Is It Time We Re-thought Generational Age Profiling?

Is it time we re-thought generational age profiling? As a digital marketing, planning, and buying agency operating broadly within education and youth marketing, we are probably complicit in a well-established trend in segmentation which, when you really think about it, makes very little sense.

‘Gen Z’ is the focus of myriad articles and blogs, and would appear to form the dominant segmentation tool for ad targeting among brands in nearly all consumer sectors. It is so ubiquitous within the youth marketing space that any marketing plan, advertising proposal, or sector blog post would look positively naked without at least a passing reference to it. 

But has the all-pervasive referencing of a broad category of age groups made us all lazy in our approach to segmentation?

What is ‘Gen Z’?

The next generation down from ‘Millennials’ (a term which became so overused as to attract much scorn), which in turn was the next generation along from ‘Gen X’ which itself was the descendant of ‘Baby Boomers’ (those born in the years immediately preceding World War Two, up to the early 1960s). According to Pew Research Center in the US, the cut off point between a ‘Millennial’ and a ‘Gen Z’ is someone born in 1996 (the youngest ‘Millennial’) and 1997 (the oldest ‘Gen Z’). 

So, if you are ‘Gen Z’ you are currently 25 years old, or younger. There is then another cut-off point to ‘Generation Alpha’ which is broadly today’s children aged 0-11. 

The case against ‘Gen Z’ as a segmentation tool

This poses obvious problems. Must we continue to lump 25 year olds in the same bucket as 16 year olds for this purpose? Perhaps they have slightly more in common with each other than the extreme ends of the ‘Millennial’ Generation, but as the years continue to pass, the differences in attitude, outlook, and consumer behavior are surely likely to intensify. 

Furthermore, is it likely that the term ‘Gen Z’ will naturally evolve into a scornful description of a generation based solely on its perceived negative connotations? After all, it happened with Millennials….

But on a more practical note, why should a broad age range be such a dominant factor in market segmentation? Does it provide anywhere near as much differentiation as other demographic or sociological factors, such as hobbies, interests, search behavior, buying habits, socioeconomic group, etc.? 

What’s the alternative?

Herein lies the difficulty. How can we segment consumer audiences in a more effective way? It’s become a whole lot more difficult recently for myriad reasons related to consumer privacy, so the old ways of micro-segmentation based upon the use (some might say misuse) of consumer data are non-grata in the new world. 

But even so, is there no better profiling tool than an incredibly broad age range? Google is exploring possibilities such as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) but this is imperfect. But certainly no more so than the flawed ‘segment’ of Gen Z or Millennials as some kind of homogeneous group. 

What do you think?

Is the use of ‘Gen Z’ as a primary targeting segment overused? Or do you find it to be a useful demographic filtering tool?

Do you think that it’s time we re-thought generational age profiling?

Read our previous blog post here.