennials enjoy doing these things anyway, and these activities can also have benefits to the brand in the form of positive reviews, an active social media presence, and greater customer loyalty.  

Generation X

Many Gen Xers are parents with children who still live in their households, and some are also caring for or supporting their aging parents. As a result, members of this generation are often making financial decisions that affect multiple generations. Although Gen X consumers grew up shopping at traditional retail establishments, they have fully embraced online shopping. They also respond well to both traditional and newer forms of advertising—direct mail or radio/television advertising can be as effective as e-mail marketing or social media ads.

Although they are certainly not as young as the so-called digital natives, Gen Xers use social media quite a bit. As such, social media networks—particularly Facebook—can be an excellent tool for marketing to this generation. This is especially true if the advertising is personal. Like the other age groups, Gen Xers love feeling like the brands that they do business with truly understand their needs—so get to know your customers far beyond name and address! Age-appropriate toys or activities can be marketed to parents, kitty litter or dog food can be marketed to pet owners, and life/property insurance can be marketed toward homeowners.    

Having grown up with computers, the members of Generation X remain quite comfortable with emerging technologies. They also grew up with the Internet, so they will frequently conduct their own online research before making a purchase. Inauthentic claims or gimmicks can damage the customer/brand relationship because Gen Xers will often come into a sale well-equipped with legitimate information. If marketing is not transparent and honest, Gen Xers will take their business elsewhere. Many members of this generation grew up in single-parent households or saw their parents struggle with financial hardships. As a result, Gen Xers are quite cynical and slow to trust by nature, but the upshot is that they tend to be quite loyal to brands that have earned their trust.

Baby Boomers

Many Baby Boomers have entered or are approaching retirement, but it’s important to remember that today’s seniors are quite different today than they were a few decades ago. They are living longer, richer lives and are remaining active into old age. Now that their careers are winding down and their children have reached adulthood, many seniors are financially well-positioned to enjoy their retirement. Whereas discounts are generally quite appealing to younger consumers who are just starting out, Boomers are more likely to splurge on the top-tier items that they’ve worked so hard to enjoy.

As might be expected, Baby Boomers still prefer more traditional forms of advertising. Social media ads are often misunderstood and may be construed as spam, but television/radio commercials and direct mail communications are often effective. Even in today’s age of chatbots, most people across all age groups would prefer to interact with a real person—but the ability to reach a human being is essential for Boomers! When making a purchase, they like having access to someone (preferably in person) who can answer their questions and make them feel comfortable in their decisions. Despite any preconceived notions, many Baby Boomers are spending quite a bit of money on new technologies, but they will often want to interact with a person before taking the plunge.

Although it is often assumed that Boomers are less tech-savvy than their younger counterparts, they are huge users of social media and have also become quite comfortable with online shopping. They are also incredibly loyal to tried-and-true brands that they have been using for years, as well as newer brands that can prove their quality. As a result, it’s very important for all brands to remain accessible to seniors. A Millennial might prefer to research a product, interact with a brand, and make a purchase using little more than a smartphone, but few Boomers would be comfortable doing the same. Given their tremendous spending power and disposable income, brands must enable seniors to shop on their terms.


The Bottom Line

Age-based marketing is often beneficial because the various generations will often have similar preferences or behaviors, but all people are individuals first regardless of generation. Brands cannot assume that younger consumers won’t be receptive to traditional direct mail, nor can they assume that Baby Boomers won’t want to “Tap to Pay” with their iPhones. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing approach that every consumer of a certain generation will respond to, so today’s brands must reach customers wherever they are. This means delivering a seamless marketing experience across all channels, including mobile, social, e-mail, in-person, and via direct mail.

Regardless of age, all consumers want brands to reach out to them via multiple touchpoints. Preferences will often vary by individual, though, so today’s brands must develop new and innovative ways to stay connected with consumers on their terms. By combining traditional and digital communications, brands can connect with consumers, add more value to the customer journey, create more leads, and ultimately drive more sales.

Eve Padula is a Senior Consulting Editor for Keypoint Intelligence’s Production Services with a focus on Business Development Strategies, Customer Communications, and Wide Format. She is responsible for creating many types of content, including forecasts, industry analyses, and research/multi-client studies. She also manages the writing, editing, and distribution cycles for many types of deliverables.


[1] Facebook was originally developed by college students, exclusively for college students before becoming available to others shortly thereafter.