Why SMEs need to take a generational approach in marketing

From baby boomers to Gen Z, small business owners must break through to many different generations when marketing to their varied audience.

Why SMEs need to take a generational approach in marketing

From baby boomers to Gen Z, small business owners must break through to many different generations when marketing to their varied audience. There’s a responsibility to reach audiences spanning demographics, and age simply can’t be discounted. 

When communicating cross-generationally, the same tactics don’t always resonate equally with every group, as each generation interacts with brands differently. It’s a nuanced art form but something SMEs need to be mindful of. 

As Gen Z rises up the ranks in terms of their influence and buying power within the market, business leaders must be able to know and understand them if they’re able to effectively communicate. With groups continually evolving and maturing, it’s important for SMEs to keep up-to-date with the newest generation of consumers. 

There’s a notable difference between your typical baby boomer and Gen Z-er, but it can be a lot more difficult to tailor communications to the distinctive needs of Gen Z and millennials, who at face value may appear like-for-like. 

For instance, Campaign Monitor’s Millennials Vs. Gen Z: Debunking
Generational Marketing
report found email is the preferred platform for millennials and Gen Z alike to engage with brands. But 90% of millennials check their emails at least once a day, more than their Gen Z counterparts which isn’t all that surprising considering that more millenials are in the workforce. 

Fundamentally, both millennials and Gen Z want to be communicated and engaged in a particular way. There are a number of elements for small businesses to consider within their marketing and communication strategy.  


Millennials can be classified by those born between 1984 and 1994 and have ruthlessly been branded as lazy, entitled and naive by their predecessors. However, that characterisation is far from accurate. Millennials are grappling with economic forces that previous generations never had to and, as such, are taking a different approach to consumer purchase. 

As a generation that entered the adult world during the financial crisis, millennials have grown to become highly selective about how they spend their money and which brands they engage with. Rightly so, this group expect 100 per-cent authenticity from brands, and they’re not afraid to hold companies, and their leaders, to a high standard of social, economic and environmental responsibility. 


Arguably, the largest challenge in communicating with a millennial audience is that the bare minimum is no longer good enough. Simply providing a great value proposition or offering a brilliant product won’t quite cut it. They need a compelling reason why they should purchase your product. That’s because thousands of products exist today and their options are almost limitless.

This means that small businesses should place their core values at the forefront of their communication and marketing efforts, whether it be sustainability, diversity or animal welfare. 

And most importantly don’t forget to go one step further and make sure what you’re saying matches what your doing. For example, there’s little use in including reference to the great work of teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg if you’re not actively trying to reduce your business’ carbon footprint. 


Say goodbye to cookie cutter marketing strategies. Millennials expect you to be able to emulate a 1:1 conversation and pivot with their changing needs. The trick for small businesses is to take into account the overall customer experience for each individual and anticipate what comes next.

For email marketing, personalisation goes beyond including the subscribers names in the subject line. Good personalisation involves tailoring each individual email and message — and can be done through the email copy, content, images and more. 

Ultimately, you want the recipient to walk away feeling like you’ve designed the email specifically for them. 


Millennials spend a lot of their time online — they wake up and check their messages, go to work and spend all day on email, Slack and Google Drive and then go home to browse social media until it’s time to do it all again. So for small businesses looking to break through, you need to make sure your marketing content is short, sweet and concise. 

When drafting email copy try and make sure your content is as ‘scannable’ as possible by doing the following:

  • Short and concise sentence and paragraph structure
  • Bulleted points, numbers listed and other formatting “breaks”
  • Header tags for skimming eyes
  • Less copy and more images to better portray your story

Millenials don’t care about what you do. They care about why you do it and have paved the way for the next generation of consumers who seldom allow you a second chance to meet their equally high standards before moving on to the next brand.


Categorised as anyone born after 1995, Generation Z is the youngest of the bunch (for now) and are typically most interested in brands that provide unique user experiences and are socially driven. 

While the younger generations are more aligned from a brand perspective than the millenials before them, that doesn’t mean Gen Z doesn’t need to be cleverly communicated with for better results.

Generation Z tend to have a more varied and niche set of interests  and the brands they’re looking to hear from often reflects this.


Gen Z is often thought to have a notoriously short attention span. So, how can SMEs deliver said meaningful message to a demographic of people who almost automatically zone out? Well, to begin with, you might be asking the wrong question. It’s a common misconception that Gen Z (and millennials too) tune out after a matter of seconds. 

In reality, this group of savvy youngsters possesses a highly sophisticated filter that helps to separate the content that matters to them from content that doesn’t. Think of it as modern day natural selection — a group of individuals who were raised in an era defined by heavy advertising eventually developed a rapid-fire filtering function. 

Spend extra time on the first point of communication so that they grab your readers’ attention right away. This could be an email subject line, a blog post image or a Tweet. For example, if you want to connect with Gen Z email newsletter subscribers, you’ll need to design emails that pique interest within their self-filtering function.


As digital marketing techniques continue to grow, expand and evolve one of the best ways to stand out amongst the crowd is the inclusion of visuals to accompany your marketing content. Gen Z much prefer to watch than read as it’s far more easier for them to sink their teeth into videos than long-winded text. 

For small businesses, strong visuals offer great way to tell your story and become more personable. Use images to cement your brand identity in your subscribers’ minds and build brand loyalty while thoughtfully designing emails and content for skimmers. 

Communications that include images produce 650% higher engagement than text-only posts. Compelling visuals catch the eye, bring an email to life, and they add a spark of creativity and imagination to your message.


More than any other generation, Gen Z are everywhere and have grown accustomed to using a full suite of communication tools: social media, email, in-person, advertising, web-chat and company blogs.

This means that when using these platforms simultaneously, make sure you are sharing your message in a tailored way. While the message as a whole should be consistent, the way in which you deliver it should be appropriate for the medium being used. 

Generation Future

Overall small business owners need to adapt their communications strategy in order to authentically connect with each audience. And one thing I think we can all agree upon is that Gen Z and Millennials — and the younger generations to come — keep us on our toes. 

It’s clear that there are many nuances between the two groups. Millennials marked the beginning of a new era where all brands were held up to a high standard helping to pave the way for Gen Z who are more selective and wary of the messages they receive. Both of which are worth bearing in mind when communicating with the two generations. 

As new generations emerge it’s the perfect excuse for small businesses to learn, grow and develop a distinct style of communicating. As is the case for maturing millennials who have provided a crucial steppingstone for learning how to communicate with Gen Z. 

Lane Harbin
Lane Harbin

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