Is Marketing to Millennials Making Us Miss the Obvious?

My fellow Gen Xers and I are growing older with each passing day. And aging right along with us are two of the most talked about cohorts – millennials and Generation Z. If you work in marketing, you can’t go a day without hearing about them. After all, they currently make up over 40% of the U.S. population. And we all know their narrative. In addition to wielding lots of spending power, they’re unique and perplexing. They’re enigmas. They’re changing retail.

Maybe these characteristics are true, or maybe they’re just half-truths. Either way, these groups are much more than that. Dare I say it, they’re people.

Here’s a radical theory for you. Maybe generational differences don’t matter quite as much as we make them out to. As marketers, it would be foolish of us to ignore the unique characteristics of our consumer base. But some retailers focus so much on catering to certain generational cohorts that they ignore the common desires of all consumers, regardless of generation.

No consumer wants a bad experience. Doesn’t everyone want to receive their purchased products sooner than later? Wouldn’t everyone choose a more convenient shopping experience over an inconvenient one? Wouldn’t everyone prefer assistance from a friendly store associate rather than a rude one? Doesn’t everyone want to pay less, not more?

At the end of the day, consumers today want the same thing they’ve always wanted: a good experience. They want good customer service. They want a pleasant shopping experience. They want good value – a good product at a fair price. Of course, the term “fair” is relative. It doesn’t always mean cheapest but is based instead on all aspects of the product and buying process, such as overall quality, return policies, shipping speed and customer service, to name a few.

It’s up to the retailer to understand these basic consumer needs. Sure, you can focus on sending a mobile-optimized email, have a great social media presence and provide a frictionless checkout, but if your product breaks easily, can’t be returned and you can’t contact customer service except through a web form, the overall experience is still a poor one. And the customer won’t come back to buy again, no matter how many products were donated to the less fortunate thanks to that order. Amazon didn’t wait for millennials to tell them to provide a convenient shopping experience. They simply gave it to them.

Try improving all aspects of your business, regardless of the generational cohort you’re targeting. Make your email marketing as relevant, timely and mobile-optimized as possible. Streamline your website experience, have an engaged social media presence, create customer-centric shipping and return policies and offer exceptional customer service. Without these fundamental building blocks, meeting the expectations of today’s consumers will be next to impossible.

Now, I’m not saying these generations don’t have their differences. Of course they do. Gen Z are digital natives. Sending them an email that’s not optimized for mobile and asking them to print a copy of it to redeem a coupon in-store isn’t an effective strategy. And failing to provide friendly, convenient customer service, whether it be live chat or in-store associates, isn’t going to win over your millennial customer base.

But while each group has its own unique behaviors and preferences, the underlying principle is constant. Choosing to cater to those differences instead of improving the experience for all customers is a faulty strategy for retailers today.

Maybe it’s time to talk a little less about millennials and Generation Z and spend a little more time talking about people. After all, happy customers are happy people. And happy people are your best brand advocates.

Greg Zakowicz is Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Bronto Software

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