Consumers expect the same from brands as they do friends, study finds

Research shows brands should focus on five key areas to attract all generations.


Get your Gen X, Gen Z, Boomers and Millennials confused? We don’t blame you.

Marketers are constantly bombarded with data about how brands must cater to generations' individual needs. But new research has revealed the common grounds that unite all of them.  

There are five themes that bridge the generations: anxiety, visual media, family value, video, content as mood therapy and loyalty, according to a study by Disney|ABC Television, Omnicom Media Group and Insight Strategy Group.

"This research shows that consumers across all generations want and expect the same things from brands as they do of their friends and family -- reliability , authenticity, and the feeling like the brands ‘get’ them and what’s important to them at this point in their lives -- whatever that point may be," said Jonathan Steuer, chief research officer at Omnicom Media Group.

"In a data-centric world, where marketers are heavily focused on understanding audiences based what they do and how they engage with brands across platforms, we must not forget that those audiences are made of people. Therefore, understanding what they think and feel, and how they engage with each other across generations, is equally important to connecting with those audiences."

The research, pulled from a survey of 4,000 people representing Generation Z through Baby Boomers, revealed that the current cultural climate has all Americans feeling very cautious and uncertain about the future. Consumers are still hopeful but are hesitant to rely on large institutions.

Two in three said their generation’s American Dream has been turned upside down. The research suggests that brands can address consumer anxiety by channeling comfort and security, speaking to values like family, relationships, health, vitality, and opportunity.

Speaking of family, a total of 87 percent surveyed agreed that family is the most important thing to them, and 82 percent said their friends are like their family.

The study pointed to content sharing as a facilitator of closeness. Parent and child relationships are shifting toward "peer-enting," in which parents share media like their favorite childhood memories with their kids. A total of 38 percent Gen Zers and Millennials tend to influence what their parents watch. 

Video is important regardless of device, network, or platform. The study revealed that nearly half of consumers use media clips as a way of communicating with others. This shared vocabulary -- like memes -- is being played out on social media, mainly.

Gen Zers are the largest user of visual memes, followed by Millennials, Gen Xers and then Boomers.

Content therapy
All generations use video for identity and mood benefits, the data showed. A total of 86 percent of Gen Zers and Millennials said they actively seek out entertainment content based on what mood they’re in.

A brand remedy points to exploration of the emotional connection between consumers and content; deliver your message where the signal is strong. Offer audiences’ strongest mood therapy benefits of reflection and relaxation, and lean into nostalgic references and content, the study suggest.

Consumers across all generations are loyal to brands that share their values. Consumers want brands to be authentic, inclusive, and understand their generation.

Around 75 percent said they’re most loyal to brands that reflect their personal values and want advertising to be relevant for their generation.

What now?
The research confirmed that the top five drivers of brand affinity across all categories are: being cool, reliable and authentic, with an understanding of age and where people are at in their life stage. Focus on nailing these, and give your brand a greater chance of being relevant to all generation consumers.

"While a lot of research focuses on understanding each generation in isolation, we wanted to include an exploration of shared connection points that extend across generations as well," said Slaine Jenkins, VP at Insight Strategy Group. "Right now, a lot is going on culturally that people are responding to in a united way. Specifically, an underlying desire for messages channeling security and comfort, a shared feeling of entrepreneurship, and a rising trend of engaging with media as dialogue and as a mood management system."


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