In order to get the most out of your demographic and audience targeting — and if this blog can do one thing and one thing only — I’d like you to erase the idea that Millennials and Gen Z shoppers are a bracket that you can lump customers into. Generational tagging and segmenting 52% of the US population into two separate, meaningless buckets may be holding your store back from taking the next step forward when it comes audience engagement. Instead, I want to expose why trying to target these ambiguous audiences is precarious at best.
I’d like you to erase the idea that Millennials and Gen Z shoppers are a bracket that you can lump customers into.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s break down (and try to fracture) the birthday-rational definitions of Millennials and Gen Z. By most accounts the term "Millennial" covers anyone born between the late 70s and the mid-90s. So, from the earliest opening of the window, anyone born in the year Elvis died through the OJ trial is considered part of the same group.
Gen Z takes over from there, occupying (even by generational standards) an ambiguous amount of time from the mid-00s/turn of the century to now. The gap is so large that although we talk about Millennials as sign-waving college students and the new job seekers, it also includes the mom teaching her high-school-aged daughter how to drive stick. A blanket approach to marketing to "Millennials" is so widespread and vast it is not a worthwhile signal for data.
A blanket approach to marketing to "Millennials" is so widespread and vast it is not a worthwhile signal for data.
Instead, think about who your business wants to interact with and develop buying personas. Your target buyer can be 30 years old and fall squarely into this age range, but if your only signifier for this person is that they’re a Millennial you need to readjust your strategy.
Focus on the tangible aspects of this group that you want to directly be in conversation with instead. Are they a first-time buyer? By "young professional" do you mean straight out of college or a pre-management role? Are you using "Millennial" as another word for tech-savvy? (Because that's a separate can of worms.)
Strictly speaking, would-be Gen Z and Millennials have a shared commonality that may change the way you think about type of audience: they’re both digital natives. "Digital native" is yet another marketing phrase to collect and group people, but it is by far the most encompassing descriptor of both Gen Z and Millennials. The phrase covers anyone who has been familiar with the internet from a young age. It covers everyone who stills knows why the "save" icon is shaped like it is, but stops for people who still remember using punch cards for their code.
"Digital native" is by far the most encompassing descriptor of both Gen Z and Millennials.
This audience is familiar and — very specifically — comfortable with online shopping. By last year, 95% of adults had cell phones, 77% of which were smartphones. (For the 23% without a browser in their pocket, I’ll let you deduce the age range.)
Advertising to these users should then be 1. Mobile 2. Quick and 3. Psychographically-targeted. Being "Gen Z" is highlighted in this group, but it’s up to you as a business owner to go the next step down the line and investigate user behavior.
With so much screen time, digital natives are more likely to comparison shop and be saturated with ads. If you want to talk about competing screen time we can go down that route, but more screen-time/shorter attention-span-per-view means more ads are being seen by the same set of eyes.
Price points, free shipping and discounts will remain supreme for this post-recession buying block.
Price points, free shipping and discounts will remain supreme for this post-recession buying block. They’ve seen mobile ads before, and they can distinguish sponsored content from organic results better: they’re not going to fall for a bait-and-switch for the net result of a click. Provide a better product for the best price, and they will come.
Involve the User in the Process
Reaching digital-first shoppers should have the same goals of a 5-star hotel concierge: reactive, proactive, present in a moment and then quietly in the background until the next request. If that sounds like a nigh-impossible task, it is because it almost is. All we can do is provide the best possible experience at each step of a customer’s buying process.
Remove clutter, excess article text, and information that could be saved for an Order Confirmation email.
A quick and simple way to get started down this path is to streamline the checkout process as much as possible. With such a radical variety of ways to buy things now, a single snag or delay is a pain point for site departure. Remove clutter, excess article text, and information that could be saved for an Order Confirmation email. One piece of site optimization to use now: take your refund policy and move it to the footer or your follow up email. Don’t plant the seed of a returning an item before it’s in the user’s hand.
Make the process of discovering and interacting with the product part of the experience. There is now a common trope of wanting to collect memories/experiences than material things. While that’s great for globetrotting study-abroaders, we need a more tangible approach within the context of an online store.
Work to make your product shareable.
Work to make your product shareable. Not purely in the aspirational viral sense, but in the hold-to-copy, textable links to your site that will be responsive on any device it’s viewed from. Almost 50% of phone users — a coin toss — utilize their device to research an item while they’re standing in front of it at the store. You’ll need to capitalize on that micro-moment to seal the deal.
You can speak their language without imitating them
Targeting everyone 40 and younger does not take a codex and a four-paneled meme. Every single generational user looking to purchase an item wants the same thing: the best item for the best price. In your spare time, sort the subreddit r/fellowkids by top posts and you’ll see the absolute drawbacks that can come from poor brand-to-consumer communication.
Every single generational user looking to purchase an item wants the same thing: the best item for the best price.
Your messaging should ultimately project that your items resolve a problem. There are no traits intrinsic to Gen Z or Millennials that set their shopping habits apart from previous generations in this regard. These groups aren’t going to react differently previous generations. We know this because each attribute — positive and negative — has already been assigned to each previous generation before it. The laziness attributed to Millennials was said about the hippies, which was said about the flappers and so on. There's no one attribute applied to a generation that wouldn’t be better suited targeting a sub-niche within that generation.
At the end of the day, the buying habits of your users do not have a generational segment, and there isn’t a birth date that means you need to market to any group of people differently than any other. Think less about keyword generations and more about personal, targeted advertising and you’ll have better results.
Have any questions about targeting certian demographics of shoppers? Let us know in the comments!