Defining a target audience is a critical step before creating content. Unless you know exactly who you are talking to, how can you know what you need to say to capture their attention or generate an optimum response?

An often overlooked aspect of an audience persona is the generational component. Is your target audience Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, or Generation Z? Who are these nebulous groups and does it really make a difference?

Generations and Cultural Cues

  • Boomers grew up roughly from 1943 to 1960
  • Generation X from 1961 to 1981
  • Generation Y or Millennials from 1982 to 2002
  • Generation Z from 2003 extending out to 2023

These are rough definitions, but generations are more defined by their shared experiences/cultural cues than by hard-and-fast dates, according to David Erickson of e-Strategy Internet Marketing Blog: “Understanding those generational touchstones are important for understanding how your messages will resonate with a particular audience.”

Using the like/shared experiences or cultural cues of a generational group is an important element in driving content. Every Boomer can undoubtedly remember what he/she was doing when President John F. Kennedy was shot. Referencing that event in content would elicit an immediate connection/emotion with Boomers that would probably be lost on the younger generations.

Each of those generations, however, will have other cultural cues from their own time in history that could fuel content. Discover the technographics and psychographics to gain a deeper understanding of your audience’s lifestyle. What toys were popular for that generation? What was on television? What cartoons were they watching? What types of music and movies were popular?

David raises a caveat when using cultural cues: “Understanding those generational dynamics is key toward at least not making mistakes. Whether or not you deliberately put in generational cues that will evoke emotion or a response, or conversely, being aware of things that might evoke a response that you didn’t intend or want.”

Take tattoos as an example. Boomers and early Gen Xers grew up during a time when tattoos were not widely accepted; mostly they had a negative connotation. And although today tattoos are an acceptable fashion statement and according to Forbes, Tattoos No Longer a Kiss of Death in the Workplace, a tattooed person in a content marketing piece viewed by Boomers and Gen Xs could have a bad impact.

Generational Buyers’ Journeys and Technology

I know a family where one of the grandkids’ most entertaining things to do is instruct Grandma and Grandpa on Smartphone and Tablet usage. It’s a fact. Generationally there are technology issues!

Consider that Gen Zers have grown up in a totally virtual world (David even refers to Generation Z as Generation V—Virtual–because it’s actually descriptive of that generation!) Boomers, on the other hand, having grown up without the many technologies we have today, will use technology differently.

Thus, another crucial component of creating effective online content is technology awareness.

  • How and where will your target audiences connect with your content?
  • What generational differences play a role in the technologies you use?
  • How big a part will social media play in marketing to the generations?
  • How can your content allow for the varied buyer’s journey for each generation?

Today, the buyer’s journey is much different from the “sales funnel” of outbound advertising of previous years. Companies can’t have the mentality of “one size fits all.” Customers now use a mix of search, discovery, and referrals before they ever make direct contact with a company. This makes it imperative that your online messaging covers all the bases; you need to be where the searchers are and presenting the types of content they want.

  • Information in text (blogs, articles) and other media formats (video, SlideShare, Twitter)
  • Mobile applications (43% of consumers use branded mobile apps to keep up with brands)
  • Generation-centric (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans caters to mature consumers while Juicy Couture and Nasty Gal target a younger audience.)
  • Testimonials of their peers

Search methods may be basically the same across the generations, but the keywords used or interaction with the content could vary throughout the buyer’s journey. Boomers or Gen Xers may initially lean toward a more comprehensive, informational discovery journey, reading ebooks or blogs on company websites. Millennials or Gen Zers will be more likely to first ask their friends, Tweet for opinions, check reviews on Yelp and Amazon, or cruise Pinterest as they evaluate a product or service.

Generational Designation versus Technical Designation

Another school of thought dismisses the generational designations in favor of a solely technological differentiation. You then have “connected” (those who go online) and “unconnected” (those who do not go online) as the definitive breakdowns for consideration in creating content.

There are several problems with that position:

  • Eliminates the cultural cues that bind people together
  • Ignores the like experiences that evoke emotion
  • Doesn’t address appropriate/inappropriateness of images or conversation in content
  • Harder to produce content for niche audiences with this broad generalization

Bottom line: generational differences are an important element of a comprehensive audience/customer persona. By overlaying the generational life experiences you can tailor content with images, references and memories that will immediately create an emotional connection with your audience.

Join the Conversation:

  • How great an emphasis have you placed on generational considerations when creating your buyer personas?
  • In what ways could using generational cultural cues improve the effectiveness of your content?
  • Have you created a buyer’s journey for each of your target audiences to facilitate content delivery to the right person at the right time?
This article highlights selected excerpts from CMX’s interview with David Erickson from e-Strategy marketing Blog, and Martin van der Roest of the Examiner on the topic Optimizing Content Creation for Generational Marketing – September 11, 2013.