Think about that this way: If you were trying to pitch a product idea or marketing campaign to your grandma, would you frame that pitch the same way you would when pitching your best friend, who also happens to be a peer? Would you word things differently when talking with your 30-year-old daughter? What about your summer intern, who’s a junior in college? Those are pretty much rhetorical questions—of course your messaging would be different! And the same is true of the user experiences you would endeavor to create for this disparate customer base, right?
Understanding the generational path to purchase, and the nuances involved there, boils down to a few simple things: Knowing your audience, giving them what they want or need, understanding their unique preferences, and speaking to them in a language they understand and offering a value proposition in a way that might compel an action, and making that action simple, yet effective.
The B2B Struggle with Digital Transformation
When moving from an analog corporate mindset to embracing digital transformation, B2B marketers often struggle. They are marketing to increasingly younger and/or increasingly tech-savvy buyers, who also come into the buying process incredibly well-informed. The traditional sales-led process has transformed to a marketing-led one, and a marketer’s job is to understand every facet of the customer path to purchase. That means anticipating customer needs, understanding the way they find information on products or services they need, and the channels and resources they use to do that, and crafting messaging that appeals to them and which draws them in and, once there, a user experience that satisfies.
Just what does that look like for the varying generations of consumers, and what role does digital play in all this? Take a look at Figure 1 below that gives an overall glimpse of generational screen preferences:
Marketing to Millennials
Research by MillwardBrown Digital found that Millennials—i.e., those ages 18-34—live and breathe all things mobile and most things digital. This shouldn’t be new news for anyone, right? The largest generation in the U.S. labor force, Millennials do, or will, no doubt have an impact on your business—no matter what business you’re in. And GenY, coming right behind them, will have its own impact.
As you market to this group, a focus on mobility is key. This is a cohort that is comfortable shopping from mobile devices—23 percent, for example, say they shop on a smartphone at least once per week—and they strongly prefer using mobile devices for tasks that take less than five minutes. For marketers, this means that creating omnichannel experiences for customers that are efficient and easy to use is a fundamental component of any marketing strategy.
Also note that Millennials consume less television than older generations, likely because digital entertainment is available on demand across a variety of devices, so serving up rich media content that is accessible to this audience in the channels where they spend time is also important.
Figure 2 below illustrates the Millennial path to purchase across different devices. Knowing how this target group prefers to engage with your industry is essential as you work to craft and deliver messaging. Notice that while smartphones worked well for some sectors, many Millennial consumers turn to traditional laptops or PCs when shopping for things like financial services or consumer electronics. It bears repeating that in your digital transformation journey, you can’t focus on creating omnichannel experiences enough—no matter what you sell.
Marketing to Gen X
Research shows that consumers ages 35-50, a/k/a Gen X, embrace a combination of entertainment formats and digital devices. Trust me, this age group is every bit as digitally savvy as Millennials, we just don’t talk about them as much. They’re also more apt to shop online using a tablet than a smartphone and are generally just as likely as Boomers to still watch cable television. Gen Xers definitely still use their laptops and PCs, especially for tasks like visiting news websites or lifestyle blogs. Figure 3 below shows the Gen Xers path to purchase across different devices, where you’ll notice the trend of favoring more traditional devices is perpetuated.
Marketing to Boomers
Research shows that Boomers—i.e., those 51-69—are unfailingly laptop-centric, yet relatively open to mobile and alternative entertainment channels. This is interesting, as the Boomers that I know are tremendously tech savvy and rely as much on mobile devices as any Millennial I know. The Milward Brown study reported that thirty-one percent of Boomers participating indicated they shop online at least once per week, and 58 percent reporting they either own or have access to a tablet. Again, those numbers sound low to me, what about you? When deciding what device to use, Boomers report placing high value in technologies that keep their login information and feature a large screen size. They use smartphones—largely for simple tasks such as playing games, checking email, social nets, the weather, or doing a quick bit of product research. As you’ll see from Figure 4 below, Boomers prefer laptops above all other devices on their purchasing path.
Where Do We Go Next on our Digital Transformation Journey?
I’ve shared a bunch of information from the Milward Brown report about different generations of consumers, including what devices they report a preference for, and the tasks they use those devices to do. But specific to a goal of digital transformation within your B2B organization, where do we go from here? Begin by examining your customer and prospect base with a laser focus. Forget all your biases and everything you know, or think you know, about your company, your product offering, and the messaging and tactics you’re currently using.
Look at every part of the customer journey through your customers’ and prospects’ eyes, with an understanding of generational preferences—and the differences represented within your various customer and prospect groups. Devise your business and marketing strategies with a view toward how you can transform your organization to embrace digital and as a result serve them up better, more efficient experiences. Adapt your messaging, adapt your customer service operations, adapt everything about your processes with a customer-first mindset and a view toward making every single action or transaction an efficient, effective, and satisfying one for the customer. You’ll be amazed at not only the results, but the impact on your bottom line in the process.
What do you think? What are you seeing with regard to generational preferences of B2B buyers within your customer or prospect base? Can you do better as part of your digital transformation processes when it comes to optimizing your marketing initiatives with the generational path to purchase in mind? I’d love to hear your thoughts.