Stop focusing on ‘Gen Z’: we’re missing the true audience challenge
Marketing’s focus only on the younger generations and their behaviours means we are missing the full picture of digital changes across all age groups.
The biggest media challenge is not the uprising of ‘Gen Z’. Digital behaviours are changing faster than ever across all groups.
Boomers hate Millennials hate Gen Z — we’ve all heard the cliches and the intergenerational bickering.
The truth is somewhat different.
We’re missing the real story
Outside of TikTok, it seems the generations have more in common than ever before, massively overlapping in attitudes and values.
But still, there’s only one story in marketing. Gen Z! What are they thinking! How do they want to engage? Do they like us? Are we still cool enough to talk to them?
At the same time, barely anything is written about those aged 30-45, 45+, 65+ — who are also changing their online behaviours rapidly and in ways that are just as interesting.
Let’s face it, these latter groups have more disposable income too.
The relentless focus on the youngest means we’re missing the real story. This isn’t a ‘plea to engage’ with older consumers. Just a look at some cold, hard facts about what we’re missing out on.
One divided internet…
For some of our campaigns, for example, we’re seeing 65% of the traffic coming from Google search in the over 60s bracket — double what we saw before 2020.
For those 55 and over, the internet is navigated via Google first (for 60% anyway) followed by Amazon (39%) then retailer websites (38%) and word of mouth (34%).
Meanwhile, over in the youngest cohorts, TikTok is the starting place for everything — and their search engine. While some in this bracket are avoiding the network (15%), over half are checking it multiple times a day, and the same number use it as their first place to search.
But this story about TikTok and search has been far more widely reported than the surge in Google traffic in the over-65s.
Google and Tiktok are sitting at opposite sides of a chasm — with both representing the main path through the internet for these cohorts.
The divergence means over 65s and under 30s are interacting with a different internet — one accessed via a straight search query, another which adds a very deep algorithm/behaviour layer onto this.
But it’s not inherently more valuable to reach those on TikTok.
Adapting your search strategies to make the most of the 65+ market too is an obvious, revenue generating move.
And, though we can’t deny the overall reach of Meta/Facebook — only a fifth of the UK digital population don’t use it and it is the leading social network by share of website visits in the UK.
However, its monthly consumption time — 15 hours — pales compared to Tik Tok’s 27.
But Facebook is now a place to reach older consumers — the number of users under 25 on Facebook continues to shrink. What once represented a 25% share now stands at just 10%.
We recently conducted a focus group with young audiences, a number of whom talked about the need to be on Facebook to ‘stay in touch with their parents’ as they headed to uni.
A more level pitch
In certain categories, like fashion, no matter how you search, it is translating into sales at equal levels across demographics. 77% of Gen Z have made online purchases in the last 12 months. 76% of 56-65 year olds have done so and for 65+ the figure is still 73%.
So three-quarters of all age groups are shopping for clothes online.
But, how much marketing spend is being spent on persuading the over 30s, 50s, 60s versus on the skint Gen Z?
How much time is being spent on understanding their communications preferences — not just social or influencers, but loyalty, experience and communication style.
In June this year research found that almost half (43%) of those in the 55+ age group would be uncomfortable with the use of AI in personalisation when aimed towards them and at purchasing decisions. A figure that might be lower than you’d expect — so 57% are basically OK with it.
Hardly digital luddites.
Returning attention span for the nation?
While TikTok is being blamed for trashing attention spans, we’re also noticing a return in popularity for long-form content consumption.
Nothing proves this so much as podcasts — a medium that has successfully reengaged a generation of readers which had previously closed their books — most notably Millennial men with college degrees and high annual household incomes. 60.5% of men listen to podcasts weekly, and 25-44 year olds account for 60% of all listening.
So while screens are driving short-form engagement; long-form screen-free podcasts are immensely popular for this middle age group.
For 18-24 year olds, just 12% listen weekly, and for 65+ it’s just 8.3%. Again, the demographics here are very, very far apart in their consumption patterns — but we’re only noticing the changes in the youngest.
Marketing blinkers are doing no one any favours
So while some of the clichés about younger consumers are true — yes, short-form video, TikTok etc is huge — it’s being used in ways it wasn’t designed for — search, rather than algorithm-based.
But focusing on how young people’s consumption patterns are changing is doing a disservice to every other age group, where we’re seeing similar divergences.
The deepening niches of behaviour in these channels is setting up a whole new set of challenges for planning.
It’s forcing a new focus, but also changing what we once thought of as digital mass media.
But it’s not all about TikTok — look too at the older generations and how they are switching their online behaviours and diverging from each other.
It’s true that we’re not all on the same internet any more, but the marketing focus on Gen Z means we have far less than half the picture.
Hannah Johnson is global executive director at Blue State.