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Understanding the Differences Between Millennials and Gen Z

In the last issue we discussed segmentation and target marketing. Segmentation involves putting people into groups based on criteria that allow you to describe them. It can be characteristics like demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, income, education etc.), geographics (where they live, where they work, where they shop), psychographics (attitudes, interests, lifestyles) and/or behaviors (how do they use your product/service).

Millennials are an example of how we segment consumers based on age. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1997. The other groups based on this segmentation are Generation X (1965-1980), Baby Boomers (1946-1664), Depression Era (1930-1945) and Greatest Generation (born before 1930). Generation Z was born after 1997 and are now beginning to have an impact on food and beverage companies.

In their book Millennials Rising, the Next Great Generation William Straus and Neil Howe identify Millennials with the following characteristics: feeling special, confident, sheltered, team oriented, achievers, pressured and conventional.

Some defining moments for this generation are the Space Shuttle Columbia, Desert Storm, 9/11, Columbine and now, COVID-19 and the worst economy since the great depression. They grew up in a very structured, busy and over planned world. Technology is a huge part of their lives.

We know even less about Gen Z, as they are just coming of age. The older Gen Z consumers are prime targets for both on- and off-premise. But the youngest members of Gen Z are still in grade school. And time will tell how both groups’ consumer behavior will change as a result of what we have lived through since March 2020. 

A big difference between both groups is how they use technology. Millennials grew up with VHS, iPods, desktop PCs, flip phones and dial up internet connections. Gen Z grew up with iPads, smart phones, Wi-Fi and streaming that have pretty much made everything Millennials viewed as “cutting edge” technology obsolete.

Many people also view Gen Z as the socially conscious generation. In addition, they have had to deal with things like cyber bullying and mental health issues far more than previous generations. Because they are “wired” 24/7, many of them are also lonely, despite the fact that they are connected.

Prior to COVID, Gen Z was much more likely to use their phones to make purchases across a variety of categories. However, both Millennials and Gen Z go online primarily with mobile devices. For them “The Third Screen (smart phone) is now the First Screen”. Baby Boomers and Gen X would have called the television the first screen, desktop/laptops the second screen and smart phones the third screen. It will be interesting to see if the “Mobile First” mindset of Gen Z is adopted by the older generations.

While both groups spend plenty of time on social media, the platforms they favor are quite different. Millennials used Myspace prior to Facebook and now are also huge consumers of Instagram, LinkedIn, & Twitter. While Gen Z shares Instagram with Millennials, they also favor more video-based platforms like You Tube, Snap Chat and more recently, TikTok.

So, what does this mean for you and your business?

You need to understand how your Millennial customers and older Gen Z consumers think about your business, where they get their information and who they share that information with. This could be as simple as talking and listening to them directly or hiring someone to conduct some basic marketing research for you. Then adjust your marketing strategy based on your findings.

As we approach 2021 and “The New Normal” having current information on your existing and potential customers is more important than ever!

Whether your business is on or off-premise, it’s very important to make sure you understand this group of consumers and build your products, merchandising and marketing programs around how they live. It will positively impact your bottom line!

And remember, Marketing is a race with no finish line.

George Latella teaches Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Food Marketing, which is the largest major at Saint Joseph’s University recently celebrated its 58th anniversary. George is also a partner in Beacon Marketing group, which provides marketing planning, research and e-commerce/direct marketing communications for food and beverage companies. George can be reached at or 610-660-2254.

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