SUMMARY: Marketing gurus say as many as six generations of consumers exist today, and each has unique characteristics. Make sure your church marketing efforts reach each generation effectively.
Who is hearing your church’s marketing messages? More importantly, who do you want to hear them? A woman watching a talk show as she babysits her grandkids? A 50-something business owner reading stock quotes online? Or a new college graduate texting friends and listening to the radio while riding in a friend’s car?
Specific church ministries and programs often are meant to serve specific generations. Understanding generational differences and creating the right marketing mix are essential for your congregation. Generations are labeled as the Silent Generation (born 1925-44), Boomers (1945-64), Generation X (1965-84) and Generation Y/Millennials (1985-2004). (Some references end the Boomer generation at 1957 and term those born between 1958 and 1968 Busters.) Limited resources mean you must use your available time, effort and money wisely to reach the generation your message targets.
For example, members of the Silent Generation are more likely to be regular newspaper readers than members of Generation X are. Be aware of the right “tipping point” before phasing out newspaper-based efforts in favor of using online marketing exclusively. Too early or too late, and you could omit an important group.
Here are some characteristics of each group to consider as you plan and adjust your generationally based marketing strategy.
Stick to pre-Internet marketing tactics. Silents generally read newspapers (especially obituaries) daily, listen to talk radio and watch late-night television. They are receptive to direct mail and prefer face-to-face conversations to phone calls. They customarily prefer formal events to casual get-togethers and respond well to the giving of awards and recognition.
This group is open to multi-media messaging but responds best to traditional marketing. It is what they are most familiar with. A mix of direct mail, face-to-face conversations, e-mail and other online communication is most effective. Boomers typically value youth (feeling young, being thought of as young) and their individuality. Although they grew up mostly during times of prosperity, Boomers are socially conscious. Be prepared to address how your church deals with these issues.
Like the Boomers, Gen Xers are good candidates for a mix of old and new media. On the whole, they are more tech-savvy than Boomers. Gen Xers are as comfortable in the cyber-world as they are watching retro sitcoms on TV or listening to the radio. They are more likely than their parents to be bilingual, and they may be more eclectic and eccentric. The best news for marketers: Gen Xers love to receive information and provide feedback. They value opportunities to learn, grow and improve themselves.
This generation values speed. Reach them through Twitter and all other technology-based “instant” messaging. They are used to short bursts of language with an active tone. Blogs are better than articles, and tweets are better than blogs. Millennials value family and tend to have good relationships with their grandparents. When planning programming to attract this group, consider including older members of your church with whom they will feel comfortable and safe.
Your community’s demographics can change in as little as two years. Monitor demographics closely by updating church membership data annually, reviewing Census Bureau information, and paying attention to local and state news about immigration, migration, school capital-improvement plans and other information that reflects population changes.
Free Demographic Reports
United Methodist Communications provides demographic information free, usually within a day of a request. You can find answers to questions such as: Is my area becoming more ethnically diverse? Are more households having children? Are we seeing more two-income families? Is the population “aging”? To get your community’s report, send an e-mail request to Chuck Niedringhaus, director of strategic marketing at United Methodist Communications.
When and how should you adjust your strategy?
Your community’s population and your church’s budget and resources will affect your plans. Is the population in the area stable, decreasing or growing? In either situation, align your efforts with those of your region or state.
For example, leaders in Maine, concerned about a decrease in population, have responded with statewide efforts to keep and attract more young people. If your church is in Maine, piggyback on these efforts by putting more of your marketing efforts into attracting Millennials. If your church is in Florida or Nevada, emphasize marketing to the Silent Generation and Boomers. Census data shows older residents are remaining in those states.
The U.S. will experience major demographic shifts in the next decade as the Silent Generation dwindles, the oldest of the Baby Boomers hits their 70s, and the oldest Gen Xers reach middle age. Make sure your marketing plan adjusts with these shifts.