How to Use Generational Priorities to Optimize Ad Targeting

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A baby boomer who’s never used TikTok is going to react differently to a video ad than a millennial who’s grown up on social media.

While many brand marketers dig deeper into audience targeting via geolocation, purchase histories, and mobile device identifiers, one of the most obvious differentiating factors between consumers is being overlooked — age.

Generational differences are abundant. Despite those 65 and older being more likely to use technology now than a decade ago, older generations are still less likely to use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram than their younger counterparts. According to Pew Research, 45% of consumers aged 65 and over use social media, compared with 84% of those ages 18 to 29 and 81% of those 30 to 49.

Across the board, age groups account for major differences in preferences and perceptions of current events. Seven in ten Americans think young adults have a harder time today than their parents’ generation when it comes to saving for the future, and younger adults are less likely to see big differences between political parties or to feel well represented by them.

Understanding the key differences between generations could help brand marketers develop more personalized ad campaigns that don’t rely on third-party cookies.

“Marketing is not a one-size fits all approach. Different age groups have different search preferences and consume their content differently. It is imperative to have different strategies for targeting and messaging based on each age group,” says Kerri Drozd, senior vice president of strategy at Hero Digital, a digital customer experience company.

Drozd says today’s consumers expect personalized experiences that go beyond dated personalization tactics, such as adding a first name to a marketing email. They want to be treated as individuals and feel that companies understand what is most important to them.

Using generational segmentation in marketing communication is a strategy global brands were using long before consumer data privacy legislation began to limit the way marketers targeted consumers online. A more advanced take on the traditional approach involves combining known generational priorities with other factors, like user location or data collected through loyalty program membership, for deeper levels of personalization that don’t involve the collection of third-party datasets.

“The more personalized you can be, the more your customer will feel connected to your brand and want to interact with you,” Drozd says. “Age and location data are important, but also combining interests and behavioral data are equally as important. Layering demographic and behavioral data will provide an extra layer of personalization that creates a more cohesive and relevant experience.”

Implementing the Generation-Based Approach

Tailored messaging is both an art and a science. To best implement ad targeting using a generation-based approach, Drozd recommends starting with first-party data to understand how different generations interact with your own company. 

“What are the triggers, touchpoints, and channels that resonate? Once that has been determined, [you] should build out detailed personas for each generation to get a clear understanding of the pain points and personalities of that generation which will inform key messages and reasons to believe that align,” Drozd says. “Once both of those have been developed, brands will have a more holistic view of each demographic to craft specific messaging for them.”

Drozd recommends segmenting each targeted generation when measuring the results of this new approach. Key metrics to watch include website traffic, leads, revenue, engagement, customer lifetime value, and customer acquisition value.

“Consumers have so many choices,” Drozd says. “By providing a generic one-size-fits-all approach to all marketing, you risk disjointed messaging and missing key opportunities to connect, which may turn your buyers off from your brand.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.