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Generational differences in media consumption and new technologies are changing the way marketers choose their media mix. Gone are the days when television and radio could interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to provide a message that people actually responded to. Today, the population is turning to the Internet and mobile outlets for their news and entertainment, creating a shift in the media paradigm.

These trends are in part due to generational differences in media consumption. Millennial’s go-to news channels are a complete 180 from those of the greatest generation. A 2012 Pew research study reported the following preference for news stories across four generations.1

Comparing news sources by generation:

  • The Greatest Generation: This population turns to television first, followed by newspapers, radio and lastly Internet for news and information. These preferences have remained steady since 2002.
  • Baby Boomers: Boomers also prefer television as their number one news source. However, they exhibited preference for radio and newspaper until 2004 when consumption began to decline, and their Internet consumption began to rise. In 2012, Pew reported that the Internet was just shy of radio and newspaper by a mere 1%.
  • Generation X: Keeping with trend, Gen X’s number one news source is also television. However, a difference of only 3% puts Internet in second place followed by radio and newspaper in dead last.
  • Millennials: Also known as Generation Y, these youngsters are breaking the mold, with their most popular news source being the Internet. Before 2011, Internet was their number two preference, just behind television, until they switched places. Radio and newspaper have been third and fourth preference since 2002.

These preferences are not surprising for any of the defined generations; however, things are changing in favor of digital media across generations. A more recent Pew study reported in April, 2014 found that 59% of seniors go online and 77% have a cellphone.1 Also, Boomer’s and Generation Xer’s preference for the Internet is on the rise.

What does this mean for marketers?

It’s not just younger generations who are changing the marketing mix. We are starting to see sift in preference towards digital outlets across generations. Not only that, but Millennials are becoming financially independent from their Gen X and Boomer parents. As they start to make their own purchasing decisions, it’s likely we will see an even stronger preference for Internet and mobile outlets.

Media buyers should keep this new media landscape in mind as purchasing and planning decisions are made. Businesses using purely traditional tactics should re-think their marketing spend to cater to tech-savvy consumers in each generation.

The Multi-Platform Consumer

Now we know that the popularity of digital channels are on the rise, but what platforms are audiences turning to the most? A 2012 study by the Pew Research center showed that 77% of U.S. adults own a desktop or laptop computer, 44% own a smartphone and 22% own a tablet.1 The rise in use of mobile devices means that people are consuming information across platforms, and to maximize reach, it makes the most sense to market your products or services on all of them.

Many consumers own more than one different kind of device, too, meaning that instead of new technology replacing the old, the introduction of new devices has created a new multi-platform consumer. In the same 2012 Pew research study, 25% of participants said they get news on a tablet, smartphone, desktop and laptop, this being the most popular among the Millennial generation.1 In order to stay competitive, marketers must have their brands where people are looking—on several different devices.

For multi-platform consumers, it’s important to have marketing reach them through each of their devices. These consumers will want a clear and consistent message across each of their devices. This new type of media consumption also creates opportunity to increase frequency of a marketing messages, and have multiple points of contact with a target audience.

Keep your message in context

When delivering your marketing communications across multiple platforms, it’s important to tailor your message for each. Multi-platform consumers use their different devices for specific types of information and uses. To determine how to market your product or service on each platform, think about the context in which users choose a specific device.

  • Smartphones: People turn to smartphones when they’re on the go and when they’re at home; however, they only access the internet on a smartphone for an average of 17 minutes per session.2 It makes sense to make your messages quick and shareable when targeting mobile consumers.
  • Tablets: Online tablet usage averages about 30 minutes per session, and is mostly motivated by entertainment while at home.2 Marketing for tablet users should be entertainment driven, containing easy to consume information.
  • Laptops and Desktops: Computers are primarily used at home or in the office for productive, task-oriented activities.2 This means that when people are going online on their computers, they are looking to be informed and to be kept up-to-date. Marketing messages placed on laptop and desktop media should be useful and informational, as computer users are online for an average of 39 minutes per session.2
  • Television: The average time spent watching TV is about 43 minutes per session.2 While TV is viewed the longest amount of time per session, viewers might be doing other things during commercials (looking at their smartphones or tablet for example). Also, the development of new types of television programming, such as Netflix and Hulu, has created a shift in the way audiences consume their television shows and movies.

In order to reach and influence a specific target audience, it’s important to keep the device they are most likely to use in mind, and tailor the messaging for that device to get the highest return on investment. For example, if you’re targeting Millennials or younger generations of consumers, it’s smart to advertise on mobile devices, as 85% of Millennials aged 18 to 24 and 86% of those aged 25 to 34 own a smartphone. And because we know the context in which mobile devices are used, we can assume that the messaging should be quick, shareable and communicated easily.

Going Mobile

The multi-platform consumer is changing the way marketers plan and buy media, but when the budget is tight, it can make the most sense to make mobile a priority.

Pew reports that “half of mobile news users sometimes or often notice ads when they are getting news on their mobile device.” In addition, click through rates are higher on mobile devices than other platforms. Mobile has a roughly 15% CTR, with a 7% conversion rate, whereas browser-based ads get a CTR of only about 1%.

These numbers show that people tend to notice and act on ads more so on their mobile devices than on most other digital platforms. This is a great way to target niche markets, as ads can be placed on specific sites to pin point target audiences. However, if your campaign goal is to maximize reach, it’s best to include the other platforms and always keep the new multi-platform consumer in mind.

Choosing the right media mix

When building the media mix for your next campaign, keep your target audience in mind. What are the media consumption habits for their generation? What devices are you likely to find them using and when? Are they on multiple devices and how should your messaging change to fit each of their devices? Is the goal to maximize reach or target a niche audience? It’s important to think through these questions when placing your media in today’s new media landscape, and choose the appropriate tactics for your campaign.

To learn more about the best media channels to target the new generation of consumers across all of their devices, read the upcoming white paper, The Changing Media Landscape.