Article January 2018

The ABCs of Marketing to Generations X, Y, & Z

Getting clients and prospects to engage with your agency is like learning a new language.


It isn't something that simply happens overnight. It takes time and practice to truly become fluent in speaking the marketing language of your clients. And like with any language, there are going to be different dialects in your company's marketing language depending on the specific consumer group you're trying to reach.


This is especially true when it comes to connecting with Generations X, Y, and Z consumers. Each group has their own marketing language and how you sell to one generation won't necessarily translate to the others. To truly succeed, business owners have to be proactive in learning to speak the marketing language of each individual generation. This comes by way of knowing their characteristics, what they value, their purchasing behaviors, and what marketing channels they prefer.


To help you know how to speak to them, here are the ABCs every business owner needs in order to win over Generations X, Y, and Z.


  • A-ATTRIBUTES: Who are the people in Generations X, Y, and Z and how is one generation different or alike from the others?

  • B-BUYING BEHAVIORS: What are the purchasing behaviors of each generation? How do they feel about businesses in general?

  • C-COMMUNICATION TIPS: What does the marketing language look like for each demographic and how can I connect with them so that they'll see my ad agency as the best choice for their needs?

(Don't worry, we didn't forget about baby boomers! Their marketing language is included in the infographic at the end of the article.)

Generation X
Current age in 2018: 39-53



Individuals in this demographic were born between 1965-1979. Gen Xers are typically independent and self-reliant in nature. They don't like to be told what to do and are more prone to try and figure things out on their own.


These middle-aged Americans account for nearly 19 percent of the U.S. population and make up 34 percent of the workforce. Gen Xers are arguably the best-educated generation with 35 percent having obtained a college degree.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generation X spends more on housing, clothing, and food than any other generation. This isn't surprising given that they are typically family-oriented and have millennial and Gen Z-aged children. Additionally, they are now starting to care for their baby boomer parents who are becoming more dependent on them. Though they're currently the smallest generation, Pew Research projects that Gen Xers will outnumber baby boomers by 2028.



Generation X is often focused on getting the best products for the best prices. But unlike their baby boomer parents, they're less trusting of brands. Naturally cynical, they won't take your word alone when it comes to choosing between you or your competitors to make banner ads for their small business You have to show, not just tell them, that your agency can deliver what they're looking for. Despite their initial tentativeness, Gen X'ers are the most loyal consumers of any generation once you show them your worth.


Though they've fully embraced online purchasing, Gen Xers grew up without it and are still in-store shoppers as well. Make sure you provide them with a seamless experience across both touchpoints. This generation loves coupons and loyalty/reward programs more than every other generation. Your agency can use programs like these to draw them in. Research shows that 88.6 percent of Gen Xers join loyalty programs to save money.



During their customer journey, Gen X leans more toward third-party research and informational content when making purchasing decisions. Brands should place greater emphasis on paid search and SEO. Because Gen Xers prefer information-based content, visual content isn’t as much of a necessity for targeting them like it is younger generations. This age group is more likely to pay attention to data-rich product comparisons, buying guides, and credible third-party reviews that emphasize the quality and value of your brand versus alternatives.


While their smartphone ownership rate is slightly less than that of millennials or Gen Zers, Generation X ranks number one in pc ownership. Their most-used social media platform is Facebook although email is still the best way to communicate with them as 35 to 44-year-olds are the most likely to prefer email (78 percent).


Generation Y ("Millennials")
Current age in 2018: 22-38



This group, born between 1980-1996, has been talked about more than any generation to precede them. At 92.7 million strong in the U.S, they're the largest living generation as of 2015 when they grew to exceed the number of baby boomers. They make up almost 29 percent of the U.S. population and this year in 2018, they're projected to have the most spending power at $3.39 trillion.


In comparison to their Gen X predecessors, millennials are inherently more tech-savvy having grown up with personal computers and the internet for the majority of their lives. They are passionate and seek instant gratification while valuing speed and on-demand services. They also love to travel, are driven by social causes, and are concerned with making a difference in the world.


Studies show that millennials are delaying life milestones like getting married or buying a home (41 percent home ownership). Instead, many of them prefer to rent or are still living at home with their parents. Pursuing education and accumulating student debt are major factors driving this trend. Because of this, millennials are big proponents of the "shared economy" and its appeal to their lifestyle. They're more willing to spend their disposable income on services like Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, and Kickstarter than other generations. It's also important to note that the average millennial will change jobs four times their first decade out of college.       



Millennials seek personalized products that are specific to their needs and lifestyle. They value experiences over material things. When it comes to interacting with businesses and making purchasing decisions, millennials first turn to their friends and online reviews. Eighty-four percent of millennials don't trust traditional advertising and 97 percent of consumers aged 18–34 read local business reviews online.


According to one study, "millennials, more than any other generation, prefer to use several different channels when it comes to the total shopping experience, both online or off." A Deloitte study discovered that "19 percent of millennial buyers make purchases online before picking them up in-store, compared to 12 percent non-millennials." This validates the conclusion that millennials prefer a mixed shopping experience including both online and offline touchpoints.



The millennial customer-to-business relationship is highly influenced by technology. Of millennials surveyed, 73 percent said they would rather have digital experiences with their banks than personal ones. According to Forbes, "compared to older generations, millennials are most likely to use online and mobile banking channels due to easy-to-use websites and great apps."


Make sure you have a strong online reputation that is well-maintained. Your social media channels should be engaging and up to date. Since many millennials were in their teen years upon its release, Facebook is still number one among their preferred social platforms. However, Instagram now ranks higher among many younger millennials. Give these clients opportunities to be co-creators for your brand since much of the daily content they consume online is generated by their peers. You can attract them by aligning your company with social causes and by turning your products and services into an experience that they'll want to tell their friends about.


Generation Z
Current age in 2018: 3-21



Also known as iGeneration, these up-and-coming post-millennial consumers already account for just over 20 percent of the total U.S. population, passing Generation X at 65.2 million strong. And though we're still learning about this newest generation, the oldest of them are just beginning to enter the workforce and consumer markets. Born between 1997-2015, this group is much more ethnically diverse and globally connected.


Not surprisingly, Gen Zers are similar to their millennial siblings and have been referred to by various publications as "millennials on steroids." Unlike any generation before them, Generation Z is comprised of true digital natives who've never lived in a time without the internet. Despite their young age, 97 percent of this demographic are smartphone owners, sharing the same ownership rate as their older millennial forerunners. Generation Z spends more time on their smartphones than any other age group, averaging 3 hours and 38 minutes a day.


These young tech-gurus are on track to become the largest generation of consumers by 2020. They have entrepreneurial mindsets and are captivated by social activism. They are social media savants and watching digital video, with Youtube being their number one social media platform followed closely behind by Snapchat. To put their social media consumption into perspective, 95 percent of Gen Zers say they use Youtube and 70 percent of them watch more than two hours of it each day. One report found that 79 percent of Gen Z respondents say they use Snapchat at least once per day, with 51 percent of respondents reporting they use the platform about 11 times per day.



Major brand cynicism is already occurring among Generation Z due to growing up in a time of recession, online reviews, and fake news. Like millennials, they demand speed and expect things to be a click or a tap away. 


Social media has a much greater impact on Gen Z shopper purchasing behaviors than it does on millennials. Many Gen Zers follow social media influencers who partner with brands to put their products in front of these younger consumers. Since they're still young, Gen Z'ers also rely heavily on friends and family to help them make their purchasing decisions.


You might be surprised to learn that despite engaging in online shopping and purchasing through social media channels, Gen Zers still like to shop in brick-and mortar-establishments. A study by IBM and the National Retail Federation found that 98 percent of Generation Z still shop in brick-and-mortar businesses.



Though attention spans are dwindling among all consumers, the average attention span of Generation Z is only eight seconds. They've developed this filter due to growing up in a time of limitless options and information overload. Say what you have to say and do it fast. Make it snappy and memorable. Consider partnering with social media influencers to help promote your brand and extend your reach. 


Adding more video elements to your marketing strategy is one major way you can captivate this generation of YouTube lovers on their smartphones. This will allow you to increase their visualization of your products and services. Attract this generation of consumers giving them a more seamless and interconnected experience for them to interact with your agency's physical offices and online. 

Speak Their Language 

Take these marketing ABCs and use them to sell your professional creative services to each generation in their own language. You'll establish deeper connections and foster brand loyalty that only comes from truly understanding your clients.