In 1923, Hungarian sociologist Karl Mannheim published an essay titled “The Problem of Generations” that claimed people are significantly influenced by their socio-historical environment, forming social generations that in turn become agents of change and give rise to events that shape future generations. As controversial as Mannheim’s opinion may have been at the time, the notion is now widespread that generations, and the gaps between them, truly exist and impact the way in which businesses reach consumers.

As such, marketers have depended for years on character sketches or archetypes of various generations to try to better understand and effectively market to them. But what are these generations exactly?

Comprising 76 million consumers, Baby Boomers represent those born between the 1940s and 1960s, and are individuals who focus on hard work, individualism and social activism. Many are retired or will be retiring soon. Born between the 1960s and 1980s, Generation X covers almost 65 million Americans and is an important target market because these individuals are at the peak of their earning and spending years. While they were not born into the Internet era, the majority use smartphones and regularly access social media. According to the report “Across the Ages” by the National Retail Federation, there are more than 80 million Millennials, those born between 1980s and late 1990s. This generation has grown up dependent upon and familiar with technology, surpassing Baby Boomers as the largest working age group. Millennials have proven to be more educated, with more choices than any other generation that precedes them. The newest generation to marketers, Generation Z, is comprised of approximately 60 million early twenties were born between the mid-1990s and now.

Thanks in part to the vast amount of recent changes in consumer technology and digital avenues available, many marketers are beginning to question the effectiveness of targeting generations solely based on common characteristics. According to a 2003 academic paper “Cohort segmentation: An exploration of its validity”, only 45 percent of the respondents actually align with their generation’s characteristics. Therefore, it’s become more clear that generational marketing pigeon-holes and oversimplifies the differing age groups’ needs and wants.

While it is speculated that older generations are more removed from technology than their younger counterparts, recent findings from the report “Local Mobile Trends Study” by the Local Search Association indicates this is simply not the case, especially for shopping trends. In fact, the majority (75 percent) of those who fall in the Baby Boomer category rely on their mobile devices when shopping in-store, while 94 percent of Generation X and Y consumers do the same. With not even a significant statistical difference between the age groups, all generations name comparing prices as well as receiving coupons and offers as their top two reasons for utilizing their smartphones while shopping. In addition, they all highly desire the ability to search for valuable information, so they can become a smarter shopper and consistently make knowledgeable purchasing decisions.

With this in mind, retailers in the digital age should focus marketing efforts to their entire consumer base by delivering location-based and highly relevant information, such as product details, reviews, recommendations, special offers and coupons, to shoppers’ smartphones as they walk the aisles. This type of engagement allows brands to transform themselves into a personalized shopping concierge and assist with purchasing decisions all in real-time – giving consumers exactly what they want when they want it.

However, the benefits aren’t just for the consumer, it’s equally as beneficial for brands and retailers. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, including: an app-less experience or a universal app. Through an app-less solution, retailers can use text codes, QR codes and/or geo-fencing techniques to drive shoppers to a branded mobile microsite where they are immersed in a circumstantially and geographically relevant retail shopping experience. To take a different approach, a universal app can provide consumers with a single mobile-centric source for information from all participating retailers. Both solutions provide retailers with a growth in per-visitor sales, drive store traffic, activate and engage shoppers, and ultimately build brand loyalty and equity.

While all generations are seeking this type of mobile shopping experience, as demonstrated in recent studies there are still a few key characteristics of each age group to be mindful of when targeting them via mobile devices.

Baby Boomers

  • Provide product information online, and through call centers and email blasts
  • Value face-to-face communication with these shoppers
  • Be forthcoming and honest with what the business stands for
  • Display discounts and bargain deals, which appeal more to this demographic than any other

Generation X

  • Avoid hardcore sales tactics
  • Demonstrate that business claims are valid with research and customer testimonials

Generation Y

  • Have a strong online presence, including blogs and social media
  • Adopt the latest technology as regularly as possible
  • Provide all information in an easy-to-read and mobile-friendly form

Generation Z

  • Showcase how a brand is making a difference or an impact in the world
  • Have a strong online presence, including blogs and social media
  • Allow them to feel culturally connected, they often suffer from FOMO (the fear of missing out)

As smartphones become more integral in our daily lives, users of all generations are turning to their mobile devices throughout the shopping experience to ensure they are finding the best deals and the highest-rated products and services available. In order to compete effectively and successfully, businesses need to develop a strong understanding of the mobile landscape their customers will leverage when searching for their products and services, and invest in their own mobile presence and marketing to have a voice in what they will find. While generations may agree and disagree on a lot of topics of life, having the ability to be an informed shopper in today’s age of mass information isn’t only desired but expected.

Previously published on Target Marketing.