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Are we overcomplicating generational differences? Gen Alpha aren’t a different species!

While spending advertising money to get instant returns is important, brand building and lifetime value are also critical considerations. As a result, marketers are under pressure to reach the next generation of consumers, Gen Alpha, before they’ve even finished school. While also ensuring they engage with the current hottest consumer groups Gen Z and Millenials.

Gen Alpha are officially tweens, meaning there is a lot of brand credit available to store up. They still have the most significant life stages to come – first car, first job, first child for example, and catching these consumers on the brink of a life event is a critical time for brands to connect with them and forge long-lasting relationships during all phases of their lives.

Generational stereotyping is a dangerous strategy

There’s a lot of conversation regarding marketing to younger generations. A recent report claimed, “Gen Z and millennials are two generations brands need to be increasingly clever to reach”. Much of this comes down to the danger of lumping a large cohort into a homogenous group, which leads to stereotyping.

It’s fair to say that, generally, younger audiences get a negative spin in the press. They aren’t brand loyal, untrustworthy, have limited attention spans, and they’d sell their soul for a pair of Gucci X Adidas trainers, a new Fortnite skin or a fashion NFT. Stereotyping such as this, or “other” thinking, has given rise to the idea that these generations are wary of everything – the wrong look will inevitably result in cancellation.

If marketers struggle to connect with younger generations, it may be because they place too high a focus on generational differences.

However, our research has found that maturity patterns – beliefs, wealth, and approach to life milestones – are the same across generations. So while we must be aware that this generation is a product of their environment (i.e. being the first generation to be surrounded by and immersed in technology from the off), acting on assumptions about this audience will not make for the best strategy.

As marketers, we shouldn’t let uncertainty over this generation cloud our judgement. Instead, it’s all about a strategic refocusing on what matters and, as with any brand comms, an in-depth understanding of your audience – based on data, not assumptions.

Technology matters – if it’s appropriate!

Gen Alpha has never known a world without smartphones. Screens are their gateway to content, information, and connection. In other words, these are a technologically savvy and socially-connected bunch. However, engaging younger audiences too often morphs into a conversation around digital engagement, omitting other means of reaching them.

Gen Alpha often relishes the ‘real-world’ more than their older siblings. For example, a 2022 GWI report found UK children say they are just as likely to see their friends than talk to them online at weekends. And while these generations expect their brands to be easily consumable and digestible, this shouldn’t be the prime driver of a product or campaign. Technology should facilitate the experience and be part of the whole brand world. That means not forgetting the physical – if technology isn’t centre stage, that’s OK for Gen Alpha, especially if it feels inauthentic to what is being delivered.

Gen Alpha are socially conscious – but that’s not exclusive

Gen Alpha and Gen Z are associated with being exceptionally socially conscious. A growing awareness of the environmental impact of human activity drives this trend. 80% of Gen Alpha parents say their children have influenced their actions or consumption decisions, making them more environmentally aware.

However, it’s often assumed that ‘green’ marketing is only fit for reaching a younger audience, which is simply not true. A recent IPSOS Issues Index found that only 4% of 18-34s listed climate change as the most important issue Britain faces today, compared to 12% of those aged 35-54 and 55+. As a brand, it’s essential to consider that ‘purpose’ goes beyond simply reaching one demographic. Moreover, it could be a damaging assumption – if older generations continue to get the message they don’t care, it could become self-fulfilling.

Young and old are more closely aligned when it comes to sustainability than we have been led to believe. Primarily, no one likes a gimmick – and it’ll be more efficient for a brand to focus on making genuine and authentic change – from core values to operations – across the board.

So, how to move forward?

If marketers struggle to connect with younger generations, it may be because they place too high a focus on generational differences. This only leads to a fixation on perceptions and stereotypes that may not exist – a sure route to failure.

Moreover, while it’s utterly understandable that age-based demographics make sense as a starting point at the beginning of the campaign, work should not end there. For example, according to Kantar, segmenting audiences by life experiences and behaviour could improve campaign targeting efficiency by up to four times.

Ultimately, building a strategy and plan to reach Gen Alpha and Gen Z isn’t that different from reaching other audiences because it should always start with smart data and research insights. These data points are the only things that marketers should rely on for an honest take. This shouldn’t be news, so why do we talk so much about how to reach younger audiences?

A 13-year-old isn’t just an avatar in the metaverse, in the same way, that a 48-year-old isn’t only scrolling Facebook. Individuals have a series of ebbing and flowing motivations and drivers. It’s our job as marketers to understand those needs, and from A-Z (or anything in between), that doesn’t change. Don’t overcomplicate it.

Article originally published in Creativebrief.

Monica Majumdar
Head of Strategy

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