Digital Marketing & Campaigns

Connecting beyond demographics: the power of personalized marketing

Written by Pim van Helten on 3, Apth 2024

Marketers were once told to forget Millennials and focus on Gen Z. Fast forward, they were told to forget Gen Z to make room for the next wave, Gen Alpha. While chasing the future, brands too often develop a funnel vision. In the race to stay relevant, they scramble to appeal to younger generations, often neglecting older customers in the process.

Of course, figuring out what customers think and how they behave has always been at the heart of marketing. But in this age-obsessed frenzy, are we missing the bigger picture?

Just because the next generation is the shiniest, newest, and most digitally native customer, it doesn't mean they're the only path to drive revenue success. 

It probably will come as a surprise, GWI’s customer trends study reveals that older customers are spending more time on social media and buying new products online each week. The way Boomers use social media and browse e-commerce sites is changing, challenging ageist stereotypes depicting older audiences as technophobic and frail. 

Yet, despite customers over 50 holding 70% of disposable income in the US and spending over $548 billion a year, only 5 - 10% of marketing budgets go toward winning them over. Even at that, ads geared toward older audiences often miss the mark, coming across as condescending at best, and offensive at worst. 

Generations are not monoliths

When talking about the influence of different generations, it’s easy to make sweeping generalizations. But generations are not monoliths. There's more diversity within generations than between them. So why do we keep trying to shove everyone into these neat little boxes? It’s almost like the demographics we’ve created are hindering our ability to truly connect with our customers on a deeper level.

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The way I see it, this can be a distraction. While age certainly plays a role in shaping attitudes and preferences, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the be-all and end-all of customer behavior. 

As Kim Parker, Director of Social Trends Research at Pew Research Center, a pioneer in generational research, puts it

“The question isn’t whether young adults today are different from middle-aged or older adults today. The question is whether young adults today are different from young adults at some specific point in the past […] As many critics of generational research point out, there is a great diversity of thought, experience, and behavior within generations […] By choosing not to use the standard generational labels when they’re not appropriate, we can avoid reinforcing harmful stereotypes or oversimplifying people’s complex lived experiences.”

True customer insights go deeper than age brackets

Factors such as ethnicity, socio-economic status, geographic location, and life stage can have a significant impact on how individuals perceive and interact with brands. Ignoring these nuances in favor of a one-size-fits-all generational approach can result in missed opportunities and failed campaigns. 

Many marketers rush to tailor their strategies to fit the perceived traits and desires of generations. Yet, in their haste, they risk oversimplifying and even misjudging the complexities of these generations.

Throwing out a generic "Gen [...] loves..." campaign is not only inauthentic, it runs the risk of building strategies on shaky foundations. The stereotype of Millennials as idealists? Not everyone identifies. The Gen X slacker narrative? Doesn't tell the whole story.

Generalizing an entire generation based on age is a recipe for marketing messages that land with a thud. To build strong connections and impactful marketing strategies, it's essential to go beyond demographics and understand the evolving beliefs, values, and goals of your audience. 

When your messaging isn’t directly relevant to your customer’s life at that moment, they’ll tune out. If you don’t understand your customer, you can’t deliver the right content exactly when they need it and in a way that speaks to them. What good is a marketing message that says “since you’re over 60, here are offers for assisted living,” when that person has their heart set on traveling the world? 

The importance of data-driven creativity and what it means for marketers


The impact of personalized marketing

What will continue to set great marketing apart is the creativity, deep insights, and strategic thinking driving it. It’s about innovative ideas, powerful narratives, and meaningful connections. 

When tapping into audiences, brands should shake off the dusty old assumptions and stereotypes, and instead appeal to their interests and values. Today’s brands earn loyalty by delivering personalization across the customer lifecycle.

The leading force in species conservation and nature restoration, Diergaarde Blijdorp, also known as Rotterdam Zoo, is all about that human, personal, and intentional approach, offering visitors personalized experiences that cater to their unique interests. We’ve been lucky enough to work with the Blijdorp team to bring their new purpose-driven mission to life.

From tailor-made educational programs focusing on specific animals or habitats to interactive tours showcasing conservation efforts, Blijdorp ensures that every visitor feels a special connection. This commitment to personalization not only elevates the visitor experience but also deepens the visitor’s bond with nature and Blijdorp's conservation mission.

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Breaking the mold

Let’s ditch the marketing hat for a moment and spend some time thinking like customers. Now is the time to move beyond age and embrace a future where authenticity, relevance, and personalization take the throne. 

Effective marketing speaks to the person, not just the age bracket. So, instead of getting caught up in the hype, let's focus on what really matters – connecting with customers on a personal level. Forget the labels and stereotypes. It's time to get real and start treating them like the unique individuals they are. That's how you build meaningful and long-standing relationships.

Pim van Helten

Pim van Helten


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