Marketing beyond Gen Z: Why brands need a wider view

HP Symbol
01 Gen Z Hero Image

Gen Z’ers aren’t the GOAT!

Brands have developed a fixation on capturing the Gen Z market, often overlooking the diversity of other audiences. Too many briefs are generically focused on the assumption that winning over Gen Z is the sole path to success. If the question is ‘how do we drive brand growth?’, then all too often the answer seems to be ‘let’s target Gen Z’.

It represents a poor brief and lack of clarity of what brands are trying to achieve. Even if we take the label of a ‘Gen Z’ consumer – it somewhat misses the mark. ‘Gen Z’ is a catch-all term that represents a diverse audience with different needs. However, it turns out not all younger audiences are the same – no surprises there!

Critical to drive brand growth is to broaden your perspectives to realise that Gen Z isn’t a generational silver bullet; in fact we can see that the older age cohorts have huge potential – both in terms of spending power and brand loyalty. Ignore them at your peril.

By zagging when others zig, brands can build relevance and respect among consumers of all ages
By zagging when others zig, brands can build relevance and respect among consumers of all ages
Kurt Stuhllemmer

European Partner, Hall & Partners

Gen Z is more than just a #

There has been plenty of commentary regarding our emerging youth-obsessed culture. This fascination with youthfulnessruns deep across many categories and is evident in many brands’ advertising.

In fact, with over 70% of today’s marketers being under the age of 45 (49% under 35), there’s an argument to be made that a subconscious confirmation bias could risk creating, and reaffirming, this cycle and continue to place youth on a pedestal.

02 Data Viz Marketers age

Brands across industries have been quick to adapt their marketing efforts to cater to the preferences and behaviours of this younger demographic by leveraging social media platforms, influencer partnerships, and digital experiences to engage with younger consumers effectively.

The focus on younger generations, particularly Gen Z, in marketing strategies has been prominent in recent years. This is understandable, given their increasing purchasing power and influence, but the question remains – is this the right strategy to drive growth for brands long term?

In today's world, where inclusion and diversity are more crucial than ever for success, this emphasis on youth seems somewhat misplaced.We also know that, according to Byron Sharp, the role of mass appeal and saliency are proven growth levers for brands. Surely this means these briefs and this thinking are fundamentally flawed.

Brands must avoid reminders of aging in a youth-obsessed world. By understanding and catering to older consumers' desire to stay young, brands can profit from a growing market
Brands must avoid reminders of aging in a youth-obsessed world. By understanding and catering to older consumers' desire to stay young, brands can profit from a growing market
Suzanne Carbonell,

US Partner, Hall & Partners

03 A Gen Z are all the same copy 2

Gen Z are all the same, right?

Even within the Gen Z demographic, many brands are ignoring its wide diversity, from varying income levels and employment statuses to distinct beliefs and interests. Are Gen Z all the same? The answer is no. So why is this happening more and more and what’s fuelling this, at best lazy, at worst misguided approach to growth planning? Smart marketers are asking questions not just for Gen Z, but across generations and this is setting apart the brands that have realistic plans for growth versus the ones that are drinking the Gen Z Kool-Aid.

Relying purely on an age cohort is a risky strategy. It is too simplistic and tends to create inaccurate assumptions and stereotypes.

Brands must tailor their marketing efforts to resonate with older consumers. This entails prioritising authenticity, relevance, and inclusivity in messaging and brand representation
Brands must tailor their marketing efforts to resonate with older consumers. This entails prioritising authenticity, relevance, and inclusivity in messaging and brand representation
Kurt Stuhllemmer

European Partner, Hall & Partners

Inclusive, ageless, marketing

Brands need to closely monitor and adapt to the evolving landscape of consumers beyond a simple ‘age group’; moving away from demographic opportunities to market opportunities. An era of a more ageless approach is upon us. For example, there is a wealth of potential within other demographics that often goes untapped. Brands must stop thinking about older consumers as an afterthought. The Gen Z obsession is a dangerous game to play for brand growth as it narrows your focus and ignores increasingly valuable and loyal consumer audiences. Recently Harvard Business Review highlighted a call for brands to adopt an intergenerational approach to marketing , encouraging marketers to emphasise common values across different age groups and build ‘post-generational’ brands.

04 Inclusive ageless marketing

This approach requires moving beyond traditional marketing strategies focused predominantly on younger consumers and instead, create messages, products and services that resonate across a broader age range.

As the global population ages, the Gen Z demographic pool is naturally getting smaller. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the proportion of people aged 60 and older is expected to double by 2050, therefore, engaging, and not excluding, older consumers has never been more important. Not only does it expand a brand's reach but also enriches its understanding of the diverse consumer base, ultimately contributing to more inclusive and successful marketing campaigns.

By acknowledging and including the needs, preferences, and spending power of older consumers, brands can unlock new avenues for growth and loyalty.

Follow the money!

There are compelling reasons for marketers to shift their attention to include older consumers to fuel brand growth. Converting and retaining them is notably more compelling for a couple of significant reasons – purchasing power and brand loyalty.

Purchasing power

Older demographics, including Baby Boomers and GenX, possess substantial purchasing power and greater disposable income. Ignoring this demographic, or focussing campaign efforts solely on Gen Z, means missing out on a significant portion of consumer spending. It’s important that brands don’t forget where the money is.

Our research indicates that in the UK, a substantial number of older consumers, roughly 30% of those aged 30-50-years, have a disposable income exceeding £1,000 per month. This is double the spending power of the 16-29-years age group, where only around 15% have the same financial freedom.

05 Data Viz Purchasing Power

In the US, the scenario mirrors this trend albeit less pronounced. Within an average month, more than half of consumers aged 30+ years (51%) boast a disposable income exceeding $250, surpassing that of Gen Z’s 43%. While 57% of Gen Z have less than $250, compared to 49% of over 30s.

Brand loyalty

Several studies, including those by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Harvard Business Review, show that older consumers exhibit higher levels of brand loyalty compared to younger age groups once they find products or services that meet their needs and preferences. A recent survey by Hall & Partners found that two-thirds (66%) of US consumers aged over-30 years consistently purchase the same brands, demonstrating strong brand loyalty. In contrast, this loyalty is seen in just 55% of younger Gen Z consumers who say they always or mostly buy the same brands.

06 Data Viz Loyalty

Furthermore, our research shows that older consumers tend to prefer brands that they know. A greater percentage of over 30-year-olds in the US (70% vs. 63% Gen Z) express a preference for remaining loyal to familiar brands over trying new ones they haven't previously considered.

Over 30s show a 40% preference gap favouring familiar brands over unknown ones, while for Gen Z, this gap narrows to just 25%, revealing that older consumers are twice as likely to stick with familiar brands, while Gen Z embraces the new. This further highlights the intriguing differences in brand loyalty across different generations.

Older consumers are not only able to afford a wider range of products and services but are also more likely to stay loyal to the brands they know and love. This allows them to make purchasing decisions with less hesitation, especially when it comes to brands that align with their values and needs. Their loyalty stems from a combination of their experiences, satisfaction with past purchases, and a tendency to value consistency and reliability in the products they use.

Language and imagery that is respectful, inclusive, and devoid of age-related stereotypes is key to building meaningful connections
Language and imagery that is respectful, inclusive, and devoid of age-related stereotypes is key to building meaningful connections
Suzanne Carbonell,

US Partner, Hall & Partners

07 Re thinking loyalty

Re-thinking loyalty

While some theories hold that early brand connections can cement lifelong loyalty, reality presents a more layered picture. The notion that initial engagement with young consumers ensures lasting loyalty doesn't fully consider how life's changes alter needs and priorities. An 18-year-old's worldview can differ vastly from those aged 30-50 and this view will likely change over time for the same individual as they age, challenging the focus on Gen Z as the sole key to long-term brand success.

Of course, there are moments of trial as shown in our research, more prevalent for a younger consumer, but the idea that you can just focus here and ignoring the nuance of audiences is too narrow and single minded. As ever, growth comes from a detailed understanding of your customers and prospects and not defining them by the age cohort alone. Broaden your focus, gain deeper understanding and make sure you aren’t alienating consumers that may help drive commercial growth with strong lifetime value. Switch the focus from Gen Z to intergenerational understanding.

As people mature, their lives, desires, and financial situations shift, making their younger selves' preferences less relevant. This evolution highlights the need for brands to not just engage young audiences but to also evolve with consumers, offering products and services that cater to their changing lives. A marketing strategy that spans various age groups with appropriate and evolving content is essential for shaping lasting connections and achieving cross-generational brand loyalty.

Key takeaways for marketers:

  • Don't obsess over Gen Z – You don’t have to sell to Gen Z to win! While Gen Z garners significant attention, winning strategies recognise that growth opportunities extend beyond this demographic. Identifying and understanding the needs of diverse consumer groups is paramount. Think intergenerational.
  • Generational gains – Some of the greatest opportunities may lie with older demographics, whose purchasing power and loyalty often surpass those of younger counterparts. Acknowledging this reality can lead to more targeted and effective marketing efforts. Don’t leave money on the table.
  • Challenge the status-quo - In a culture where youth is often glorified in marketing and advertising, brands have a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves by breaking the mould and defying conventions. By taking a path less travelled, they can cultivate relevance and earn respect across diverse age groups. Zig whilst others Zag
  • Question the brief - When planning your next marketing strategy, look more closely at your brief to your agency or insights team and ask, where is the source of future growth? Humanise relationships, treat people as individuals, look to understanding mindset and aspirations, rather than fixating on the age, and you will have richer, more meaningful ways to connect people, brands and culture. Change the conversation.
  • Age ain’t nothing but a number – What values, needs or moments unify my targets as often age cohorts aren’t representative of the glue that bonds tribes of consumers together and generational lines blur. Brands can build relevance and respect among consumers of all ages. Be an ageless brand.

While Gen Z focus undoubtedly comes from a good place, marketers must adopt a more holistic ageless approach that acknowledges the diverse needs and behaviours of consumers across all age groups. By embracing the realities of consumer attitudes and behaviours being driven by more than just our age, brands can develop strategies that resonate with a broader audience and drive sustainable growth in the long term.

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