Today’s modern marketers have a vast array of analytical and behavioral analysis tools at their disposal. However, when it comes to the role age plays, many marketers still tend to oversimplify and associate youth with digital marketing, mobile solutions and social media. 

At Boston Digital we believe that the prevalence of mobile use has thoroughly transformed society, creating an Impulse Generation, where the young and old are united in one technology-driven, device-defined mono-generation.  

For the second installment of our Boston Digital survey series, we surveyed 500 consumers on their mobile and online habits to compare behaviors across generations. We defined the generations based on the Pew Research Center guidelines. Here is a breakdown on which ages fall under which generation:

  • Generation Z: Under 22
  • Millennials: 23-38
  • Generation X: 39-54
  • Boomers: 55-73
  • Silent Generation: 74-91

We compiled our five biggest findings to help you better understand generational marketing in the modern age.

Takeaway #1: The behaviors of different generations are more similar than not

When asked how often they purchase online compared with how often they purchase in-person, 66% of consumers reported making purchases online often or very often. We did not see a large difference across generations. 60% of Generation Z & 59% Boomers answered often or very often. Millennials and Generation X purchase online the most, with 74% of Millennials and 66% of Generation X answering often or very often. 

How often do you make purchases online vs. in person? 

How often purchase online

 

In today’s digitally dominated age, consumers of all generations are choosing to purchase online rather than in-person. Generation X and Millennials purchase online the most because they have a high combination of income level and tech experience. Generation Z is likely shopping online at a slightly smaller percentage, because at 22 & under, they still lack the necessary income. Boomers on the other hand, have the least experience with technology causing them to shop online slightly less often as well. However, both the incomes of Generation Z and the technical skills of Boomers are on the rise. As we shift to a digital culture the slight gaps in these percentages across age groups are likely to disappear. 

Consumers from all generations are not only shopping online more often, but when they do purchase in-person they are also doing online research beforehand. 34% of consumers say they still purchase in-person exclusively or most of the time, however 72% say they always or usually do research beforehand. The amount of online research prior to in-person shopping remains consistent across generations. 

How often do you research something online before purchasing it in person?

How often research something graph

 

In today’s digital age the in-person experience and the online experience are not separate silos but integrated parts of a fluid brand experience. Regardless of your generation, whether you are an in-person shopper or an online shopper, no one’s customer journey takes place completely offline. 

The digital behavior of different generations is fairly consistent, but does this extend to what content they are viewing?

According to our results content choices also remained pretty consistent across generations. When asked what content they viewed on their mobile device all generations had social media and shopping in their top three types of most viewed content.  Boomers, Millennials, and Generation X all picked news, shopping and social media in their top three types of content. (The order of the top three was different for Boomers with news being #1, while it was #3 for Millennials & Generation X). Generation Z differed in this respect in that video was their third most often viewed type of content. 

It is clear that mobile use is not a youth-exclusive phenomenon, but a larger shift in how consumers of all ages pursue social, informational and purchasing experiences. 

Takeaway #2: Millennials and Generation X have the most in common when it comes to their mobile and digital habits

What do consumers ages 23-54 have in common? Most of their mobile and digital behavior. You might expect that the younger generations – Millennials & Generation Z, and the older generations – Generation X and Boomers would have the most in common, however it was the consumers in the middle that gave the most consistent answers.

When asked how often they make purchases on their mobile devices, 56% of Millennials and 50% of Generation X said often or all the time. They also use their phones to view similar forms of content. For both generations the most commonly viewed types of content were social media, shopping and news, in that order.   

 What type of content do you view on your mobile device? 

What type of content

 

They also have similarities in what they purchase online. 29% of Millennials and 30% of Generation X reported purchasing groceries online. They also had consistent answers when it came to technology, with 65% of Millennials and 57% Generation X consistently purchasing it online. This trend continued with 61% of Millennials and 60% of Generation X going online to purchase household goods.  

Why do these two generations with a 30-year age span behave in such similar ways? The overwhelming widespread use of digital has caused all generations to start showing digital behavioral similarities. These two have the most in common because they have more income than Generation Z and were exposed to the internet at younger ages than Boomers. As Generation Z gains more income and Boomers continue to gain digital knowledge the generations will look less and less distinct when it comes to digital use. The pandemic has also caused digital purchases in all categories to increase, which will likely continue among all generations in a post-pandemic world. 

Takeaway #3: Social is not just for the young – each platform has a unique makeup

As with mobile and digital technology, the days of social media being a domain only for the young are over. 95% of Generation X and 82% of Boomers reported engaging in some form of social media. While all generations are taking part in a similar behavior there are some trends across different social media platforms. When building a social media strategy, you should not be overlooking the growing number of Boomers on Instagram or marketing to Generation Z over Facebook, rather than YouTube.

Here is a breakdown of the age groups on each form of social media:  

Facebook 

FB

Facebook has been trending older and will continue to do so, with the largest group using mobile to access Facebook being Generation X at 82%. Facebook is still popular amongst Millennials who were likely its first users. However, this is not the ideal place to target Generation Z, with a larger percentage of the over 75 crowd visiting it than the under 22. 

YouTube

youtube

One key element to any successful digital marketing mix is video. YouTube is the most popular social media channel visited on mobile by those under 22 and the second most popular social media channel for Millennials, Generation X and Boomers. While YouTube does trend young, it is still visited by 52% of Boomers on their mobile phones.  In an increasingly mobile age, it is key to invest in video, with YouTube content that is authentic and entertaining.

Instagram

Instagram

Instagram and sponsored content culture have grown rapidly in the past few years. However, Instagram influencers rarely target the over 40 crowd despite the fact that 52% of Generation X and 31% of Boomers are using their mobile devices to visit Instagram. Gain a competitive advantage by targeting older age groups, on what is viewed by many as a younger platform.   

Snapchat, Reddit and TikTok

snap

 

Millennials and Generation Z do use certain platforms such as, Snapchat, Reddit and TikTok more often than their older counterparts. Here is the breakdown showing the percentage each generation uses their mobile device to view these three channels. 

The percentage of Millennials and Generation Z that are using their mobile devices to view TikTok, Snapchat and Reddit, are considerably higher than the overall totals.  For these platforms the idea that social media means a young audience is more likely to apply, however it is key to remember what age Millennials actually are, with the median age being 30 years old. Millennials may not necessarily be the youth persona you are picturing.

All generations are engaging in some form of social media, with the youngest generation leading the way.  The longer a platform is available the more likely it will be discovered by older generation.

Takeaway #4: Age can play a role in segmented shopping experiences… but so can gender and income  

While mobile and digital use is prevalent across all generations, sometimes behavior can differ, based on the type of purchase. We asked consumers which items they usually buy online, revealing some key insights:  

 Consumers that Usually Purchase Entertainment Online By Generation 

Graph

60% of consumers reported usually purchasing entertainment online, however this was heavily weighted in favor of the “younger” groups, with 70% of Millennials usually purchasing entertainment online, compared with 47% among Boomers. 

Online grocery shopping is becoming more and more prevalent, with 24% of consumers reporting that they usually grocery shop online. Boomers and Generation Z are shopping online for groceries the least at 14%. With 29% of Millennials and 30% of Generation X usually shopping online for groceries, it is clear this another example of those with the highest combined tech savvy, and the highest value associated with their time pursuing an online solution. It is also important to note that this data was taken before Covid-19, and these numbers will likely rise for all generations. 

Defining groups by age can cause us to overlook where other differences in gender and income may be playing a larger role. 65% of Millennials usually purchase technology online, compared to 44% of Boomers, and 57% of Generation X. There was a more significant difference when you compare this by gender. 68% of men usually purchase technology online compared with only 43% of women.  It is key to take a holistic look at your consumers and to not oversimplify the role age plays in digital behavior. 

Many times, income plays a larger role than both gender and generation. Consumers were more likely to say they shop often or very often, as their income level increased.

Consumers that purchase online often or very often by income 

Graph

As more generations are online, age begins to play less of a role in digital decisions, which requires marketers to take a more holistic look at their target audiences.

Takeaway #5: All generations value a seamless digital experience.

33% of consumers surveyed reported they were very confident when making a mobile purchase, and an additional 36% reported feeling fairly confident. This number even remained high with boomers, with 67% reporting being fairly or very confident when making mobile purchases.   

Does this mean we are underestimating the tech savvy of our consumers? Possibly. However, it could also mean that if the experience is not flawless any complications or perceived complications, will be blamed on the company, not the user. Consumers are pretty confident they can make the purchase; it is up to you to deliver the experience regardless of their skills navigating mobile.   

Purchasing on an app needs to be a streamlined and simple process. 43% of consumers are somewhat likely to abandon a purchase on a mobile device if the experience is interrupted, and only 6% reported that having a mobile interruption would play no role in the purchase. Having a seamless mobile experience is crucial across all generations, which have in common a limited attention span and a demand for high speed results.

How likely are you to abandon a purchase you are making on your mobile device if the experience is interrupted?

Graph

 

Rethinking Generational Marketing 

From our survey it is clear that businesses can no longer afford to simplify their marketing strategies because of outdated ideas of what age groups are mobile enabled. Our survey revealed many insights into generational behavior including that social does not exclusively mean younger audiences, nor does in-person purchasing exclusively equal an older audience. The use of mobile and digital has become so widespread that all ages are now members of the Impulse Generation driven by fast decision-making, constant connectedness, high expectations, and short attention spans. 

Is generation-based marketing still relevant?

However, this does not mean doing away with generational marketing altogether but learning to grasp the realities and complexities of digital usage across consumers.  Age is just one component on a sliding scale of intersectional factors that make up an individual’s digital tendencies. The key is staying attuned to the role age plays and knowing when it is the dominant characteristic, rather than an oversimplified generalization. Success in digital means following patterns, understanding needs, and delivering a custom experience that moves people through a journey. 

How do you capture the impulse generation?

We have developed key pillars to help capture the Impulse Generation. It starts with a deep understanding of your audience and their fluid marketing persona. Once you understand your audience work to develop cross-channel content that will serve consumers specific content & creative across their unique journey. All generations are united in their need for a seamless mobile experience, which is why you need to invest in precise UX, to deliver your tailor-made content. Across all generations, social media is one of the top forms of content they access with a mobile device, a clear signal that above all else mobile adoption is driven by a desire to connect. Make your content stand out by creating emotional creative that transcends across people & placements to incite a desired behavior.  Lastly, you need to think ahead and anticipate the direction of digital behavior, with predictive technology that will align your goals & the needs of your future audiences.  

To see more results and implications from Boston Digital’s “How Consumer Age Impacts Mobile Behavior” survey, read this Whitepaper. 

 

 

 

 

How Age Impacts Mobile Behavior: Survey Results