• Alexa Boschini

Boomers, Millennials are more similar than you think

One group is just entering adulthood, establishing careers and starting families. The other is seeing their children leave the nest, and some are retiring.

One is fast becoming an influential consumer base; the other, according to data from Nielsen, still controls about 70% of disposable income.

Millennials and Baby Boomers certainly have their differences – different life stages, different experiences, different characteristics – and they appeal to marketers for different reasons. But they have their similarities, too. And while much coverage of generational dynamics pits Boomers and Millennials against one another in an “us versus them” sort of way, the two groups influence each other – and each other’s consumer behavior – more than some marketers may realize.

“Boomers and Millennials in general actually like each other,” said Marsha Everton, principal with Aimsights, a marketing consulting company specializing in Millennial and Baby Boomer behavior. “Boomers are the parents of the Millennials and they have a very different relationship than the Boomers had with their parents. They talk to each other a lot.”

Most studies estimate the Millennial population in the United States as somewhere between 75 million and 80 million depending on their definition of Millennial (commonly those born between 1980 and 2000 or 1977 and 1995). Home Accents Today research found that in 2015 there are about 72 million Boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964 (for more on the Baby Boomer generation, flip to page 46).

Here are a few consumer values that both generations share:

WORD OF MOUTH

With technology facilitating constant contact among people today, Aimsights research has found that word of mouth is as influential as ever. According to a report from eMarketer, 75% of Millennial internet users and 70% of Boomers rely on the input of friends and family when researching products and services.

“Any research I’ve ever done has shown that word-of-mouth marketing is the most important form of marketing,” Everton said. “Because of technology and the mobility of technology, word of mouth has become even more important. We call it word of mouth on steroids.”

Particularly for Boomers and Millennials with a parent-child relationship, Aimsights research says frequent conversation includes feedback on everything from major life decisions to products and brands.

Mitzi Beach, an interior designer and author of the book Boomer Smarts, Boomer Power, said she and her Millennial colleagues continually learn from each other, from her advising them to scope out garage or estate sales for unique finds to them telling her she could customize and buy eyeglasses online.

“We respect each other a great deal and we listen to each other,” Beach said. “We learn from each other. I think it’s such a win-win to be in each other’s lives and break down that ‘I can’t relate to her because she’s old’ mentality.”

TECHNOLOGY

Though Millennials are often considered the most tech-savvy generation, many Boomers are embracing new technologies. Aimsights refers to Millennials as “digital natives” and Boomers as “digital immigrants,” with about two-thirds of Boomers eager to learn about the evolving technological world from younger generations.

“Boomers are not quite as mobile savvy as Millennials, but they’re clearly learning from the Millennials,” Everton said. “The adoption curve is a little bit behind the Millennials, but they’re moving there too.”

Beach said the assumption that Boomers won’t use social media is a misconception. “My kids are Generation X and I’ve been into social media for maybe five years now, and they’re still like ‘Whoa Mom, you’re doing great,’” she said. “But it’s wrong to have that image and not see the adventure… The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is females over 60.”

According to the eMarketer report, many Boomers now conduct online research before making purchase decisions, and an Accenture study found that 41% of Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials have practiced showrooming, or comparison shopping between a retail store and the web for the best price. But a study from The NPD Group found that, like Boomers, the majority of Millennials’ retail spending takes place in brick-and-mortar stores.

SUSTAINABILITY

In her experience, Beach said both Boomers and Millennials care a great deal about the environment. A Boston Consulting Group study divides Millennials into six segments, including one driven by causes and green living, and Beach cited Boomers as the initiators of the green movement in the 1960s.

But because of economic constraints, Beach said Millennials are still more driven by cost when it comes to larger purchases like a sofa.

“We call it a throwaway sofa,” she said. “It’s good for a little bit and then it falls apart, and those go in the landfill. That’s not good for the environment. How do we work to help each other attain the same goals for the environment? (Millennials) say they’re very sustainable and conscious about that, but then in buying it often doesn’t translate. I understand economics are economics but we have to help each other learn how we can overcome and do things that are sustainable.”

INDIVIDUALITY

Beach said Boomers and Millennials are both drawn to products that reflect their individual tastes. A recent webinar from Google and Raleigh, N.C.-based digital marketing firm Netsertive (covered in last month’s Millennial Musings column) emphasized that Millennials value experiences over possessions, and encouraged businesses to frame their marketing around how their products fit into those experiences.

“That’s how the Millennials and Boomers are alike,” Beach said. “They’re into the experience, and they want quality over quantity.”

She said both generations also love unique products with interesting back stories, and they want to know who made the product, where it’s from and what makes it original.

“Storytelling has always been the way that people best remember something that you’re trying to share with them, so it’s a big driver for word of mouth marketing,” Everton said. “It appeals to all the generations and gives them something to talk about.”

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