Marketers: How to Bridge the Generational Screen Gap

Strategies for Brands to Reach Users on Different Screens Based on Intent

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Digital ad buys today are governed largely by the efficiencies in audience targeting that ad tech affords. But the screens that such buys are delivered on are to some extent an afterthought, primarily viewed as a channel to reach the generation being targeted -- millennials on smartphones, Gen Xers on laptops and baby boomers on PCs.

While content and messages are optimized for the size and function of each screen, these buys don't truly take into account how different generations choose screens based upon purpose. Marketers assume, for example, that all mobile devices are used in the same way and for the same purpose, regardless of the generation that is using them.

But new evidence is suggesting that there is significant variance in generational preferences for screen usage, ranging from content consumption to shopping, and marketers would be wise to take these variances into consideration if they hope to fully optimize their buys and maximize marketing investment.

A recent study by Millward Brown Digital found that while younger audiences are more smartphone-centric, consuming less TV than older generations, the majority of consumers across all generations still rely on laptops or PCs. The study also found that for low-attention tasks, audiences prefer smartphones, but that as the amount of time spent on a task increases -- usually after a five-minute threshold -- so does laptop and PC usage for all groups. Screen size and speed were the biggest determinants of screen preference across generations.

So how should marketers approach taking differences in screen preference and usage into consideration when preparing their digital campaigns? Here are some tips:

1. Understand the audience your marketing is reaching by more than just demographics.

When evaluating digital ad performance, consider the differential impact of your creative and messaging by device. An ad will display differently across devices. For ads in which the visual attributes are more important (think retail, consumables or auto), advertising targeted to tablets can be very effective in boosting awareness and brand favorability, because the overall quality and display of the product being advertised is bigger and clearer. That same ad on a smartphone will have to be cut down and resized, and its impact will be different.

What is so exciting about this is that with the promise of programmatic, marketers can use these types of findings to sequence ads across devices to achieve a brand's objective (for example, building awareness and favorability of the product on a tablet, then following up with laptop/desktop ads that allow a consumer to compare features, and then closing with mobile ads designed to drive in-store behavior). These sequences can be built out by brand objective and target audience to tell a sequenced story and move consumers down the digital purchase funnel.

2. Optimize messaging across screens based on audience and generational screen preferences.

If a campaign's goal is to drive consumer behaviors like purchase and research, ensure that the marketing investment and delivery match the screen preference. For example, in categories such as financial services that require in-depth understanding of product features and comparison of multiple offers, digital marketing focused on product benefits and features is better targeted to more desktop and laptop screens, where users can pay attention to and act on the content in the ad. This is particularly true for boomers, who are more likely to do research on financial service products on a laptop than on a smartphone (31% of boomers have done research for financial service products on a laptop compared with 7% who've done that research on a smartphone and 5% on a tablet).

Alternatively, a hyper-local ad that requires a lower level of attention and research, such as an ad for clothes or apparel, may be better served on a smartphone where younger audiences like millennials are almost as likely to shop for clothes and apparel on a smartphone (35%) as on a laptop (37%).

3. Invest in the next and the now. While audiences are shifting to mobile, in the short term they are still reliant on laptops and PCs for purchase and acquisition activities. Commit to obtaining holistic insights that not only explore the individual components of your marketing's performance -- such as audience, brand lift and consumer behavior insights -- but tell the complete story across delivery and impact.

4. Consider how screen preference influences the consumer journey.

Consumers still rely heavily on laptops and PCs for shopping across categories. Millennials are the first generation to push the envelope on mobile shopping, but they still reach for their laptops for some categories, depending on the amount of time needed and the importance of the task. For example, millennials' use of smartphones and PCs for consumer packaged goods purchases is almost identical (39% of millennials have used laptops or PCs for CPG purchase and research, and 37% have used smartphones). However, for a higher-investment product, like consumer electronics, 36% have used their laptops v. 27% who have used smartphones. This has implications for all marketers -- before you put all your eggs in the mobile basket, consider how your consumers engage with your category and optimize accordingly.

Each generation uses digital differently to consume content and shop for products and services. Shifts in generational screen preference give us insight into both the present and the future -- while audiences are shifting to mobile, for now they still rely on laptops and PCs for many content and purchase activities.

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