Gen X and Millennials: Reaching Both Generations at Your Exhibit

January 23, 2018

Caroline Meyers

Caroline Meyers is the director of corporate communications for MC2, a brand experience agency part of MCH Group, Basel, Switzerland. Caroline joined MC² with a mandate to support and develop online services, which are increasingly part of the communications marketing mix. Her years as a magazine art director, web designer, public relations practitioner and ad agency creative director have given her a unique perspective on effective state-of-the-art communications – vital support for clients pre-, at- and post-show.

In this age of big data, it’s valuable to remember that reaching customers can be an art as well as a science. Which means we should use science to support our exhibit experiences.

That’s why it’s helpful to read our report from 2014, The Generational Marketing Balancing Art: Now We Are Six. Even as the age groups in the report have grown older, a close read will provide insights for reaching today’s attendees at trade shows. From discussing the multiple generations, preferred media channels, generation-specific profiles and each one’s comfort with digital devices, you can find out how they all can play into marketing messages in the exhibit world.

Though the report intimates that all six generations, stretching from ages 8-80, are more digitally-connected than ever, exhibit marketers should be particularly interested in two generations for the next six to ten years: Generation X (38-53) and Millennials (21-37), as Boomers (formerly the largest generation) move wholesale into retirement.

For a brief summation of the key points, keep reading because this article will update the findings of the report as it affects current exhibit marketing. We’ll offer some examples of exhibit communication techniques to the age groups comprising the current workforce.

Why Millennials and Gen X?

  1. Both generations are fully integrated into the workforce (33-52 years old)
  2. Both contain mature workers with the confidence of their companies to attend trade shows
  3. Both generations are old enough to be decision-makers or recommenders for their companies

The Millennial Shift.

  • Millennials are not the self-absorbed, air heads of “avocado toast” fame. They now make up 53.5 percent of the American workforce – that’s one in three workers.
  • They are digital natives for whom technology is not a tool, but a lifestyle.
  • They are likely to be the age group sent to trade shows, as opposed to Gen X who are likely to be in upper management or older Baby Boomers who are retired.
  • This shift will only be more prominent over the 10 years. Millennials are the largest generation since the Boomers and are already becoming decision-makers.

So how do we make the exhibit experience relevant to Gen Xers and Millennials? We must first take a look at some traits they have and figure out how to please each one. Let’s start with the Gen Xers.

Generation X Habits and Traits

  • Observation: The 38-53-year-old age group is highly digitally connected.
    • Marketing Solution: Use web, social media and digital devices to reach and stay in contact with them before, during and after the show.
  • Observation: They want to get the most for their money.
    • Marketing Solution: Recognize what it costs to go to a trade show and provide value for that expenditure.
  • Observation: They seek value over grandiose marketing claims.
    • Marketing Solution: Zero in on what you have to share/sell/show in your exhibit with an eye toward how it will benefit the customer. Product or service demos will go a long way to showing the “Show Me” generation the value of your offering.
  • Observation: They do respond to direct mail.
    • Marketing Solution: Consider attracting their attention with snail mail.
  • Observation: They like edgy, but not rude.
    • Marketing Solution: Depending on your company's personality, an exhibit experience that pushes the envelope will attract, engage and retain attendee attention.

Millennial Habits and Traits

  • Observation: The 21-37 age group is made up of digital natives.
    • Marketing Solution: Don't be afraid to use the most current social tools to reach this group. But be sure your message is genuine and believable. They can spot pretenders a mile off.
  • Observation: They are collaborative.
    • Marketing Solution: Transparency. Group-think. Sharing. Networking. Crowd-sourcing. These keywords should inform your pre- at- and post-show activities.
  • Observation: They depend on their mobile devices.
    • Marketing Solution: Mobile marketing is a solid strategy for reaching Millennials. RFID beacons and augmented reality apps, social engagement via Instagram engage on the show floor. But Ad Week points out, it’s video that has the impact for Millennials.
  • Observation: Prefer face-to-face interactions with experts, but reject being “sold to.”
    • As early as 2014, when Millennials were still moving into management positions, 61% believed exhibits, conventions and meetings were valuable. But watch out for the sales pitch because 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising techniques.

Getting specific with segmentation

The more detail you have about the attendees at your shows, the better you can micro-target relevant communications to them. This is not an overnight task, but a continuous program to find out more about your visitors.

This is what the buzzword “big data” is all about. It's collection and analysis of a vast amount of information about consumers so that marketing messages are segmented, targeted and measurable.

The data you collect for exhibiting purposes may not be “vast,” but it will help you segment and target your messages and thereby be able to measure success.

For example, the Millennial age range – 21-37 – is a significant range. Segmentation would narrow that range to male, female, education, position in the company, company location, etc. — these are all characteristics that can further define your audience and refine your message.

This approach applies to both groups.

So how does segmentation play out in your exhibit marketing strategy?

According to eMarketer, Millennial males segment by life stage rather than age. Younger millennials are focused on a delayed entrance into the workforce, older males who have home and family are more community oriented.

So, if you know that your exhibit audience is predominantly older male Millennials, you would be well-served to provide networking opportunities in the context of your exhibit.

According to another recent study, Gen X consumers rated 75 percent of the mail they receive as valuable.

Though Gen X is receptive to direct mail, segmentation by generation suggests that direct mail (promoting value over claims) might not be as successful with Millennials as – believe it or not – magazine advertising with 62 percent having read a magazine in the past week. However, when it comes to Millennials, mobile motivates the $800 billion Millennial market.

Again, if this appears to be your upcoming market segment, consider budgeting for direct mail. Be sure to check with the show organizer that they can deliver street addresses, not just email addresses. Then, plan on engaging mobile communications to promote your show.

This is good stuff. Where can I find information about my audience?

Since the advertising and marketing industry is fascinated with demographics, a simple search on the Internet uncovers a wealth of generational research on the generations. See what comes up when you simply enter “Millennial male.” Go ahead, do it. I dare you.

If you want more specifics about your particular audience, how about just asking them? A simple question on LinkedIn or a more rigorous poll of your current customers (who might be more inclined to participate) can unearth the granular detail you might be looking for.

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