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Gen X vs. Gen Y: Engaging generations in the digital landscape

Gen X vs. Gen Y: Engaging generations in the digital landscape Rachel Clayton

The digital world has undoubtedly become the most popular watering hole for consumers today. Audiences of all ages are spending more and more time on digital platforms and, as a result, marketers have followed. But pinning audiences down in the vast digital landscape can prove precarious, particularly because audiences vary in how, when, and why they go online.

This variance in digital engagement is particularly apparent in the patterns of two important purchasing-power generations: Gen X (those born between 1967 and 1981) and Gen Y (those born between 1982 and 1994). Both generations can be found abundantly online, but their behavior and motivations vary significantly. To successfully engage with consumers from each generation, marketers must understand these nuances, as they are critical factors to the development of any online campaign.

To better comprehend the intricacies of both generations and their digital behavior, we referenced the Simmons NHCS Spring 2016 study. We dug into key data points necessary for the development of any successful online campaign to see how each generation behaved online.

How: Understanding Gen X vs. Gen Y device use

In the digital landscape, advertising is not one-size-fits-all; each device produces different kinds of engagements. How one user uses a mobile device will differ from how they use a tablet or a laptop. Targeting Gen X and Gen Y, then, starts with understanding their use of devices. Gen Y, or Millennials, prefer smartphone use across the board. Gen Xers, on the other hand, gravitate towards tablet use, and are 26 percent more likely than the average adult, and 12 percent more likely than Gen Y to own a tablet device. This dichotomy between devices is likely a result of Gen X's higher household income, the median of which is greater by 12 percent.

This device-preference translates into valuable information on activity and engagement. For example, in the last 30 days, Gen Yers were more likely to use GPS systems on their smartphones, picture messaging, and video downloading or streaming as compared to the average adult (51 percent, 75 percent, and 122 percent, respectively) and Gen X (24 percent, 58 percent, and 122 percent, respectively). Gen X, conversely, was 31 percent more likely than the average adult and 37 percent more likely than Gen Y to use banking/financing apps on their tablet. They are also more likely to use news tablet apps and local information tablet apps than the average adult (38 percent and 17 percent, respectively) and Gen Y (50 percent and 26 percent, respectively).

When: Finding Gen X and Gen Y online

Device is only one portion of the equation in the task of successfully creating and engaging an audience. Understanding when consumers are online is key to creating a media plan that will effectively put your creative in front of a consumer when they are most likely to engage with it.

Like device use, Gen X and Gen Y vary in when they go online. During the week, Gen Y uses the internet at home at a higher volume than Gen X throughout the day with one exception, early morning (5-7 a.m.). At that time, Gen X is 23 percent more likely than the average adult to go online, and 8 percent more likely than Gen Y.

Gen Y is much more likely to be accessing the internet at home during the daytime (9 a.m.-4 p.m.), and particularly late at night (11 p.m.-2 a.m.), when they are 64 percent more likely than average adult to be online and 67 percent more likely than Gen X. Patterns for both generations are very similar at home on the weekends with two exceptions: Both generations access the internet at home at a higher rate during the daytime hours (9 a.m.-4 p.m.), and Gen Y accesses at a slight higher rate on weekends in the overnight hours (2-5 a.m.).

Where: Gen X vs. Gen Y digital activities

Last, but certainly not least, is understanding where these consumers go once they are online. As we saw from device preferences, this dictated how each generation accesses information. To really understand their online activities, though, we must look at the entirety of the digital landscape.

What we find is that both Gen X and Gen Y have particular uses for the digital landscape. Gen X is more likely to search for online travel information or make reservations, and research financial information. Gen Y, on the other hand, is more likely to search online for restaurant reviews or to make reservations, and more likely to buy and sell stock, bonds, and mutual funds online.

This also varies when it comes to entertainment. More of Gen X follow sports news online, and are 28 percent more likely than the average adult and 18 percent more likely than Gen Y to do so. Conversely, Gen Y is 70 percent more likely to play fantasy sports than the average adult, and 40 percent more likely than Gen X. Gen Y also has a higher rate of using online video, spanning movies, TV programs, and other video content.

These generational breakdowns stress the importance of knowing your audience and their digital behavior. Understanding consumers' online behavior should be a cornerstone for any digital engagement campaign, and can be the key to success or failure. As we see from comparing Gen X to Gen Y, while some consumer groups engage with the digital landscape at a high proportion, how, when, and where differ, and so must your digital campaign.

Rachel Clayton has been with CMG for over a decade, starting as a Research Analyst and climbing the ladder towards VP of Consumer Insights & Marketing, where she led the development of those two teams. In her current role as VP of Insights,...

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