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Your marketing generation drives your view of social media

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Why read this? : We look at how your marketing generation affects your view of social media. Learn why marketers from the Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y generations see social media very differently. And learn what that means for how you use this channel. Read this for ideas on how to get the most out of social media whatever marketing generation you are.

A 2017 survey showed the average age of a Chief Marketing Officer is 52. This means the “average” CMO probably graduated in the early 1990s. 

Another 2019 survey showed the chances are that they didn’t graduate in marketing though. Less than half of the people who work in marketing have a marketing qualification. 

So we’ve got some senior marketers out there who never studied marketing, and were at least 10 years into their careers before social media sites started to appear in the early 2000s.

Older man sitting by a window using a macbook

Marketing habits disrupted

That means there’s a marketing generation with long-held marketing habits which are now being totally disrupted by what social media brings to the marketing game.

The opportunity to interact directly with customers. New digital media channels. And, so much new digital data and insights about customers.

What content and topics they like. What they share with their friends. Where they go, and when they do things. And, what brands they follow and buy. 

Triangular warning sticker with large exclamation mark on a wall. Sticker has many rips and tears in it.

All suddenly available to marketers through social media. So, you’d think all marketers would embrace those opportunities, right?

But speak to marketers from different generations, and you get very different views of what social media means for marketing. 

Marketing Generation - Boomers

The ‘Boomer’ marketing generation generally scowls miserably and shakes their heads wearily when you ask them about social media. 

What’s the world coming to, they ask, when people post pictures of their dinner? Why are people so interested in cat and dog videos? Isn’t it all a bit shallow? A bit meaningless? Where’s the purpose? The value? What’s the point?

But this is like standing in front of a runaway truck and shouting at it to stop. Social media is now as ubiquitous as traditional media like TV, print and outdoor. Boomer marketers know social media offers a way to reach and engage customers. But they feel frustrated at how chaotic and unstructured it seems.

Marketing life was simpler

Because let’s face it, life was simpler for this marketing generation. Boomer marketers remember when there were only a few big media players to choose from. You spent your media dollars on whatever was trendy at the time.

As the ‘client’ they could look forward to being regularly schmoozed by media sales teams. Wined and dined. Tickets to big sports events. Trips to Cannes for the advertising awards.

Those still happen, but are becoming much rarer. 

Two women clinking white wine glasses together at an sunny outside cafe

But now anyone and everyone can be a media publisher. Unlimited, unfiltered content about anything and everything you could possibly think of. Apart from the odd major event (particularly sports), the days of mass reach to your target audience through 1 or 2 media channels are long gone.

Nowadays, anyone on social media can share their thoughts, opinions and yes, advertising with anyone else all over the world. 

It’s all super targeted and super niche. And, it’s full of influencers so, the power of traditional media owners has been slowly diluted. 

It’s like when the cowboys who grew up learning to ride a horse first started seeing the motor car. Old skills you learned start to become less valuable. And there’s a whole load of new skills to learn. 

And to paraphrase the well-known expression, old marketing dogs don’t like to learn new tricks. In fact, not only do they not want to learn, they don’t even want to hear about them. They’re not listening. 

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

Marketing Generation X

Gen X marketers at least had the advantage of still being under 35 when social media started to take off in the mid-2000s. So yes, they remember a time when you didn’t know what that girl from school’s dog ate for breakfast. Or what movie that guy in finance you used to work with just watched. 

But compared to boomers, they’re at least able to understand how it all works. They understand the potential reach it can add to their advertising campaigns. The marketing generation X crew are more open to newer approaches. Less stuck on traditional approaches. 

They recognise the value marketing technology brings, and also its many challenges

And the good news is it’s this generation who is slowly pushing the Boomer marketing generation into retirement. They lead the marketing agenda in many businesses. 

A social dilemma

But they also face a bit of a social dilemma. No, not that one.

That’s because they also have to worry about the NOISE and QUALITY in social media. There’s so much terrible content out there on social. Stuff that’s so bad, it makes you cringe. So, how do you make your brand’s voice stand out from everyone else? 

Because let’s face it, social media’s open-access nature means there’s no filter. Anyone and everyone can post whatever content they want, good or bad. 

Young boy in a yellow jersey showing loudly into a microphone

So, the dilemma is they feel the need to be on social because that’s where customers are. But how does your brand grab attention when audiences have a dwell time measured in seconds? How do you fit social media into your wider media planning?

Then, there’s the whole concern about privacy, security and the use of data. Knowing your target audience better is like marketing catnip. But there are constant press headlines claiming most customers don’t understand the amount of data they give away about themselves.

Lots for the marketing generation X-ers to worry about when it comes to social media. 

Marketing Generation Y

Gen Y and the incoming millennial generation of marketers have no concept of social media NOT existing. It’s as normal to them as watching TV is to Boomers, or using a mobile phone is to Gen X-ers.

A bit like Neo in the Matrix (a clue which might hint at this author’s generation), they effortlessly sail through the world of posts and likes and new channels with no second thoughts.

Like this. Put that Insta filter on. Re-tweet that. 


Woman wearing a grey sweatshirt and looking at her phone in a dark room

But, there’s a big difference between using social media and using social media for marketing.

Because in marketing, social media is mainly a way to build your brand identity. A way to connect with customers. The marketing job’s still the same. It’s just there’s a new tool to help you do it. 

A quick marketing generation agnostic view on social media

The way we think about social media is as an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ process.

The ‘in’ is customers communicating directly to you via your social media channels and content. It’s about being social with your customers.  

Savvy marketers look at the data from social to find new insights and help generate new ideas.

That product which got deleted 10 years ago, maybe it’s got a re-release value?

That feature you thought was so great, maybe that’s not what your customers are actually thinking?

Social media is a great way to build that direct connection with your audience.

The ‘out’ then is your media push. 

The figures show how high social’s penetration is. How much time audiences spend on it. So as a marketer, you’d be crazy not to consider it a part of your mix. It’s an important channel to reach your customers because it’s where they are. (See also our online marketing opportunities article for more on what you can do with social). 

Conclusion - Go carefully

The key to social media succes is to go carefully.

Customers consider their social feeds as ‘their’ territory and ‘their’ space. While they recognise advertising is part of getting the service for free, they’ll be quick to reject or block anything they don’t like or find relevant.

We once heard social media for marketers as like being invited into the living room of your customer’s house. Social media is like an entry point into the life of your customer. (See our design psychology article for more on entry points). 

Arrow shaped sign on a brick wall saying entry

First impressions matter. You want to make sure you’re polite, engaging and wipe your shoes before you go in. Otherwise, you might never be invited back.

Social media creates divisions between the different types of marketing generation. But, if you’re serious about marketing, it’s important to put these aside and use social for what it’s good for. 

For a broader view of digital’s impact, check out our digital and traditional timeline article.  

And for our view on specific social channels, check out our social media’s impact and connecting on social media articles. 

Plus, you can email us if you need help with your social media approach. Or check out our social media approach with the content we share on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Photo credits

Social media and facebook : Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Older man using a MacBook : Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

Attention sign : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Two women clinking wine glasses together : Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Dog ears : Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

Woman looking at phone : Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Instagram (adapted) : Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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2 thoughts on “Your marketing generation drives your view of social media”

    1. Hi, good question, thanks.

      Your marketing strategy defines your customer (target) and your brand (positioning). Your choice to (a) use social media for your brand and (b) what to do on social media if you use it has to link back to both those areas.

      From a customer point of view, you’d use social where it’s a relevant communications channel to move them along the journey / funnel. (e.g. make them aware of your brand with ads, push out messages to drive consideration, push out promotions to drive trial etc). This supports your reach objective.

      From a brand point of view, it’s also where you can build your brand identity and image (e.g. show your brand values and personality with your design and tone of voice choices) and use it as a relationship / loyalty building tool (e.g. responding to customer questions and enquiries). This supports your engagement objective.

      Most marketing plans which include social go deeper into this, but broadly those are the starting points for why you would (or wouldn’t) use social to drive your brand.

      Hope that helps. Did you have any examples in mind of a good (or bad) link between marketing strategy and social?

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