Raise your hand if you thought this pandemic would blow over in a week or two last spring.
Instead, the virus dug in its heels and forced us to shift how we live and work for months on end. If you’re a brand marketer, that meant pivoting your strategy to account for the “new normal,” tossing out (or heavily revising) now-defunct messaging, and collaborating with teammates over Zoom rather than in person. But did you stop to consider whether you should shift your target audience, too?
After all, the pandemic has impacted consumers’ spending habits in profound ways. Between March and April 2020, the personal savings rate surged from 12.7% to 33% in response to pandemic upheaval. And though financial optimism has increased since July, 40% of Americans don’t expect their finances to return to “normal” until at least the second half of 2021.
Additionally, we’ve seen a major increase in multigenerational homes. Granted, these wheels were already in motion pre-pandemic: In 2016, 64 million people, roughly 20% of the U.S. population, lived in multigenerational homes — due in no small part to the fact that the average middle-class lifestyle is 30% costlier than it was 20 years ago. But last March and April, Zillow determined that almost 3 million more adults, many of them under 25, moved back in with parents or grandparents. And in April, the number of adults living with parents or grandparents topped 32 million, a nearly 10% year-over-year increase.
So what does all this mean? For one thing, it means you need to reconsider not only who you target, but also how you communicate with them. In 2021, it isn’t just about who you want to buy your products or services, but who can.
How to Market Across Generations During a Pandemic
Multigenerational advertising initially took hold when brands realized that focusing solely on young people alienated a significant share of the modern consumer base — a share that also enjoys substantial spending power. Consider, for example, that Baby Boomers held 70% of disposable income in the U.S. pre-pandemic. And because many of them were already financially stable, only 16% say that the pandemic has had a “very negative” effect on their financial security. (In contrast, around one-third of Millennials and Generation Zers say they’ve faced significant economic insecurity over the past year.)
Multigenerational marketing is especially compelling during these strange times because it concentrates on group wants and needs. With up to five generations living under one roof, buying patterns aren’t as predictable as they once were. After all, the types of products that people buy for their homes might now reflect the needs and interests of someone from the Silent Generation and a Gen Zer. Older caretakers might also have a long-term influence on kids’ learned shopping behaviors, which will have a ripple effect on factors like brand loyalty, price sensitivity, and the perception of value for years to come.
Embracing Multigenerational Marketing Through Direct Mail Efforts
At Hallmark, we believe deeply in the power of reaching people when they need it the most, and direct mail is an especially savvy strategy for connecting with multigenerational homes. In fact, a recent USPS survey found that nearly 60% of people feel it means more to get a card or letter in the mail rather than receive an email. If this sounds too old-fashioned when marketing to Millennials or GenXers, think again. According to the “2019 Hallmark Greeting Card Attitudinal and Behavior Study,” seven in 10 members of these generational groups say greeting cards are exciting to open. And perhaps unsurprisingly, 80% retain their greeting cards as keepsakes.
With that in mind, here are three direct mail-focused strategies brands can employ when marketing during this pandemic.
1. Avoid stereotypes and assumptions. Find the nearest trash bin in your home. Have you found it yet? Good! Now, go ahead and throw out all those preconceived notions you’ve been harboring about various generational cohorts. When you stop shaping your marketing messaging around stereotypes, you’ll find it much easier to reach across the generational aisle.
What does this look like in action? Represent people as they are: as a collection of individuals of all ages, skin colors, religions, economic situations, and with hidden and visible disabilities. If everyone is truly your target audience, make sure they are represented equally. By 2035, one in three homes will be headed by someone over 65. By that same token, resist the urge to assume that younger generations are penny pinchers just because 2020 shrunk their purchasing power. In fact, one survey found that Generation Zers believe quality is more important than price when selecting goods.
2. Be human. Who among us hasn’t cursed 2020’s name at one point or another? During such a tough year — one filled with massive climate events, a turbulent election, and a worrying pandemic — many people were (and still are) under massive amounts of stress. When marketing during a pandemic, then, it’s important to connect with consumers on a human level.
We’re all familiar with the universal struggles of the pandemic, but we also have individual stressors based on our age, gender, and other situational factors. Just consider the stressor of remote learning: Working Gen X moms, for example, might be feeling the pressure to balance their kids’ remote learning needs with the demands of their careers. Their Gen Z kids, on the other hand, might be more stressed about time management or the lack of authentic socialization. When connecting with these audiences in our current climate, messaging needs to communicate not just a product’s functional benefits, but also its emotional ones.
Consumers have always made emotion-based purchasing decisions, but they’re more likely to return to brands they feel warm and fuzzy about during an otherwise fraught year. Make sure your direct mail messaging sounds human-to-human and reflects your business’s core values consistently, and don’t be afraid to lean into data and microtargeting to deliver truly personalized experiences.
3. Take an omnichannel approach. Yes, direct mail is a fantastic means of engaging with a target audience, but you can’t hang your hat on one channel and expect to see the results you want. Follow your customers’ lead here. If you’re enjoying a surge in online orders, for example, take care to retain those customers — regardless of generation — as the pandemic begins to subside over the coming months.
Consider, too, that customers expect several touchpoints with brands at a consistent cadence, and 85% of Millennials and Gen Zers want brands to reach them from both physical and digital channels. Direct mail is great for unique connections, and social media is a great channel for quick queries and pressing concerns. No matter what channel you use, make sure touchpoints feel human and unique to each person.
Direct mail is a strong strategy, and when it comes to marketing to multiple generations during a pandemic, it’s more important than ever. Level up your customer experience game today by learning more about direct mail marketing and why it matters.