Silents, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z and Alphas: Who, How & Why?

Sep 1, 2021

A generation is a cohort of people born and raised around the same time. The theory is each generation has shared values, characteristics and views of the world as a result of the way formative experiences – such as world events or technological, economic and social shifts – interact with their lifecycle. This impacts their behaviour and expectations as consumers.

Generational cohorts aren’t an exact science

In reality, psychologists are torn on whether generations really matter beyond the effects of age, because there’s not enough data on the question. President of Pew Research Center Michael Dimock says, “Generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science. They should be viewed primarily as tools.”

As a marketer, it’s your job to get inside the minds of consumers – and adding another tool to your belt can’t be a bad thing. So, before we investigate the pitfalls of generational cohorts, let’s take a look at the theoretical differences between generations and their expectations for brands.

Want to know more? Check out our guide to creating customer personas that forge emotional connections

1. Silent Generation (Born 1928-1945)

The Silent Generation hold traditional values like respect, discipline, hard work, community, conformity, and financial conservatism. “It’s important to earn their trust,” says Gui Costin, a consultant and author of Millennials Are Not Aliens, “as they believe that a person’s word is his or her bond.”

Just 62% of Silents use the internet and fewer than half (45%) have a broadband connection at home. Forty percent own a smartphone, yet just 33% have a tablet computer or use social media (28%).

Digital-first brands may need to rethink their marketing strategy when it comes to the Silent Generation. This cohort prefers in-person interaction and responds best to direct mail with simple, straightforward content featuring imagery that relates to their age group.

2. Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)

According to Karina Tama-Rutigliano, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Caring People Inc., Baby Boomers are affluent, health-conscious and active, seeking to make the most of their retirement years by doing “do all the things they’ve always dreamed of doing.” They’re known as the “me generation” for their self-centered, individualistic attitudes.

Despite being the biggest consumers of traditional media, Boomers are surprisingly tech-savvy. The majority (85%) use the internet and at least 68% own a smartphone. Plus, 60% of people aged 50-64 years use at least one social media site and 60% of Boomers read blogs and other online articles, while 70% enjoy watching brand videos.

Brands should let go of outdated tech-illiterate stereotypes they might still hold about this powerful consumer group. In fact, the top three marketing channels for Boomers are reportedly television, followed by search and email marketing. Another key thing to get right is customer service, which this generation holds above all other factors.

3. Generation X (Born 1965-1980)

Having grown up in a transitional period, Generation X are used to constant transformation and are more willing to change jobs, relationships, political views and – you guessed it – brands. “Generation Xers like initiatives that will make things more useful and practical,” says Costin. “They demand trust to the extent that if your organization does not follow through once, then you are likely to lose them.”

 Gen X does still read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, and watch TV. Large shares of Gen Xers (91%) use the internet and are active on social media, with 95% using Facebook, 35% using LinkedIn and 25% posting on Twitter. Nielsen found Gen X is the most connected generation, using social media 40 minutes more each week than millennials.

Gen X prefers honest and clear marketing messages with a focus on uniqueness, value and quality. Most influenced by email marketing campaigns, they’re incentivized by discounts, freebies and coupons and, like Boomers, consider customer service the most important driver of loyalty.

4. Millennials (Born 1981-1996)

Millennials grew up immersed in the digital world, so they think globally. “Attract this group early and earn its loyalty by appealing to their belief that they can make the future better,” says Costin. “Be sure they know that your organization’s mission speaks to a purpose greater than the bottom line” – for example, through environmentally sustainable sales promotions.

Unlike Gen X, Millennials tend to favor streaming services over TV. Almost all of them (nearly 100%) use the internet, with 19% being smartphone-only internet users, and the vast majority (86%) use social media. On top of that, 68% demand omnichannel accessibility.

Focus your advertising efforts on social media and other online channels. Sixty-eight percent of Millennials admit to being strongly influenced by social media posts, while 84% say user-generated content (for example, from influencers) has at least some influence on what they buy. Millennials value experiences more than material things, so consider repositioning your product or service in terms of the experience or lifestyle it offers.

5. Generation Z (Born 1997-2012)

Having grown up during the war on terror and the aftermath of two economic crashes, Generation Z are often distrusting of brands and corporations, demand honesty and transparency, and expect companies to contribute to social and economic causes. They are focused on discovery, independence, and social change.

Generation Z are true digital natives who don’t remember a time before social media or mobile phones. They don’t read magazines or newspapers, but spend an average of 3 hours a day on their phone. They’ve all but abandoned traditional TV, but spend about 3.4 hours a day online watching videos.

Mobile online is the best way and almost the only way to reach Gen Z. Connect with them on platforms like TikTok and Youtube and keep your messaging visual, video, short and sweet. Over half (58%) of Gen Z are willing to pay more for products targeted to their individual personalities, so personalization is a great way to drive sales and increase retention.

6. Generation Alpha (Born 2010)

While this cohort isn’t yet likely to be buying from your brand, Generation Alpha are ones to watch. Aside from predicting they’ll be family-oriented, expert in generational cohorts Dr Alexis Abramson says, “They are going into a whole new world where we’re not labelling as much,” she says. “We’re not saying ‘they’re female and they’re male’, ‘they’re black and they’re white’, ‘they’re gay and they’re not’… it’s becoming more of an open society.”

Thanks to being raised in homes with smart speakers and devices everywhere and attending school virtually thanks to the global pandemic, Gen Alpha will be even more digitally savvy than previous generations. While it remains to be seen what channels and devices they choose, brands will certainly have to work hard to keep up.

Brands should consider psychographics over demographics

While it’s helpful to understand the different generations and what they expect from brands, it’s important to remember you’re marketing to humans who have their own interests, values and priorities. As founder of marketing consultancy The People Kian Bakhtiari points out, there’s often as much diversity within generations as there is between them.

“We live in a post-demographic world,” he argues, “where patterns of behavior can no longer be predicted by age alone. Therefore, brands need to move away from traditional demographic segments towards tribes: gathered around a shared mindset.”

Another way of talking about shared mindsets is psychographics. While demographics arrange consumers according to quantifiable characteristics like age, psychographics delve into individual beliefs, values and behaviors, including buying habits. Building thorough, useful customer personas that help you understand and cater to your target audience means researching both.

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Relating to customers’ lifestyles is one ingredient of a magic brand moment

Once you’ve gathered insights on your target audience, then what? Transforming a sales promotion into a magic brand moment means creating a promotion that’s not only relevant to your customers‘ lifestyles, but also encourages active engagement and, ideally, involves a post-purchase experience.

First, lead with value by shifting the narrative of your sales promotion away from facts (such as price) towards what consumers actually want. Next, use engagement marketing – for example, amplified word-of-mouth marketing or gamification – to encourage investment in your brand. Finally, offer an experience that creates an emotional connection with your brand.

After all, research shows it’s not just millennials who value experiences more than material things. And isn’t that as good an argument as any for taking generational cohorts with a pinch of salt?


At RIX, we help you put your customer at the center of your sales promotions with creative reward solutions that focus on people instead of products. Want to know how we can help you increase market share, revenue and brand engagement?

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