Multigenerational Marketing: Strategies for Engaging Millennials, Gen Z, and Boomers, with Gabriel Welsch, VP of Marketing & Communications at Duquesne University

March 27, 2024

In our insanely overstimulated and infinite world of social media, trying to communicate your brand’s message loudly to multiple generations simultaneously is like trying to juggle flaming chainsaws while riding a unicycle on a tightrope.

As consumer decision-making becomes more collaborative and family-oriented, marketers must channel their inner circus performer and adapt their strategies to appeal to a diverse range of age groups. Each generation comes with its own quirks, preferences, and communication styles.

The higher education sector is a perfect case study for this multigenerational marketing clusterf**k. As Gabriel Welsch, VP of Marketing and Communications at Duquesne University shared on the podcast this week, "In 90% of cases, the parents are a huge part of the decision, and increasingly the grandparents, because for millennial parents, whose kids are now growing and starting to look at college, the grandparents often were the caretakers. So they're very invested in their success as well." It's like a family reunion, but instead of arguing about who makes the best potato salad, they're debating which college has the most impressive dining hall.

Below, we'll dive headfirst into the challenge of multigenerational marketing, using insights from the higher education sector and time spent talking with Gabriel Welsch as our guide. We'll explore each generation's unique characteristics and preferences, uncover best practices for crafting cohesive brand messages that resonate with audiences across the age spectrum, and equip you with the tools and knowledge needed to become a marketing superhero.

Check out the full episode here:

The Parent Trap: Millennials and Boomers Unite

Ah, millennial parents. They're like regular parents but with more avocado toast and a side of existential dread. Born between 1981 and 1996, these digital natives are INVOLVED in their kids lives. They bring a unique set of expectations and priorities to the college selection process, valuing authenticity, transparency, and personalized experiences.

Grandparents are also crashing the college decision-making party too. A 2018 AARP survey found that 38% of grandparents in the U.S. provide regular childcare for their grandchildren, making them the unsung heroes of the modern family.

To effectively engage these millennial parents and grandparents, marketers must mix traditional and digital channels. As Welsch shared, "We do have to think about how are we putting ads into the market for a TV audience. People might say, ‘well, kids don't watch TV’. No, but their parents and grandparents do. Whereas we might do some things on social. There may be some platforms people think are dead, like Facebook, but that is still very active for some generations."

With adults aged 65+ spending an average of 7 hours and 5 minutes per day watching TV, it's a captive audience. Marketers should also create targeted Facebook ads and content that resonates with grandparents' desire to see their grandchildren succeed, appealing to their love of nostalgia, family values, and sharing sus memes.

Millennial parents, on the other hand, are best reached through a mix of social media, content marketing, and personalized email campaigns. Authentic, user-generated content, such as student and alumni testimonials, can be as effective in building trust and credibility as a glowing Yelp review from a foodie influencer.

Gen Z: The Next Generation of Marketing

At the center of this multigenerational marketing saga is the prospective student – the enigmatic Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012. These digital natives wield their creativity, authenticity, and social consciousness like a lightsaber of consumer influence.

To effectively reach and resonate with this group, marketers must embrace the power of interactive, visual content across the platforms where Gen Z holds court. Short-form video platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels are the keys to their hearts (and limited attention spans). Campaigns like the University of Florida's #GoGators TikTok challenge, which racked up over 10 million views and 1.5 million engagements, prove that the force is strong with this one.

Influencer partnerships are the true secret sauce for Gen Z marketing though. By collaborating with current students, alumni, or popular social media personalities, institutions can create authentic, relatable content that showcases the student experience and builds trust. The University of Glasgow's "UofG Stars" campaign, featuring student influencers sharing their experiences and advice across Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, generated over 1 million impressions.

But Gen Z's powers extend beyond social media. These experience-seeking, immersion-loving digital natives crave experiential marketing and interactive brand experiences. Virtual reality campus tours, interactive webinars, and gamified recruitment events are at the cutting edge of this new era of college recruiting. The University of Oregon's "Duck Day" event, which uses gamification and social media challenges to engage prospective students and build brand excitement, pushed the boundaries of how colleges should envision engaging prospective students.

Marketers must understand their values, preferences, and communication styles to truly connect with Gen Z. By crafting authentic, interactive content that aligns with their desire for social impact, diversity, and innovation, marketers can build relationships and guide these young TikTokers into the next chapter of their lives at an institution that resonates with them at a personal level.

The Brand Narrative: A Tale of Unity and Diversity

In the grand saga of multigenerational marketing, crafting a cohesive brand narrative that resonates with the unique values and priorities of each audience segment is challenging, but immensely rewarding when executed successfully. Marketers must become the J.R.R. Tolkiens of their brands, weaving together a tapestry of stories that celebrate the diversity of their audiences while uniting them under a common banner.

As Welsch wisely advises, the key is to "focus on your school's core values and unique selling points, and then tailor your messaging to each generation's priorities and communication styles." For higher education institutions, this might mean emphasizing legacy and academic excellence for grandparents (the wise elders of the brand story), career preparation and networking opportunities for parents (the heroes on a quest for their children's success), and social impact and innovation for students (the young adventurers seeking to change the world).

To ensure a consistent brand narrative across all channels and audience segments, marketers must create a brand messaging framework that serves as the sacred text of their marketing mythology. This framework should outline the institution's core values, mission, and value propositions, acting as a guide for all marketing communications. Like the One Ring to rule them all, this framework ensures that each piece of content, regardless of platform or target audience, contributes to the greater brand narrative.

Marketers must also be the master strategists of their multigenerational campaigns, carefully selecting the channels and content formats that will most effectively reach and resonate with each generation. While traditional media like television and print may be the trusty steeds of grandparent engagement, digital channels like social media, email, and mobile apps are the gateways to millennial parent and Gen Z. The key is to adapt the brand's messaging and creative assets to suit each platform's unique characteristics and audience preferences while maintaining a consistent brand voice and visual identity.

Finally, marketers must become the oracles of their own campaigns, continually monitoring and assessing performance using the arcane arts of data and analytics. Institutions can refine their approach by tracking engagement metrics, conducting audience research, gathering feedback from each generation, and ensuring that their brand narrative remains relevant and resonant.

Conclusion: Mastering the Multigenerational Marketing Landscape

The higher education sector has been our trusty guide, illuminating the path to multigenerational marketing success. But the lessons learned here are not confined to the hallowed halls of academia – they apply to any industry brave enough to take on the challenge of engaging audiences across the age spectrum. It's like the old saying goes, "If you can market to a millennial parent, a Gen Z student, and a baby boomer grandparent all at once, you can market to anyone." (Okay, maybe that's not a real saying, but it should be.)

As Gabriel Welsch wisely noted, "It's not about diluting your brand to appeal to everyone; it's about finding the authentic connections that make your school the perfect fit for students and their families." This nugget of wisdom applies to any brand in any industry seeking to forge meaningful connections with audiences across the age spectrum.

The key to unlocking the secrets of multigenerational marketing lies in embracing the chaos and finding the common threads that unite audiences across generations. It's about celebrating the diversity of perspectives and experiences each age group brings while crafting inclusive, cohesive brand narratives that speak to their shared values and aspirations. Think of it like a multigenerational marketing mix – a little bit of tradition, a dash of digital innovation, and a whole lot of authentic, personalized brand experiences that resonate on a deep, emotional level.

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