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Millennials and Beyond: How to Market to Different Generations Online

While millennial consumers may be getting all the attention these days, don't count Generation X and the baby boomers out of the game just yet. Although millennials surpass the other two generations in sheer numbers, Generation X controls 31 percent of income in the U.S., and baby boomers have more disposable income than either of the other two demographics. Each generation has value as customers, but there are some important differences in how you should market to them if you want to succeed. Here's what you need to know.

Millennials (Born 1982-2000)

When marketing to millennial consumers, the key words to know are mobile and social. One-fourth of millennials check their phones more than 100 times a day; the same percentage spend an average of five hours a day on their phones. No wonder millennials are more likely than other age groups to use their mobile devices as shopping tools.

What to do: Mobile marketing campaigns that reach out to them based on their geographic location, or text messaging mobile coupons and discount offers, are highly effective for millennials.

What influences millennials the most when it comes to purchasing decisions? Without question, it's other people's opinions. Some 73 percent of millennials consult others or read online ratings or reviews before making a purchase. Online influencers or distant social media connections can be as persuasive as close friends. In fact, millennials are 247 percent more likely than other demographics to say social media influences what they buy.

What to do: Don't try to influence millennials with a heavy sales message on social media. They hate a “hard sell.” Instead, engage them in conversation and post content that's entertaining, shareable and informative. Facebook and Instagram are top social sites for millennial consumers. Create a consistent, authentic presence and look for ways to encourage user-generated content.

Generation X (Born 1965 – 1981)

Email is key for reaching Generation X; people in this age group check their email regularly, unlike some members of the millennial and boomer generations. Most Xers are also on social media, with Facebook being the most popular social network. Surprisingly, Generation X consumers love online video even more than social networking. Nearly eight in 10 regularly watch online video.

What to do: Reach out to this generation with personalized emails customized based on  their prior behavior, past purchases and online interests. Test different subject lines and offers to see which resonate best. Create short videos for your website and social media. Set up your own YouTube channel (it's easy to do) and post your videos there, too.

Baby boomers (Born 1946 – 1964)

Some 85 percent of online baby boomers also purchase products online. To reach this age group, focus on your website and use content marketing. Baby boomers spend more time consuming online content than millennials or Gen X, and regularly research products online before they buy.

What to do: Create content, such as blog posts, how-to videos or infographics, that answers questions baby boomers may have about your product or service. Run online ads on websites they frequent — for baby boomers, this includes news and weather sites, couponing sites, food-related sites and online games. Boomers primarily use Facebook for social media and enhancing your social presence with Facebook advertising can be very effective for this crowd.

Make sure your business website is simple to navigate, visually appealing and readable for aging eyes. It should also display well on tablets (boomers are the age group most likely to use these mobile devices). Include links back to your website in all of your online advertising, content marketing and social media posts.

By taking a little time to understand the way that different generations research, shop and buy online, you will be better positioned to capture your ideal customer.