- Whereas graphic design tends to focus on the technical aspects of a presentation (e.g., color and layout), communication design connects images, words, and relevant materials to an audience.
- Despite growing up in a digital world, many younger consumers will still respond well to printed messages that are interactive while also speaking specifically to their needs.
- The right customer persona can serve as a “guard rail” that enables brands to avoid a disconnect that might make a marketing message fall flat.
By Karen Kimerer
Modern consumers are complex creatures, and marketers have their work cut out for them if they hope to continue engaging their existing customers while also reaching new ones. More than ever before, today’s brand owners must carefully tailor their efforts to appeal to their customers’ unique buying habits. Consumer values have fluctuated over time as political and economic climates have changed. Brand owners must consider their messaging, design, and imagery in everything from postcards to marketing collateral. This is the only way to ensure that campaigns come together and are relevant to the intended audience. This article explores how a good communication design can lead to marketing messages that truly resonate.
Graphic Design vs. Communication Design
Whereas graphic design tends to focus on the technical aspects of a presentation (e.g., color and layout), communication design connects images, words, and relevant materials to an audience. Although it is inclusive of graphic design, communication design strives to ascribe meaning to each individual component. Every visual, every word, and the overall presentation are carefully constructed to convey a message and engage the intended recipient. The elements are balanced to immediately draw the eye to pertinent information, but the consumer will subconsciously process and associate with the other design choices too.
Communication design also includes the use of tech-supported features. Whereas Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) were young adopters of the digital transformation, the adult members of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2004) are “digital natives” who have only known a world with the internet. As a result, it is not surprising that younger consumers were more likely to engage with brands that personalized communications based on their digital footprint and made digital communications more interactive. Meanwhile, older consumers—the members of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Baby Boomers (born between 1947 and 1964)—typically cited these factors as less important.
Figure 1: Factors that Increase Engagement/Loyalty
N = 1,500 Total Consumer Respondents
Source: Annual State of Transactional Communications Consumer Survey; Keypoint Intelligence 2022
Despite growing up in a digital world, many younger consumers will still respond well to printed messages that are interactive while also speaking specifically to their needs. According to the data in the previous chart, roughly a quarter of Millennials and Gen Z consumers reported that interactive printed communications would make them more engaged and loyal. This share was markedly lower for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
One of the best things about print is that it plays well with digital technologies, so it’s a good idea for brands to incorporate designs that encourage technological interaction (e.g., QR codes or Augmented Reality) when marketing to younger consumers. Marketers can also create hashtags for printed communications that encourage these individuals to engage on social media. Their retention as customers can often be fostered with loyalty and rewards programs.
Meanwhile, older consumers might prefer something less complicated and more direct. Baby Boomers in particular often won’t hesitate to pick up the phone, so a call to action that includes a phone number may yield better results than an online only connection. Once they reach retirement age, consumers may be more likely to splurge on big ticket items. When attempting to connect with retirees, marketers may have an opportunity to upsell with premium items or offer complementary products and services.
Older consumers may also display more rigidity in their regimens and finances. Quality-of-life improvements that don’t intrude greatly on their established routines may be especially appealing. Coupons and bulk deals are a great way to attract their attention, and direct mail is still an effective means of communication. According to Keypoint Intelligence’s transactional communications research, 63% of Boomers and 58% of Gen Xers spent extra time reviewing printed communications that included coupons. The same was true for only 42% of Millennials and Gen Zers.
Moving Toward the Future
Millennials and older members of Gen Z are now having their own kids; those born after 2013 have been dubbed "Generation Alpha." When designing a direct mail campaign, it doesn’t hurt to develop a persona for today’s youngest consumers. Members of Generation Alpha might not have much in the way of buying power, but their parents certainly do. Consequently, consider age-appropriate color palettes and familiar imagery when designing a family-oriented or cross-generational mailer. In this case, the goal is to make the parents identify with the design based on the interests of their children. Better yet, provide a nostalgic trigger that reminds parents of their childhood interests to draw them closer to your brand and its message.
The modern educational and workforce challenges for the members of Generations Z and Alpha certainly don't mirror those of earlier generations, so updated personas are extremely important. In addition to delivering eye-grabbing images and messaging that aligns with a given generation, the right persona can serve as a “guard rail” so brands can avoid a disconnect that might make a marketing message fall flat.
The Bottom Line
Generalizing about specific groups of consumers is a wide net to cast, and it also isn’t foolproof—there are exceptions to every rule. Marketing budgets can be impacted when campaigns fail to resonate with their intended audience, so it’s important for brands to get their messaging right. At its core, marketing is about engaging the intended audience. By understanding the things that are important to certain subsets of people, a brand can adjust its messaging to motivate its intended audience to take action.
As part of the Business Development Strategies Consulting Service at Keypoint Intelligence, Karen Kimerer has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She has developed a systematic approach to these opportunities, addressing the unique requirements of becoming a leader in our changing industry.