Entrepreneur’s Guide to Marketing to Silent Gen to Gen Z

We all remember that kid from grade school. The one who ate paste and wiped his nose on people. He had a nickname that followed him through the years, a nickname so tenacious his nametag at the 20-year class reunion read “Booger”.

Our culture is very much like that time in grade school: each generation has certain character traits attached to it like old schoolyard nicknames it can’t seem to shake. So how do we as business owners appeal to each generation individually? A shoe company may recognize that a Boomer won’t be caught dead in the same pair of Steve Maddens as a Millennial (and vice versa….orthopedic pumps for co-eds, anyone?) but struggle with the correct way to market to each demographic. By understanding how different generations interact with and are influenced by their world, you can build a marketing campaign designed to target consumers on the macro level and then refine down to the micro (or individual) level. This is an integral part of understanding the core demographics whose business you want the most!

Of course, each person is different and unique, and you have no control over how he or she may ultimately react to your marketing campaign. But in general, how each generation thinks and behaves is very similar; it all boils down to how you use that information to find success within your campaign.

So, what steps can you take to bridge the generational gap and deliver your message more effectively? How can you make sure your campaign is connecting to the demographic you want without seeming to be either pandering or clueless? Let’s break down the generations in order and take a look at what works best for each.

The Silent Generation

Born before 1945, this generation is comprised of mostly retirees, many with more disposable income than any other generation. And while they grew up without the modern conveniences of today, don’t let that fool you. Around 60% of them own smartphones, over 80% use Facebook, and even though they may still visit brick and mortar stores for actual purchases, they still want to comparison shop before plunking down any cash.

And so when devising a marketing strategy for this group of hard-working, “Good Ol’ Days” consumers, keep in mind that they aren’t as attracted to flashy ads, wordy emails and other high-tech devices. Also remember that this demographic is extremely cost-conscious, with a small percentage of them willing to take on new debt to afford things they may want. They know how to save, and how to pay off credit cards every month.

Selling tips to The Silent Generation

  1. Be patient and spend quality with them before making a sale, since this generation is least likely to make an impulse purchase.
  2. Put a greater focus on offline marketing, things such as newsletters, postcards in the mail and radio ads.
  3. Use a single image, offline or online, to capture their attention rather than using collages.

Baby Boomers

Accounting for roughly 74 million Americans, Baby Boomers tend to have more disposable income, as they are the final generation to receive last-salary pensions. They were also the first generation to embrace the concept of “Buy Now, Pay Later,” and the first generation to grow up with television as a common presence in the house. According to a recent New York Times article, if you want to get a foothold in the highly profitable Boomer market, you need to get creative. Yes, Boomers are aging and are looking for ways to live healthier, more convenient lifestyles, but they also don’t want to be hobbling around with an industrial-looking walker, sporting putty-colored Velcro shoes. This is the generation that started Rock n’ Roll here. They’re still as cool during the Rolling Stone’s Havana Moon tour as they were during the Rolling Stone’s Satisfaction tour.

Selling tips to Baby Boomers:

  1. Since this is also known as the “Me” generation, use personalization in your sales campaigns to find success.
  2. Boomers would rather make face-to-face than online connections. Keep that in mind when selling to them.
  3. Go beyond a one-time sell. Don’t just sell your product or service; take it a step further to explain how their purchase will be beneficial.
  4. Boomers use tech just like everyone else, but they are not necessarily as impressed by it. Big, fancy ads with a lot of content are less likely to attract them. Sticking with single images and emphasizing offline marketing techniques such as brochures, in-person visits and other “low-tech” options are more likely to attract their attention and interest.

Generation X

Ah, the poor, misunderstood generation that brought us MTV, indie films and an overarching appearance of cynicism and alienation. Did we mention they’re also thought of as “Forward-thinking trouble-shooters” with a strong work-ethic and desire to help out their fellow man? Couple that with their access to and knowledge of technology and you have a demographic in the perfect position to make purchases in person, online and mobily. Sites like Groupon and Livingsocial provide plenty of opportunities to see what’s available, and when you have Gen Xer’s using mobile banking apps and Paypal, it’s easy to see how this generation shops, compares and spends in this ever-shrinking consumer world.

Selling tips to Generation X:

  1. Be straightforward and honest while trying to sell to this generation. Remember, they weren’t labeled the Cynical Generation for nothing. Don’t hide any facts or embellish the truth.
  2. Build credibility before trying to sell to them. Use hard facts such as case studies and testimonials.
  3. This generation uses a lot of technology, but they are still aware of offline marketing techniques. Combine your online marketing efforts with things such as radio ads, newsletters and postcards to try and make a sale.
  4. Although they grew up without the internet, digital marketing definitely matters to them now. They use technology regularly at their home and at work, so make sure you have a strong online presence before you try to sell to them.


Population counts here more than anywhere else. Millennials have outstripped Boomers, at over 75 million, and are more interested in technology, social media and socially aware branding. They are mostly geared toward online marketing; they don’t remember a world where computers and online “everything” were not commonplace. In these cases, speed, delivering the goods, and viral social content are the hallmarks of a successful campaign. Millennials are accustomed to seeing what they want, and having it almost instantly. Making them wait will lose their interest, as they will already be thinking of a faster, easier way to get what they want. One thing to think about is, according to the McCarthy Group, 84% of Millennials don’t like or trust traditional advertising (that’s us). But don’t take it personally. It turns out that this unwillingness on the part of millennials to trust and engage with brand-centric content can actually be a huge opportunity for marketers.

Selling tips to Millennials:

  1. You must have a strong online presence to sell to this generation: blogs, social media, video marketing, online forums and discussions.
  2. This generation uses mobiles for their online communication more than they use computers: make your website mobile friendly. Concentrate on mobile friendly social media platforms such as Instagram etc.
  3. You need to be fast to sell to this generation. Because Millennials like to multitask, you need to be quick to catch their attention, both online and offline.
  4. Don’t focus on only the decision maker while trying to make a sale. Millennials like to make decisions in groups and are influenced by their friends. Use social media to create influence and reputation for your brand before you begin to sell to them.
  5. Millennials are less likely to be loyal customers because they are always looking for shortcuts and quick fixes. Use different tactics to stay ahead of the competition.
  6. Millennials have never seen a world without technology. The more creative you are in your selling efforts and the more you can stand out, the better.

The Next Generation

Just when we thought we had all the generations figured out, let’s not forget the up-and-coming generation: Generation Z. Born between 1995 and 2009, this generation is the largest ever, with over 2 billion of them worldwide with your product. This generation grew up with a cell phone in its hand. They are used to being bombarded with information almost constantly. And, according to VisionCritical.com, they respond to edgy and visual marketing tactics. So how will that color our consumer marketing strategies to encourage engagement? It’s an important question, because this generation will have a huge influence on purchasing decisions of consumers and businesses alike, and will direct the future of marketing itself, both the What and the How to do you know if your individualized (or “Generationalized”) strategies are effective? “Legends,” “ideal customer models” and similar concepts that boil down to premade characters describing the target market can only take you so far. If you want to reach beyond that and find truly broad-spectrum appeal, you first have to look beyond the customer is most likely to capture the broadest spectrum of interest.

Angela Swanson is the mind behind Simple Solutions.io, a web design & web marketing agency dedicated to an integrated approach to the online presence. With a passion for creative web problem solving, she uses go-getter marketing strategies to deliver amazing results to businesses and their brands--without sacrificing authenticity. Subscribe to her blog, follow her on Twitter, and come discover your business’s incredible potential.

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