Don’t box me in: why consumers are rejecting generational labels

Nobody really wants to be labelled, do they? Labels are reductive; they come with implications and assumptions. It’s fine for products, because, of course, a toaster is a toaster, but when it comes to people, labels tend to be overly simplistic. As a society, and particularly within marketing, we have become obsessed with dividing people into demographics, then drawing comparisons between those groups. Meanwhile, the real world is actually made up of individuals with unique wants and needs, who are in a constant state of change, and who defy such simplistic categorisation.

Not only are labels such as Millennial, Gen Z or most recently, Gen Alpha divisive or even mildly insulting, but they’re also not even very useful in marketing terms. Our latest research surveying 2,000 UK consumers as part of a global study, found twice as many people feel closer to others who share their interests (45%) than those who are of a similar age (21%). Which makes sense; marketing in the same way to two people merely because they were born between 1981 and 1995 (Millennials, apparently) is about as specific as basing it on their astrological star sign or the colour of their hair. In fact, over three quarters of those polled want to be seen an individual, and a quarter say they either don’t fit many, or any, of the stereotypes associated with their age group.

That is not to say people don’t want to interact and engage with brands, but rather that they demand a much more sophisticated approach to digital experiences. Seven out of ten say brands should demonstrate empathy by seeing things from their perspective and understanding what is important to them.

Be the brand they believe in

Fundamentally, this is about trust. Trust lies at the heart of the consumer-brand relationship; why would anyone with a choice engage with a business they don’t believe in? Consumers today are pretty savvy, and expect digital experiences that are relevant, consistent, and respect their privacy. The great news is that six out of ten of them say their trust is boosted by well-timed, personal content, but in a note of caution, seven-in-ten say that they would stop buying from a company completely following a breach of trust. That means asking permission, being transparent, and giving customers control over how their data is used.

So how can that be actioned? The majority (69%) of business leaders in EMEA admit it’s harder to earn trust than 2 years ago: tellingly, Adobe Real-Time Customer Data Platform (CDP) is the only CDP that carries consent and permissions with every piece of customer data, building respect and privacy into the core of the digital relationship.

Know me, know what makes me tick

Assuming that trust has been established, consumers feel a greater bond with brands that see them as individuals, rather than a collection of generalised assumptions based purely on when they happened to be born. Their interests and passions are what is important to them, and they expect that to translate into marketing and other interactions from brands, with a majority expecting brands to know them as a complete person, understanding virtually every aspect of their life. It’s about having a dialogue, not simply issuing blanket, one-size-fits-all edicts – but this approach requires the use of technology that can blend data from multiple online and offline sources to create a single view of a single customer – allowing brands to talk to the individual.

We’re not who we were

It is not enough to say you know your customers, you must show them that is the case by consistently delivering relevant and personal experiences in real-time. And that real-time element is crucial, because if there’s one rule that applies to all of us, as people and as consumers, it is that we change. Of those we polled, three quarters said their tastes change every few months, and 40% said they see themselves as very different to how they were 12 months ago.

Customer data is only really relevant if it is recent. As an example, imagine you have spent the previous three months improving your overall health through diet and exercise; well done you! But with the football World Cup around the corner, a supermarket uses old data to target offers for your preferred brand of beer and burgers at you. That use of old data risks alienating you not just because it’s not who you are now, but worse still, it could be an unwelcome temptation. Not seeing the whole picture has created a disconnect from which the relationship may not recover.

That’s why Adobe Real-Time CDP is so powerful for brands. It’s the only CDP that allows businesses to truly act in the moment, with Streaming Segmentation that gets real-time data where it needs to be, so the right content goes to the right person at the right time, with latency measured in milliseconds.

An open goal, or an own goal?

Measuring in milliseconds may sound excessive, but many real-world applications depend on this speed. Using our customer data platform, German champions FC Bayern will be able to bring their supporters around the world into the match day experience with real-time notifications through multiple channels. So, when a goal is scored, they’re in the know, and if there’s a last-minute ticket available, they’re not hanging around. Getting the timing or accuracy wrong there and they’d ruin the experience – who wants to break the news that, “no, actually your team didn’t just score the winning goal in extra time, sorry!”

That speed is also crucial for brands operating at scale, when responding to small changes en masse is a daily occurrence. Such businesses also face challenges around connecting data siloes, or reacting quickly while respecting differing data governance and regulations. With Adobe Real-Time CDP, businesses can respond to customer driven events with accuracy and immediacy.

It’s the little things that count

As with any relationship, grandiose statements are all well and good, but really, twice as many consumers value regular thoughtful gestures based on their interests, over one-off offers (44% v 21%). If you’re not engaged in a dialogue with your customers, if you’re not operating in real-time, how can you expect them to feel you really understand them. It’s about being close to your customer – not just because this is the best way to connect with them, but also because if you’re not, then someone else may very well be soon.

Download our full research report Make It Personal: Why today’s consumer refuses to be stereotyped to find out more.