Interactive: Marketers are realizing that the generations are not so different

It’s a familiar scenario for working parents. You’re en route to work when suddenly you remember: your daughter’s social studies project. Due tomorrow. You might have just enough time to pick up the project’s art supplies—but where? You search for “construction paper” on your phone and filter for “open now.” Sure enough, content from Ralph’s Paper Products pops up—it’s four blocks away, open at 8 am. You’re grateful for the existence of this early morning art store, and of course for your phone, without which your daughter’s Roaring Twenties poster would be in jeopardy.

This is how we market now: Jumping in front of consumers at exactly the moment they need our products. Google’s in-house content-marketing group—Think with Google—has introduced the idea of “micro-moments” to describe this opportunity. It’s a deceptively simple concept that represents a significant shift in thinking and a shift in our consumption.

Here’s why: a 46-year-old parent searching for construction paper at 8 am isn’t being talked to as a member of Gen X—fiercely independent, shaped by divorce, recession, and/or the Cold War. She’s not viewed as an executive, or even as a mother. Instead, she’s being approached as someone with a need. The same need as, say, a 26-year-old single man in search of construction paper for a 9 am brainstorm at work. The “micro-moments” concept buckets these varying needs into “I want to know,” “I want to go,” “I want to do,” and “I want to buy.”

“Today, customers want frictionless access to information – expecting businesses to leverage data to know what, how, and when they want it,” says Beto Casellas, Synchrony EVP and Chief Customer Engagement Officer. “These ‘moments that matter’ – when a customer wants to make a purchase and make it immediately – not only position the retailer as a problem solver, but also drives loyalty and purchase power to their brand.”

The new awareness of specific, actionable consumer moments comes in part from a recognition that Boomers and Millennials—the two biggest generations demographically—have more in common than stereotypes would suggest. When a woman wants construction paper, several things (her location, time of day) matter far more than the year she was born. According to research from Synchrony, Boomers and Millennials are similar in their usage of discounts and online research, and are very comfortable with online shopping, browsing, and researching. In the ways we consume, we are becoming our parents and our parents are becoming us.

 “Today, customers want frictionless access to information – expecting businesses to leverage data to know what, how, and when they want it.” 

Note, too, that the mother finds the content the paper store served up in her search to be helpful. Maybe it’s a palette of all the colors of construction paper the store offers; maybe it’s helpful ideas for art projects with kids. Whatever it is, the content makes it clear to the consumer that the store will have what she needs.

In this case, it’s an opportunity for the paper store to show how well it understands its customer and demonstrate its skill in talking to her. Important in our scenario is the fact that the shopper has children; after all, that’s why she needs construction paper. Chances are while she’s in the store she’ll also consider picking up glue, glitter, and a packet of multi-colored pipe cleaners. Had she needed the paper for a 9 am brainstorm, the list might have been different, substituting sticky notes for glitter and marker pens for glue. In this, circumstance trumps generational demographics—the woman could be 46 or 24; the need she has is connected to being a parent, not her age or gender.

Marketing to such a broad spectrum of customers requires an understanding of what the generations have in common—and a recognition that people cycle through stages based more on interest than on age (pdf page 12), according to research published in the Journal of Applied Business and Economics. This means that people “define themselves more by the activities they are involved in than by their age” and are guided primarily by their interests. Show your customers that you share their interests, and you can position yourself as the answer to their needs.

In the end, it all comes back to knowing your customer. The intersection of these factors—moments that matter, circumstance and demographics—has created a powerful filter for companies trying to reach new consumers and satisfy loyalists. Luckily, the shift to answering customers’ needs with a quick search offers marketers a wealth of data that can help navigate this complicated path. When it’s done well, a company can reach its target customer at exactly the moment its products are needed, which translates into sales. It’s one rule that will never change: To be a good marketer, you must know your consumers—and reach them when it counts.

Explore more retail insights from Synchrony.

This article was produced on behalf of Synchrony by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

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