Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness as of May 2022.
Marketers have an interesting challenge in 2022: how to create direct mail that addresses the wants and needs of several generations of Americans at once.
So, what separates each generation from each other? Should you focus on only one generation? What kind of mail attracts and engages each of these generations?
Developing a marketing strategy for managing customer relationships across generational boundaries begins with acknowledging that no age group exists in isolation. Some traits differ by only a matter of degrees. At the same time, remember that people who just happen to be in the same age range actually are more diverse than many demographers give them credit for.
Your direct mail marketing must meet members of any generation where they are now – which means that the things they’re dealing with today are different from only a few years ago. To keep up, your direct mail and printing approach will have to adjust frequently.
Here’s a breakdown of the three most recent generations and how you can mail to them in 2022.
Generation X (1965-80)
Sandwiched between boomers and millennials, this often-overlooked generation of latchkey kids was shaped by divorce and other influences to be autonomous, and maybe a bit cynical, too.
Once regarded as slackers, they support both aging parents and high school or college-age kids, and, likewise, balance their use of digital and non-digital communications. And, guess what? They now control about 31% of income in the U.S.
To reach this audience:
1. Emphasize Their Security
As survivors of several economic downturns, this generation strives to maintain both career and financial stability while also dealing with family responsibilities.
While understanding that this generation is at the peak of its earning and buying power right now, focus on cost savings and protection for college, retirement, and senior living, as well as more basic financial products like loans, checking accounts, and credit cards.
2. Redefine Age
Although they’re moving into “middle age,” Gen Xers are not baby boomers or the silent generation. How people in this age bracket are shown or marketed to – when they are at all – shouldn’t necessarily reflect how previous generations were treated.
Whatever product or service you market, use pictures and copy that reflect today’s 50+ market – not how it looked decades ago. Their challenges, opportunities, and self-image are very different.
3. Earn Trust
Generation X grew up and worked through several recessions and booms. They’ve been resilient and adaptive to many conditions. But they’re also skeptical and cautious about most institutions.
To win their confidence, tone down any grandiose or sketchy promises in your copy. Be transparent and honest to ensure their loyalty.
4. Save Them Time
Generation X juggles the responsibilities of aging parents, kids, and career. Because they’re busy, cut to the chase. Whether using a form of digital marketing such as email, or using direct mail marketing such as postcards, look for ways your direct mail marketing can be relevant and make an impact, but with less of a time commitment.
- Write punchy headlines and shorter copy
- Organize your headlines, images, and graphics to be scanned quickly
- Make your offer and call-to-action easy to find
- Use QR codes to give them an easy on-ramp to respond via mobile
Generation Y/Millennials (1981-99)
Raised by boomers, most millennials are pretty tech-savvy, and yet, according to surveys, they love getting direct mail. How much? Eighty-seven percent of them, according to a USPS survey. And how many respond to the call to action in their direct mail? Amazingly, millennial direct mail response rates are hovering at around 57%.
In your mail to this audience, you should:
1. Tie Into The Digital World
You want your prospects and customers to communicate seamlessly with your brand no matter where they are or what channel they’re using. To get them to go online, and to buy, QR codes make it easy: a tap or two on their smartphones is all it takes. Mobile devices, according to Statista, now account for 54.4% of all web traffic, and 32% of revenue. Be where your direct mail millennial customers are.
2. Provide Social Proof
Millennials seek and weigh the opinions and endorsements of experts as well as influencers in the purchase process. Build credibility by referring to online brands that this demographic trusts. Some good examples with direct mail millennial appeal include: Trustpilot, Charity Navigator, Shopify, and NerdWallet.
3. Use Texture to Stand Out
Big fans of all things print, millennials have revived vinyl records (and their jackets) as well as books, and – as noted earlier – mail.
Why? Studies show that the human brain reacts differently to print content, compared with digital. Print produces a stronger emotional connection as well as better recall. Try printing your physical mail with inks and papers that make it feel different and more interesting than your competitors’ mail.
4. Personalize Their Data
Millennials are more likely than previous generations to give brands their personal data, like an email address, in exchange for individualized content and offers. Deploying relevant data and images on a direct mail piece captures their attention. And when it’s shown in such a way to make the respondents feel that they can control the experience and have options, so much the better.
Gen Z (1997-2010)
Much like their Generation X parents, these consumers tend to be self-reliant. They’ve always lived in a hyper-connected world, and often have a shorter attention span as a result. But their experiences and preferences might defy your expectations of a tech-obsessed generation.
Here are some ideas you can use to shape both your direct mail and print strategy, as well as tactics.
1. Respect Their Values
Generation Z is the most ethnically diverse generation in American history. So it shouldn’t be surprising that in their social views, they are very open-minded, valuing equality and inclusiveness in gender, sexuality, and race, among other things.
Be certain that your content, copy, and images represent the America that they know. And when promoting a cause, or demonstrating how you align with their values, do so authentically. If you’re too obvious about it – they’ll know.
2. Go Beyond The Tech
It’s tempting to think that Gen Z spends all of their time on their phones. After all, they’re the first fully native digital audience in history. But surveys show that reality is a little more nuanced. A recent Kearney study, for example, said that 65% of these consumers prefer shopping at brick-and-mortar stores to try out purchases.
Think of ways to drive shoppers to physical locations. For one thing, your mail and store flyers should be truly omnichannel. They should make it as easy as possible to search, shop, buy, and pick up. Also – and this is good advice in general – look at enhancing and tailoring their retail, in-store experience as a way of standing apart from bottom-line-oriented competitors. Another idea: Create retail traffic with retargeting direct mail postcards and self-mailers.
3. Be Ultra-Personal
Still think you can get away with generic, one-size-fits-all direct mail? Not with this audience! They don’t want to be marketed to any more than other generations do. But especially because they’re digital natives and have grown up communicating one-on-one with brands on social media, your mail needs to be more individualized than ever before to be relevant.
Use variable data printing (VDP) that skillfully and respectfully starts a conversation that can continue online, or in person. And be specific as possible to spell out what you can do for them. Think about how Amazon creates an experience customized for each customer, one that is based on a complex blend of creative elements and lots of data to make it work.
4. Get Real Influencers
The Millennial generation follows and trusts influencers like Instagram celebrities for ideas on what to wear, eat, etc. Gen Zers, on the other hand, show more interest in micro-influencers – “real people”, including peers – before making a purchase.
In your mail (and across your channels), promote the experiences of other customers by using testimonials for your product or service. Again, it’s all about greater authenticity.
Wrapping it up
When planning your direct mail strategy, remember that each audience has its preferences and tendencies, but none is independent of the others. To connect with your customers more effectively and build a loyal following, it’s smart to test offers, copy, and images on your mail.
The two youngest generations spend more time looking at direct mail marketing campaigns when they’re personal, relevant, engaging, and consistent in their messaging and branding.
At mailing.com, we understand the challenges each generation faces. We can help you target your mail to the right audience with the right messages. Reach out to us to discuss how we can put together a cost-effective direct mail campaign that can accomplish your goals.