For as long as anyone can remember, marketers have segmented audiences based on age. Up and coming generations – generally starting at age 18 and ending at 54 (and sliced and diced in between) – are the holy grail. Driven by major lifetime milestones like graduations, marriages, first homes and childbirth, they are said to be most likely to spend the greatest on goods and services. Traditional advertising followed this slice and dice model for decades.
Even as the web gobbled up increasing media spend, and automated ad tech solutions became progressively popular for targeting and inventory management, most marketing professionals were (and still are) trained to talk about the profitability of the next up-and-coming generation. Over the last decade, I have worked with countless execs focused on talking about the growing power of millennials and the outsize impact on spend and, thus, the need to make them the clear target of every campaign.
Despite this obsession with millennials, two things belie the logic of this rationale. First, older generations – meaning people over the age of 54 – have much more accumulated wealth and still need to spend it. They’re often supporting children and extended families, investing in second homes, downsizing and buying new furniture, taking more time for recreation (and associated spend), etc. Second, major advertisers are cutting back on overall spend with the realization that they can often drive equal or better results for less money even without targeting the so-called desirables.
So, what exactly is going on? It’s hard to chalk it up to one thing, as many elements are driving these dynamics. But one thing is for sure — traditional demographic targeting is becoming increasingly outdated. Because, fundamentally, we have all been reprogrammed in such a way that age, ethnic background, creed and geography no longer apply to our purchasing habits in the same ways they once did. Instead, we are programmed to respond in accordance with two massive drivers – the internet and mobile.
The internet has fundamentally changed the behavior of every generation. Now, regardless of other factors, we all are programmed to expect instantaneous access to information, goods, services and people. It doesn’t matter whether a person is age 18 or 88; our core DNA has been reprogrammed to expect the same response time and access.
Mobile has amplified this trend. By tethering humankind to the internet, mobile ensures that the impulses and desires that drive expectations of immediacy are even more core to humanity’s very being. After all, if one can order food, watch a movie and speak to a significant other (in 2-3 social mediums simultaneously) all with the click of a few keys on a handheld device, why ever go back to something slower? Again, this is a fundamental reprogramming that supersedes age or any other demographic trend.
What we have then, is not an age-driven demographic; nor one confined by borders or languages. (After all, mobile devices litter the world, literally in the hands of billions.) Rather, what we have is a technology-driven, device-defined generation: The Impulse Generation. The characteristics of this monolithic, worldwide generation include short attentions spans, high expectations and demand for quick satisfaction.
For any company – whether B2B or B2C - to thrive and win in today’s market, it is critical they understand how to relate to, engage with, and build support from The Impulse Generation. It transcends B2B and B2C mainly because behavior in the workplace is equally, if not more, influenced by the same dynamics driving consumer expectations. Humanity is equally tied to devices and prone to the demands of speed and satisfaction in making a business decision as in making a consumer one.
Winning marketing campaigns need to take these dynamics into account and focus on the platforms, influencer networks and places where members of The Impulse Generation work, rest and play. Those that augment traditional generational metrics and measurement, with equal focus on the habits of The Impulse Generation are more likely to drive better marketing results and outcomes.
It may seem anathema to common thinking, but it stands to reason that this outcome would occur given the promise of the internet and the emergence of mobile as dominant access to it. It’s quite predictable. Which is why the marketing industry needs to challenge our prospects and clients to adopt the concept of The Impulse Generation to underpin marketing, sales and consumer relationship formation. With continued advances and adoption of the web and mobile, the outcome is inevitable.