How to Reach Different Generations in Your Small Business Marketing

How to Reach Different Generations in Your Small Business Marketing

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Updated November 08, 2023
Megan Ferringer
Written byMegan Ferringer
Zachary Ace Aiuppa
Edited byZachary Ace Aiuppa
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You've probably seen the infamous Pepsi commercial. If not, here's what you need to know. In 2017, Pepsi created an ad in which a group of people protesting nothing in particular find a hero in Kendall Jenner, who hands a cop a cold soda — solving the world's biggest problems along the way somehow.

It was a cloying attempt to appeal to woke millennials. It was also a colossal failure, widely mocked, and eventually yanked from the internet after endless backlash.

So, what went wrong with Pepsi's ad? In theory, Pepsi thought they were marketing toward younger generations. But in reality, they didn't know anything about who the younger generation actually is.

Today, a whopping 83% of millennials want brands to align with them on their values — and that's precisely what Pepsi was trying to go after in their ad. But there's another statistic they overlooked: 90% of millennials say authenticity is an important factor when deciding which brands they like to support. This is where Pepsi's ad fell short.

Afraid to incite backlash with its ad, Pepsi depicted its message with picket signs bearing slogans like "Peace" and "Join the Conversation." Many people saw this as trivializing real life protests like Black Lives Matter. In fear of potentially upsetting some customers by taking a side in a divisive issue, Pepsi instead kept its values vague, forced, and insincere, upsetting everyone.

This is where really learning the generational differences of your audience comes into play. Each generation has different values, motivations, priorities, and habits. Taking the time to truly understand each can help you connect with your target audience in a more meaningful way (and help you avoid misrepresenting them).

Of course, every individual within any group is unique. It's not cool to make assumptions about someone based on their age alone. That said, there are certain trends that tend to correlate with age groups as a whole. Knowing these trends can help you tailor your message to everyone from Boomers to Gen Z.  

What Does Generational Marketing Mean?

Put simply, generational marketing is exactly what it sounds like — crafting your marketing strategy with a specific generation of people in mind. This strategy can be based on preferences, attitudes, and upbringings — key characteristics that distinguish one generational group from the other.

So why does generational marketing matter? Put simply, each generation is motivated by different things. Understanding these behavioral patterns can give you insight into what drives people to pick a brand or buy into a business' mission. Ultimately, those insights help you build a custom-tailored marketing plan for the age group you want to target.

It's important to remember that a generational marketing strategy is much more than simply altering your language on different media platforms. It's about fostering a deep understanding of what makes each generation tick. This ensures you're providing truly valuable content that will resonate with your target audience and drive sales.

Meet the Generations — And How to Market to Each of Them

With the benefits of generational marketing clear, how do you know where to begin? Start by understanding the differences between Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z — and how each of them interacts with brands.

Baby Boomers

The Baby Boomer generation is defined as anyone born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers have been dethroned in the U.S. as the largest generation (thanks, Millennials), but they still have a significant amount of spending power. In fact, Deloitte estimates that Baby Boomers will remain the wealthiest generation until at least 2030.

Here are some high-level attributes of the Baby Boomer generation to keep in mind for your marketing strategy:

Baby Boomers have a ton of spending power

Today, Baby Boomers hold 53.20%, or $59.96 trillion, of U.S. wealth. For context, Gen X holds $28.5 trillion and Millennials $5.19 trillion. Those high numbers equate to a lot of spending power.

They are less influenced by peers

More than other generations, Baby Boomers have a "been there, done that" mentality and are often set in their ways and interests. This makes them a lot harder to influence, especially through social media channels. Only 8% of Boomers trust social media ads for recommendations when making shopping decisions.  

They make more online purchases

Baby Boomers outspend Millennials by 20% when making purchases online. This higher number shows that Baby Boomers not only hold a majority of U.S. wealth, but they also aren't afraid to spend it.

Baby Boomers love to share content

Boomers are 19% more likely to share content on social media than any other demographic. But it's not just any kind of content — Baby Boomers prefer informative, long-form content like videos and blog articles as opposed to gifs and images. This is important to keep in mind when looking to increase brand awareness among this generation.  

Baby Boomers enjoy social media

Facebook is the social media channel of choice for Boomers, with 57% of the generation active on the platform. Channels like YouTube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn follow shortly behind Facebook in popularity. So how are Boomers using these platforms? Catching up with friends and family is a big driver of Facebook usage, as is sharing content with their connections.

How to Reach Them

Now that you know more about what makes Baby Boomers tick, here are some quick ways to effectively reach them:

Prioritize Facebook above other platforms

Of all the social media platforms, Baby Boomers spend the most time on Facebook. Consider using this platform to send targeted sponsored ads (but make sure you avoid influencer content). You can also share informational content like videos organically on your brand's page to drive brand awareness and boost authority.

Make sure your content adds value

Baby Boomers prefer high-quality blog articles, reviews, eBooks, and videos. Ditch fast content and click-bait material in favor of something that's educational and can be consumed at a slower pace.

Don't neglect email campaigns

More than 95% of Baby Boomers regularly use email, making it a solid channel to market your brand's message and products. Consider using email to send regular updates on new products or any major sale announcements.

Use an omnichannel marketing approach

While Baby boomers are shopping online more, they still value in-store shopping experiences. In fact, 84% of Baby Boomers express interest in visiting a brick-and-mortar shop. Blending the best of both worlds in your marketing gives your audience options. Continue to drive engagement on your Facebook channel, then invite them in-store with exclusive offers or inventory.  

Generation X

Generation X encompasses anyone born between 1965 and 1980. This generation is often described as rebellious, independent, and entrepreneurial. They're also known for keeping busy: In addition to raising kids, managing mortgages, and overseeing other expenses, many Gen Xers are currently at the height of their careers. Gen X is also the closest rival to Baby Boomers when it comes to spending power.

Here are some core characteristics to keep in mind when it comes to Gen X,

Gen X is financially stable

Gen X is in its prime. They're excelling in their careers, reaching top positions, and earning a salary that reflects their progress. Gen Xers are also savers — they're in the process of preparing for kids to go to college, saving for family trips, or gearing up to splurge on a hard-earned purchase.

They're incredibly brand loyal

Compared to other generations, Gen X is the most loyal when it comes to their brands of choice. This means if you can reach them in a meaningful and effective way, there's a good chance they'll be with you for the long run.

They love deals

You already know that Gen Xers are savers. That trait extends to their shopping habits, too. This generation actively hunts for deals online and are the most likely of any generation to use coupons and promo codes. In fact, 93% of Gen X shoppers report using coupons in the past year.

Gen X is glued to their inboxes

When Gen Xers look at their phones, the first app they're likely to open is their email — so if you're trying to reach them with brand updates, landing in their inbox is the best way to do it. Morethan 80% of Gen Xers say email is their preferred way to receive brand messages.

Social media use is booming

More than 75% of Gen X is on social media, making them more active users than Baby Boomers. Their platforms of choice? Facebook still comes out on top, but Gen X is more likely to also use Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How to Reach Them

Here are some of the best marketing strategies if you're looking to build Gen X interest in your brand.

Focus on promotions

Gen Xers love a good deal. Craft your marketing messages around special discounts and exclusive offers. Don't be afraid to blast that messaging across Gen Xers' core channels — their email inbox and social media.

Don't neglect direct mail

Email and social media give you a way to reach this audience instantly with special offers — but don't forget the importance of direct mail, too. This generation is more likely than others to keep coupons you send, giving them the incentive to shop at your store.

Introduce a loyalty program

Gen X is among the most loyal generation when choosing and sticking with their brands. Why not reward them for it? Consider introducing a loyalty program that acknowledges them for visiting your store regularly, and make sure you're rewarding them with free gifts, a buy-one-get-one deal, or the promise of money off their next purchase.

Be authentic and stick to your promise

Once you work hard to gain the respect and trust of Gen X, they'll stick with you — but only if you uphold the values and level of service that brought them into your storefront in the first place. Find opportunities in your marketing to show how your brand upholds its values every day, whether through personal photos of your staff behind the scene or by highlighting charity work you've recently done.


Born between 1981 and 1999, Millennials make up more than 22% of today's population. Millennials were coming of age during 9/11, experienced the internet boom, and entered the job force during the economic collapse. As a result, this generation is heavily burdened by more student loan debt than any other generation ($1 trillion to be exact).

The good news is this generation is catching up fast in terms of spending power. While they hold $5.7 trillion in wealth, significantly less than older generations, they have a lot of plans for that money. Millennials are expected to spend $1.4 trillion on products, services, or experiences.

For years, Millennials have been on the receiving end of tons of unfair stereotypes hurled by the media. Here are some traits about this generation that generally hold true:

They value experiences more than things

For most millennials, expensive possessions aren't status symbols. This generation is more likely to ditch expensive purchases (like furniture, clothing, or fancy cars) in favor of travel or personal hobbies. This points to a larger trait — Millennials value things most when they can improve their quality of life.

Millennials are burnt out

Millennials were once dubbed the "burnout generation," and they're ready for a break. That's why they're always looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. They often examine their work environment to find new ways to streamline processes and collaboration. This comes in the form of adopting better technology, embracing cloud-native tools, or championing remote work environments.  

Millennials want brands to align with their values

You already know that 83% of Millennials choose their go-to brands based on the values they have in common. In other words, they want to make sure the company they support stands for something they believe in, too. Sustainability is a huge factor for this generation. In fact, 73% of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable brands.

They're open-minded when it comes to marketing

Millennials came of age during the Dot-com bubble, so they're no stranger to how quickly technology, and how we use it, can change. This makes Millennials a lot more open to different digital marketing tactics. There's a catch — regardless of how you're reaching them, Millennials still want the content to feel authentic, entertaining, and useful. This means that traditional, impersonal marketing tactics no longer fly.

Millennials embrace the full world of social media

Facebook came around when the oldest Millennials were in college, so they were among the earliest adopters. However, habits have changed a bit since then, and today, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are among some of the top channels.

What makes Millennials' interactions different from older generations is how they consume content. Having grown up on these platforms, Millennials are a lot more open-minded about targeted ads. They're also more likely to be influenced by their peers on social media.

How to Reach Them

Armed with growing spending power, Millennials are an essential generation for brands. Here are a few ways to get your message in front of them.

Leverage user-generated content

Millennials are often influenced by their peers when making buying decisions. Consider utilizing user-generated content across your social media channels that showcase your customers sporting or reviewing your product.

Make convenience a key factor

Find ways to add value and make life a little easier for Millennials. You can advertise free two-day shipping or introduce a subscription-based model for products that need to be repurchased regularly. Bonus points if you can showcase how your product makes their lives easier in your messaging, too.

Use authentic content

Millennials know when a brand isn't being authentic (hello, Pepsi). Make sure your messaging stays true to your business' values. Focus on using visuals that truly represent your entire audience, not just what you think people want to see. And consider giving them a glimpse into how your shop operates behind the scenes, even if it isn't always pretty. Millennials will appreciate this honesty.

Make your content useful

Millennials spend a lot of their time researching brands online before deciding to purchase. You can differentiate yourself from the competition by creating content that informs and inspires. Create how-to blog posts that give Millennials useful tips on how to improve their lives, for example, and how your product can directly contribute to a better quality of life.  

Generation Z

Born any time between 2000 to today, this generation might lag behind in spending power, but they make up for it with their huge potential to lead the way in the next decade. In fact, as of 2020, Gen Z makes up 40% of all consumers.

While Gen Z is only now starting to build its wealth, they do possess a ton of influence when promoting brands to their peers. Here are a few more traits to consider when targeting this young generation.

Gen Z is internet-savvy and always tuned in

Because this generation has never lived without technology, they're used to being constantly tuned in to, and hyper-aware of, the world around them. This has also contributed to Gen Z being more creative, innovative, and social, since they're constantly taking in new ideas.

They can be impatient

Growing up in the always-on, fast-paced world of the internet means that Gen Z's attention span is shorter than any other generation — eight seconds, to be exact. That means advertising or any other piece of content needs to capture the core of the message upfront, so you can communicate the relevant information before they start scrolling again.

User reviews are critical when making decisions

Gen Z looks to the experiences of others to make their buying decisions. When researching a product or service, this generation turns to Amazon reviews, YouTube testimonials, and social media influencers to make their decision.

Gen Z is socially conscious

Gen Z is self-aware and committed to making the world a better place. This extends to brands, too. They want the companies they support to be vocal about the issues that matter to them.

Facebook is old news

Gen Z isn't really into Facebook, and they find the platform slow and disengaging. Instead, this generation prefers platforms that move fast and focus on visuals, like Instagram and TikTok.

How to Reach Gen Z

There's still a lot more to learn about Gen Z as they graduate college, start new careers, and up their purchasing power. Today, there are a few ways your brand can influence this fast-growing generation.

Share your values

Gen Z is fighting to make their future better and brighter, and they want to know that your brand is in the ring with them. Make sure you live and breathe your vision and values as a company. Don't let them be just words on your "about us" section — use your platforms to show how you're taking these things to heart.

Look at companies like REI and Tom's Shoe for examples of how to live your mission as an organization. You can also consider partnering with a non-profit to prove your commitment to a cause. These kinds of actions won't go unnoticed by Gen Z.

Find influencers in your industry

Social influencers are a huge driver when it comes to Gen Z's decisions. That's because they're more likely to trust friends and peers over brands themselves. Invite your customers to share photos and videos of how they used your product or service, and make sure you use that content across Gen Z's favorite social media channels.

Video content is king

Instagram and TikTok have emerged as the leading Gen Z platforms for a reason: They're primarily video focused. If you haven't explored video in your marketing strategy, now is the time to do so! Use short, 30-to-60-second videos to showcase your products in action or to highlight customer reviews.

Explore in-app experiences

Gen Z does everything on their phone, including shopping. Take your Instagram account a step further by integrating an in-app shopping option. This lets your followers quickly turn a photo they like into a purchase without ever having to leave the app. And because Gen Z prefers fast-paced content, this helps them take action before they move on to the next thing.

Generational Traits Matter, But They're Not The Only Thing

Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. All four of these generations have different goals, values, habits, and preferences. Understanding these nuances can help you zero in on the audience you want to reach — and put you a step closer to making a genuine connection with a future customer.

But regardless of their differences, each generation wants to feel entertained and inspired. They also want to know that your brand, product, or service will make their lives better in some way. Keeping these values at the core of your marketing strategy is vital, and it'll help you build a firm foundation for your business now and into the future.

Generational marketing is one piece of a much larger picture. Nailing down the right marketing strategy can help your business thrive. Whether you're in the beginning stages of launching your business or you're ready to increase your customer base, the experts at Swyft Filings have the advice you need to become a true marketing pro. Check out these articles for more tips on self-marketing your small business:

Originally published on October 21, 2022, and last edited on November 08, 2023.

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