Do buyers perceive you as old? Or juvenile?

What products, services or ideas do we buy? Where do we look for trustworthy information about them? And how do we perceive communication from different suppliers or brands? One vital aspect of all that is “age”, but not necessarily the way you think.

Some people somewhat claim that “age is just a number”. But we are all children of our time. Whether we are Baby boomers, Generation X:ers or Millennials, our habits and preferences were to a great extent settled during our formative years. Which were very different in the 1950s compared to, say, the 1990s.

The digital gap

Today, the most obvious “generation gap” is between digital natives and digital immigrants. The former is said to crave constant connectivity; the internet is their first choice for information as well as social interaction. The digital immigrants prefer phone, face-to-face and more formal e-mail communication. Two distinctively different worlds with different worldviews, languages and habits.

As digital evolved from novelty to the new normal, it has been suggested that the digital gap should rather be based on our actual preferences and behavior – regardless of age:

  • Tech avoiders (who actively choose to resist change)
  • Reluctant followers (who do what they must to stay reasonably updated)
  • Eager adopters (who gladly embrace the new tools and channels)
  • Innovators (who strive to push the limits even further)

In practice, age is still a major factor. But office computers have been around since the 1970s, and yesterday’s eager adopters and innovators are now reaching retirement age. Don’t expect them to leave their digital curiosity and creativity behind.

The cultural gap

So, how do people in different age brackets perceive commercial and editorial messages directed at them? To get some answers we simply (and quite unscientifically) asked a number of people between 30 and 60 if they sometimes perceived media content and messages as “old”, or maybe “juvenile”.

With slight variation they all said “no”. The real divider rather seems to be their choice of communication channels and media. The responders (at least in this limited sample) felt that the language used in their choice of media was OK (= rarely felt too old or juvenile), but that the actual content sometimes felt shallow and immature. Which may or may not relate to the biological age of the writer.

When a relatively young person is confronted with the qualified content and mature, sophisticated language, of senior political or cultural writers, it may well alienate them. It may be seen as too heavy, or not relevant to their particular taste or interests. At the same time, much like a senior TV anchor, it tends to add weight, respect and credibility to their messages and reasoning.

Don’t even try to fake it

In other words, biological age doesn’t seem to be a major factor in itself, unless it is reflected in the choice of media.

But, whatever you do, don’t even try to fake it. Several people in our informal mini-poll spontaneously mentioned marketing efforts where a writer strived to appear younger than he or she really is, desperately trying to emulate the target group’s language, attitudes and cultural references. This usually comes with rather embarrassing results.