Marketing by Generation: Ageless Approach to Reaching Prospects

Gen X, Gen Y, Baby Boomers, oh my! Why knowing the difference can make all the difference.

According to a 2010 study by the Nielsen group, “Mining the U.S. Generation Gaps,” there are fundamental differences in the shopping habits of different generations. While Boomers increased their Twitter use by 469 percent in 2009 and tend to spend a large portion of their time casually shopping online, Gen X is more strapped for time and needs quick-hit messages, albeit ones that are still delivered online. While an email might grab a senior’s attention, a Millennial (also known as a member of Gen Y) might respond better to an ad they see on Hulu or YouTube.

So how can you take advantage of these differences in habit? By defining your niche, changing your language and using the right technology.

Define your niche

Changing your marketing strategy based on the generation on which you’re focusing can help your results tremendously. But Sarah Cochran, director of marketing with American National Insurance, said that marketers and agents need to take that mindset one step further and consider the particular subset within the age group they’re targeting. This will help you refine your strategy when it comes to developing a marketing campaign.

“Just thinking about Baby Boomers or seniors is not enough,” Cochran said. “Maybe you want to focus on seniors that live in an active living community, or seniors that have grandchildren, different groups like that. Thinking about generations is a great starting point, but you definitely need to narrow it down from there.”

When Maureen Ross O’Connell and Kevin Ross, both of the Ross Insurance Agency in Holyoke, MA, decided to focus on Internet marketing, they researched trends to see who was shopping online. They found that the most effective prospect for their efforts would be what they call the “modern consumer” — someone who conducts most of their research and transactions on the Web.

 “What started us with all this Internet marketing is that we wanted to target the younger generation, the younger crowd,” Ross said. “However, as time has gone by and our research has developed, we’ve found out that it’s not just the younger generation that’s shopping on the Internet. We are missing out on those 60 and above who aren’t really latching on to the online shopping, but we’re OK with that.”Speak their languageOne of the most important things to consider when marketing your practice is the language you use. Whether you’re talking on the phone or creating ad copy, the customer needs to understand what you’re bringing to the table.Nicholas Kinports, head of digital strategy at lonelybrand, an online marketing firm, said using the right language is especially important in the insurance industry because so many of the concepts are complicated and agents often deal with clients of all ages. By varying your approach according to the age group you want to communicate with, you can increase the effectiveness of your efforts.

“Younger prospects respond best to a communication of value, something that’s really straightforward,” Kinports said. ”What motivates them is value today, making life easier right now. It’s important to focus on the immediate value.”

Kinports added that striking a conversational tone and cutting out industry jargon will help agents trying to market to younger prospects, who generally aren’t as comfortable or familiar with insurance terminology.
“With the older generations, they better understand the longevity of insurance products,” Kinports said, “so there’s a lot less convincing that needs to be done around the idea of protection.”

Cochran said that older generations are more motivated by nostalgia than younger generations, meaning that they may stick with a company longer out of loyalty, or because their parents were once with that company. Younger generations don’t share that motivation.

And although all generations expect great customer service, Cochran said, older generations expect consistent, constant communication to come to them, while younger generations are more likely to reach out to companies, typically online, if they’re interested.

Leverage technology

No matter which generation you’re targeting, you can use technology to help your marketing efforts. Younger generations — Gen X and Millennials — are particularly receptive to marketing through technological means.

“With the younger age groups, there’s definitely a great need for availability and convenience,” Cochran said. “They prefer interactive platforms. Technology is fully integrated into their everyday activities, so anytime you can utilize that is helpful. Any way that you can be interactive or make it so they can grab information themselves, the better off you’ll be.”

Kinports agreed, noting that social media can be particularly effective when trying to open communication with young prospects.

“Gen Y is already communicating with brands,” he said. “When a younger person can go online and communicate with the person behind the product or service, that’s what stimulates a purchase decision.”
But digital marketing can be effective for older generations, too — as long as the approach is correct.
“Their interest lies more with networking with family members and close friends rather than meeting new people,” Kinports said. “They’re not really interested in customer service digitally. There are many, many very tech-savvy Gen Xers and Boomers, and the latest stats from Facebook show that they are there. They participate, just not necessarily in ways helpful to brands looking to market in that space.”

The Ross Insurance Agency combined email marketing and phone calls to update their cold-calling efforts in an age where prospects rarely pick up calls from unfamiliar numbers.“We identified some niche markets that we have great programs for and great pricing for,” O’Connell said. “We did the manual labor to put together email lists that we could solicit. We were very successful when we put together our own lists versus purchasing lists. After a short time of the email communications, we followed up on the phone.”Ross added that the agency carefully monitored the analytics on the emails and responded quickest to the prospects who opened the most emails.Whether you’re targeting Gen Y or Baby Boomers, Millennials or seniors, one thing is certain — marketing is not a one-size-fits-all process. By altering your language and choosing the right technological outlet for your chosen niche, you can succeed in your generational marketing efforts. And as Kinports noted, those who are willing to innovate and try new marketing styles will be the most prosperous.

“There is a great opportunity right now for the insurance industry to innovate and update communications,” he said. “It’s an open field, and no one’s really winning right now.”  «

Heather Trese is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Agent’s Sales Journal. She has been covering insurance industry topics for a number of years.

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