Direct Mail Marketing for Generations X, Y, and Z

by | Mar 5, 2020

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Marketers have a really interesting challenge in 2020: 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 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 just 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 2020:

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 more evenly. 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 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. While they’ve been resilient and adaptive to many conditions, they’re 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

As I noted, Generation X juggles the responsibilities of family (aging parents and kids) and career. Because they’re busy, cut to the chase. Look for ways your direct mail marketing can be relevant and make an impact, but with less of a time commitment.

Some ideas:

  • 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/Millenials (1981-99)

Raised by boomers, most millennials are pretty tech-savvy, and yet, according to surveys, they love getting 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? 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; just a tap or two on their smartphones is all it takes. Mobile devices, according to the Wolfgang E-commerce Report 2019, now account for 53% of all web traffic, and 32% of revenue. Be where your 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 millennial appeal found on mail: 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 direct 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. Smartly 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 Foursquare study, for example, said that these consumers are 23% more likely to visit shopping malls than the average shopper.

Think of ways to drive shoppers to brick-and-mortar locations. For one thing, your mail and store flyers should be truly omnichannel, making 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’ve 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 highly complex blend of creative elements and lots of data to make it work. 

4. Get real influencers

Millennials follow and trust 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, we understand the challenges each generation faces. We can help you target your mail to the right audience with the right messages.  Please feel free to contact us to discuss how we can put together a cost-effective direct mail campaign that can accomplish your goals.


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