18 minute read time
It’s that time again: Time for a new generation to come into the market and make waves. In fact, we’ve already started to see familiar headlines saying that Gen Z is killing various industries—a common refrain millennials will recognize.
But just like millennials didn’t spell economic ruin, neither will Gen Z.
Yes, it’s true that consumers’ desires are shifting. But this isn’t headline news for us marketers. Digital marketers have experienced this ongoing evolution for years. While Gen Z does approach brands differently than previous generations, most marketers already have the tools they need to engage this audience.
Insider tip: They’re the same tools that help brands connect with millennials.
Just because Gen Z is an economic force—expected to account for 40% of all customers in the market by 2020—that doesn’t mean that brands should stop focusing marketing efforts on millennials as well. Millennials have been predicted to be worth $1.24 trillion by 2020.
To learn where the market was heading, we surveyed Generation Z about the ways they prefer to engage with brands and gathered that data in the Ultimate Guide to Marketing to Gen Z in 2019. Now, we’ve surveyed over one thousand millennials and asked them how they prefer to engage with their favorite brands.
And we took this data one step further: We compared the millennial responses to the Gen Z responses to show exactly how these two generations are different—and how they’re not.
This information can inform exactly how you should target your marketing efforts toward younger consumers. And it can show you how the expectations of millennials and Gen Z reveal changes in the ways all consumers approach marketing amidst an ever-changing digital marketing landscape.
This guide is for marketers who want to discover the ways that millennials prefer to connect with brands, compared to the upcoming Gen Zers. Anyone who wants to see how millennials and Gen Z fit into the larger marketing landscape can learn how to better engage these consumers.
We went straight to the source and asked millennials the same questions we asked in our Gen Z guide. Here, we’ve broken down what their responses mean and how they compare with their younger peers.
With corresponding takeaways, you’ll learn how these consumers want to connect with their favorite brands, as well as ways to implement this knowledge into your marketing strategy to see a stronger following and ultimately, better results.
Specifically, you’ll learn:
We surveyed over a thousand millennials between the ages of 22 and 37 about how they use email and engage with brands, then compared it to the data we gleaned in our Gen Z survey.
We’re going to break down the differences between these generations, so you understand exactly what they want from your brand—and how they represent a larger trend in consumer culture.
We asked questions in a variety of forms: We asked multiple-choice questions and questions with multiple answers.
We also asked respondents to rank their choices, with the highest ranked option receiving maximum amount of points and each subsequent option receiving less. This means that some answers add up to 100% while others add up to more than 100%. Similarly, answers in the ranking questions receive more points than the total number of respondents.
Read on to discover what millennials had to say and how their responses compare to Generation Z.
With 90% of millennials checking their email at least once a day, millennials check email more than their Gen Z counterparts—but not by much.
Of all the millennials we surveyed, 74.9% told us they check their email multiple times a day and 15.3% say once a day. These two percentages represent 90% of millennials.
Only 6.8% reported checking their email a couple of times a week, 2.5% said once a week, and finally, 0.6% said they never check their email.
These numbers aren’t that surprising: According to our Gen Z results, 58% of Gen Zers check their email multiple times a day—a 16.9% difference—and 23% check their email once a day.
Considering that more millennials are in the workforce than Gen Zers, it makes sense that millennials check their email more often. But the comparison still holds up: While 90% of millennials check their email multiple times a day or at least once a day, 81% of Gen Z respondents reported checking their email at the same frequency.
Meanwhile, the amount of Gen Zers who check their email rarely (0.98%) is similar to the number of millennials (0.6%) who reported the same.
Millennials receive more emails than Gen Zers, so if you want to stand out among the average 6-50 emails they receive a day, you’ll need to put thought and effort into differentiating your email strategy.
At 38.6%, millennials by and large receive an average of 6-20 emails a day. The next largest percentage, 27.6%. report receiving 21-50 emails a day. Meanwhile, 15.9% receive 1-5 emails, 10.1% receive 51-100 emails, and 7.5% receive over 100 emails every day.
The majority of Gen Zers we surveyed said they received between 1-20 emails a day at 66.9%, which means marketers have less competition in the inbox. However, the majority of millennials—66.2%—receive between 6-50 emails a day.
This means that there’s more competition for millennials’ attention in the inbox, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Instead, focus more on creating snappy subject lines and preheader text and including value in every single email to build a reputation for sending email messages that are worth subscribers’ time.
More millennials use email primarily for personal use when compared to Gen Z, though the percentage of people using email primarily for work stays relatively constant between the generations.
While millennials reported receiving more emails on average than their Gen Z counterparts, that doesn’t mean all of these messages are from marketers. In fact, 73.4% of respondents report using email primarily for personal reasons, 20.9% use their email mainly for work, and 5.2% use email for school purposes.
Fewer Gen Zers use email primarily for personal reasons (69%) and while a similar percentage uses email for work (19%), far more Gen Zers use email for school than millennials at 14%.
Again, this finding makes sense: Far more Gen Zers are in school than millennials and more millennials are in the workforce than Gen Zers. And it should be noted that the 5.2% of millennials who use email for school didn’t specify whether it was their own school or their children’s schools.
Both millennials and Gen Z prefer emails that deliver a direct benefit to them and find overly promotional messages annoying.
When we asked what adjectives come to mind to describe email marketing, millennials responded very similarly to Gen Z.
Both groups mentioned how annoying and spammy sales emails are, but they also mention how helpful and informative emails can be. Both groups use the word boring, but also the words fun and interesting, too.
Email design makes a big difference when it comes to creating emails that grab subscribers’ attention in a busy inbox. Furthermore, most of the people who open your email will simply scan through the headlines to see what—if anything—appeals to them.
If you want to connect with millennials and Gen Z subscribers, you’ll need to design emails that snag their 12- and 8-second filters respectively.
That means designing your emails with a clear and obvious hierarchy. Use headings and subheadings that will naturally direct your reader’s eye to the most important information.
And don’t forget the importance of choosing the right images for your emails. Images convey emotion and allow your subscribers to see themselves using your product or service, meaning they’ll be more likely to convert. Similarly, images cement and define your brand identity, making your brand more recognizable, memorable, and powerful.
Not to mention, visuals are important to younger generations: YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram are three of the most popular social media platforms for Generation Z and they’re all visual platforms.
Use images to cement your brand identity in your subscribers’ minds, and build brand loyalty while thoughtfully designing emails for skimmers. By doing this, you communicate the most important information while being respectful of subscribers’ busy lives.
Your emails shouldn’t contain the same information every time. Why would your subscribers continue to open emails when the messages have nothing interesting to offer and contain nothing for readers to look forward to? Even the greatest content gets stale after subscribers have seen it several times.
Instead, keep your emails exciting and engaging by always sending high-value content. But don’t be afraid to switch up what you offer or how you present it.
For instance, Girls’ Night In keeps their newsletter engaging and surprising by pulling in pop culture references that ensure readers look forward to opening every newsletter.
Millennials and Generation Z have grown up with a world of news and content in their pockets. They know that nothing happens in a vacuum, living in a global, connected world.
Don’t be afraid to reference what’s happening in the news or around the world. Your subscribers know what’s going on and expect brands to acknowledge the global world we live in.
Millennials and Gen Zers find overly promotional emails annoying—and the same can be said for overly promotional marketing messages in general. Millennials and Gen Zers connect more with stories and feelings than they do with materials and things.
So don’t shy away from telling your brand story. Today’s consumers want to understand and know the people behind the company. They’re looking for personal connections with humans, not bots or faceless corporations.
Even if your brand is a major enterprise business, you can still connect with millennials and Gen Zers by promoting the people who make your products and services possible.
Your story is more than just what you sell: It’s why you decided to start your business, your brand values, and your social stances.
While some brands still aren’t sold on the importance of taking a stand—because they’re fearful of alienating both current and potential customers—know that Gen Z and millennials will spend more time with a brand they believe in.
In fact, here are some statistics on the importance of causes to consumers of all ages:
Clearly, taking a stance matters to today’s consumers. And the value you lose from alienating potential customers is easily recovered—and even surpassed—by the value from lifetime brand loyalists who will be ambassadors for you.
You can assume millennials and Gen Zers don’t want to hear from you more than once a day. Rather, most of these subscribers prefer receiving your emails a couple of times a week.
The largest percentage of millennials prefer to receive emails a couple of times a week, 34.3%. Around a quarter of millennials at 28.5% prefer to receive emails once a day.
Meanwhile, 19.4% of millennials said once a week, 15.7% said once a month, and 2.2% said never.
While over half of millennials—62.8%—prefer to hear from brands once a day or multiple times a week, that means that 37.2% of millennials prefer to hear from brands once a week or less.
Gen Z answered similarly with the largest group of 31.8%—compared to the millennials’ 34.3%—and said they like to hear from brands a couple of times a week and 27.5%—compared to 28.5% of millennials—said they want to hear from brands once a day.
Our results from both Gen Z and millennials tell us that people who make purchases based on emails are most likely to buy multiple times as opposed to making only one purchase.
Millennials most commonly reported making a purchase from email two to five times (35.3%) with making no purchase a close second (29.5%) and one purchase a close third (24.2%).
Very few millennials made more purchases than five: Only 8.7% said six to ten, and 2.3% said more than 11 purchases.
More millennials have made a purchase based on an email than their Gen Z counterparts. What might surprise you is that it’s more common—with both Gen Z and millennials—for respondents to have made two to five purchases rather than just one purchase.
Millennials are more wary of making purchases based on social media than their Gen Z counterparts, and more wary of social media purchases than email-based purchases.
The most common response from millennials—32.1% of our respondents—was that they’d never made a purchase based on social media and the second most common—29.6%—had made two to five purchases in the past month.
Furthermore, 24.4% said they’d made one purchase, 11.1% said six to ten purchases, and 2.5% reported making more than 11 purchases based on social media.
Gen Z—as most people would assume—is more likely to make a purchase based on social media than their millennial counterparts. While the largest percentage of millennials said they’d never made a purchase on social media, the largest group of Gen Zers said they had made one purchase in the past month at very similar rates (32.1% and 33% respectively).
While our Gen Z respondents were most likely to have bought something once from social media in the past month, the second most common response was never, and the third most common was two to five purchases in the past month.
On the other hand, our millennial respondents were most likely to have never made a purchase, then 2-5 purchases, and then one purchase.
In fact, millennials seem more likely to make 2-5 purchases from either social media or email than Gen Zers.
This makes sense when you remember more millennials are in the workforce and have been so for longer. This means they have more expendable income to spend on purchases from any platform.
When millennials ranked their preferred channels, they ranked email first, with social as a distant second.
Their rankings are:
Gen Z ranked their preferred channels very similarly.
The major difference between Gen Z and millennials’ preferred channels is Gen Z ranked social media before email. Gen Z ranked email 4.8% below email whereas millennials ranked social media 4.9% below social media.
We’ve long discussed why you should stop using “no-reply” email addresses for your email marketing: No-reply email addresses literally tell your subscribers you don’t want to hear from them.
To be blunt, using a no-reply address is a terrible tactic. One of the most powerful aspects of email —and social media for that matter—is that it opens a conversation between you and your subscribers. If you don’t value your biggest fans, why would they want to do business with you?
They wouldn’t. And they won’t.
Clearly the same concept applies to your social media platforms. Your consumers view these channels as ways they can get in touch with you. If you don’t feel the same, you risk being misunderstood. If people reach out to you and you ignore them or direct them to other channels, they might not give you that second chance.
Be sure you understand how your specific audience prefers to engage, along with their expectations. If you know their expectations, you can surpass them and win customer loyalty for life.
Marketers understand that prospects require minimal obstacles if they’re going to convert. These days, that doesn’t just mean prospects need as few clicks as possible between them and a conversion—they need a limited number of taps, too.
People read email and scroll through their social media profiles on their phones. If they see a product or service they like, they won’t necessarily set their phone down to visit your site on a computer. Instead, they’re likely to stay on their phones and visit your site on mobile.
In some instances, people might not even leave the app to make a purchase.
Your conversion process needs to be fully optimized for mobile—possibly even for in-app purchases—if you want to capture the large percentage of millennials and Gen Zers who are making purchases based on social and email.
It costs less for businesses to retain customers than to find new ones. That’s pretty common knowledge for marketers and these numbers prove that, especially with millennials.
Since they’re more likely to make two to five purchases versus just one, we see that the customers who purchase tend to purchase often. This is a great opportunity for email marketers to segment their list. Create segments around how often subscribers make purchases, and tailor content to promoting certain sales or offers when their average purchase time rolls around.
When scanning through their inbox, millennials are most likely to open an email that includes a sale or discount offer, just like Gen Z. At the end of the day, subscribers of all ages want value.
While 70.2% said a sale or discount encourages millennials to open an email, 61.5% said they look for relevant content. Only 35.2% said they opened emails because of a personalized subject line, and 32.1% said graphics or branding.
Gen Z’s responses ranked in the same order—sales and discounts, relevant content, personalized subject line, and graphics or branding—and scored almost exactly the same percentages.
That means that the same factors that have attracted engagement with your audience continue to work, even with your Gen Z and millennial subscribers.
The same type of content that resonates with Gen Z will resonate with millennials. Great content still means—for this generation and generations before—content that directly benefits your subscribers.
Promotions and offers scored the highest, with 84.8% of millennials reporting they want this content. Similarly to Gen Z, product recommendations were their second-highest preference at 44.1%.
Only 32.0% of millennials want to receive company updates and 26.5% want links to blog posts or resources.
Gen Z reported almost the exact same results: Sales and promotions scored 82.3% and product recommendations at 44.3%.
People love getting a good deal. When you offer special discount codes and sales to your subscribers—especially when those sales aren’t available to the general public—you’ll increase opens and see a better return from your email marketing.
The majority of millennials—just like Gen Zers—subscribe to between one and five newsletters, meaning you’ll have to consistently deliver high-value and high-benefit content to see maximum engagement.
The largest percentage by far, 42.6% of millennials report subscribing to one to five newsletters. The next largest percentage of millennials was 26.6% who subscribe to zero newsletters, and 21.7% subscribe to between six and 20 newsletters.
Meanwhile, only 5.3% subscribe to 21-50, 2.5% subscribe to 51-100, and 1% subscribes to more than 100 newsletters.
Millennials as a whole subscribe to more newsletters than the Gen Zers we surveyed. Whereas only about 5% of Gen Zers surveyed subscribe to more than 21 newsletters, 8% of millennials subscribe to the same amount.
Millennials report that they subscribe to the newsletters of major news organizations. While Gen Z also mentioned these newsletters, they had more varied responses than the millennials and mention more specific, niche interests.
Among the newsletters millennials subscribe to, the majority we saw belonged to recognizable news organizations, such as The New York Times and local news. We also saw fewer hobbies listed, though we did see more newsletters around children and health.
While Gen Z also mentioned news organizations, they had more varied, niche newsletter interests, such as gaming, cooking, and DIY projects.
All in all, Gen Z tends to segment into niche interests, while millennials prefer hearing from big brand names.
Five newsletters isn’t a lot when you consider how many newsletters exist on the web. So, how do you become one of the five out of countless newsletters? Get specific. Find your niche and connect with that specific audience.
While it might seem counterintuitive, sending a newsletter about a general topic won’t mean you’ll attract a large audience. Instead, your newsletter will get lost among the millions of other newsletters about the same topic.
So, find your niche and get granular.
People love sales—but they don’t love overly promotional messages. So, how do you walk the fine line of providing this value without becoming pushy?
Remember to shape your messaging so it focuses on the benefit to your subscribers and not on you.
To take this value one step further, treat your subscribers like the valued VIPs they are. Offer an exclusive sale or promotion, or a first look at a new product or service you offer before it hits your general audience. That way, you’ll build loyalty and trust by showing you value these subscribers and also keep engagement high.
If there might be a special sale or big news inside your email, subscribers will look forward to seeing it in their inbox and open your email first.
As another generation comes of age, digital marketers will adapt in order to communicate and connect with their audience the best they can. But Gen Z—despite what some headlines might have you believe—doesn’t represent a cataclysmic shift in expectations.
Rather, they represent a small shift in consumer expectation that’s already been happening with millennials.
The good news is this: Marketers already have the tools and knowledge they need to target their Gen Z audience, focusing more on human connection and storytelling in your digital marketing strategy.
Here are just a few of the ways that Gen Z and millennials represent a larger shift in consumer culture.
Today’s consumers demand authenticity from brands. They seek trustworthy companies who prioritize their customers’ needs above their bottom line. While no one expects you to stop caring about revenue, today’s consumers expect companies to prioritize customer service in order to earn repeat business.
Build this trust by asking your audience what they want to receive, and then deliver on it. Ensure your emails—and social media profiles—make it easy for your followers to reply and interact with your team. Be direct and clear with customers at every stage of your sales funnel and marketing strategy. This includes being honest and transparent about the ways you use and store customer data.
For instance, let subscribers know how often you’ll email them and what they can expect from being on your list.
Just like any other relationship, building trust and establishing your brand’s authenticity means following through and staying true to your word.
Consumers want brands to take a stand and engage in social justice causes they care about so they can support brands with shared values.
But taking a stand is about more than just changing your logo for Pride month, for example. It’s about practicing what you preach every day of the year and incorporating these values into your business model. The aim isn’t to check off a box on special occasions, but rather to build a community around your values within your brand, for your employees as well as your biggest fans.
Remember: Taking a stand and sharing your values will help you cultivate a brand following that will go out of their way to support you. They’ll become brand ambassadors who introduce their friends and family to your company and what you do.
And be careful: If you do choose to change your logo in support of a cause, but don’t have business practices that also support that cause, today’s savvy consumers will notice and you’ll face backlash. So be sure your business is ready to walk the walk long before you decide to talk the talk.
Today’s consumers are skeptical of overly promotional messaging. They know you want to sell your product and they’ve learned to take what you say about yourself and your products with a grain of salt.
With the proliferation of online reviews, people care far more about what other consumers have to say about your services: Consumers trust one another more than they trust your promotions.
Luckily, in today’s world where user-generated content is prevalent, you don’t have to look far to gather reviews, feedback, and even images to use as social proof (with permission, of course). A unique hashtag provides a simple, go-to source for you to find social proof and consumers will love to be a part of your marketing efforts.
What all of these shifts have in common is that they all allow for that human connection with your audience.
People don’t want to do business with faceless, major corporations: They want to do business with people and be treated like people in return.
If you give these initiatives a higher priority in your marketing strategy, you’ll see how well it engages consumers of all ages. Your audience will connect with you and become steadfast fans, resulting in a large lifetime value for your brand.
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