I never know where I’ll find the next marketing gem, but they do appear from time to time. This time it’s about generational bias in marketing, appearing in the “IdeaWatch” section of the January-February 2022 issue of Harvard Business Review. It’s based on a white paper called “Swiss Influencer Marketing Report 2020,” by Melanie Clegg, et al. You will find an abstract of the report here.
A summary of the research indicates a generational divide occurs when one generation doesn’t acknowledge information from another generation because it consciously or unconsciously thinks it knows more than the other. Since marketers are often older than the audience they are trying to reach, age bias clouds current reality.
When researchers surveyed 1,300 Swiss marketing managers, young consumers (age 13 to 30), and social media influencers, they discovered that the younger audience saw things completely different from the marketing managers. For example, 76% of the consumers surveyed considered Instagram the most important social media platform, but only 28% of the marketing managers did. Eighteen percent of marketers believed that Facebook carries a good deal of weight among the young. But only 2% of the young agreed. These are serious disconnects.
Further, when asked about the influencer who could most effectively connect with young people, the marketers picked Roger Federer, with 34% saying they would sign him on. Yet fewer than 1% of the young consumers named the tennis star.
I think these examples show how often our biases control our thinking, preventing us from exploring the facts. This generational tug of war goes on behind the scenes all the time in our companies and whether we recognize it or not, undermines marketing effectiveness big time.
As marketers we’re missing the boat if we don’t own up to it. If we do, it can encourage our younger people to respect our willingness to search for true knowledge and maybe open their minds to consider their own biases.
The researchers concluded an effective solution to the age bias disconnect would be to “implement a ‘shadow committee’ of young advisors, which would prevent marketing managers from being out of step.”
From an ego standpoint, a bold move to be sure. But I’m sure a cross generational team can more likely point out the flaws in our thinking. Both generations should open their minds to what the other generation may know. Put the heads of both generations together and enjoy the positive results.