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Boomers and Millennials are more alike in the marketplace than you'd think

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Forget the conventional wisdom. When it comes to buying things, the generation gap between Baby Boomers (49-67 years old) and Millennials (18-32) may be just fractions of a millimeter wide. A Radius GMR study of more than 3.4 million households found more similarities than differences in how each group makes purchase decisions. Knowing and taking advantage of those similarities can save marketers significant money by avoiding duplicative marketing investments.

Technology

Apparently, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Most Millennials (90 percent) and Boomers (86 percent) surveyed "routinely research products online." So the same posting could very well fit both.

Both groups use social media. Ninety percent of Boomer and Millennial women, use Facebook, for example. (Though, as you'll see below, they rely on it differently.)

And both bought more technology products last year.

But while both do use streaming movies and television programming, almost twice as many Millennials (77 percent) do their viewing that way as Boomers (40 percent). So go ahead and save money by buying pre-rolls and spots in streamed tv shows to reach Millennials, but don't neglect actual broadcast or cable air time to reach Boomers.

Purchase patterns

Boomers and Millennials shop in the same places – retail stores for packaged goods, clothes and electronics; online for travel.

Both say they focus mainly on quality or price-to-value ratio.

But they have different shopping priorities. Millennials ranked travel and clothing as their top priorities for 2014, while Boomers put "necessities" like packaged foods and insurance higher. What a drag it is getting old.

Persuasion

Though both groups believe in researching products before they buy, and both use desktop computers to do it, four times as many Millennials (60 percent) as Boomers (14 percent) use their smartphones. Boomers are twice as likely (38 percent) to check out newspapers and magazines. This suggests that newspapers' and magazines' websites might be good media for advertising to Boomers online. So, though it's at best marginally ethical, is "native advertising" – sponsored sales pitches masquerading as online magazine website content.

While Boomers base purchase decisions on advertising and advice from sales reps, Millennials are swayed by word of mouth. This suggests that Facebook, Twitter and other social media, which digitally simulate word of mouth, as media to reach and persuade them.

Outlook

Counterintuitively, Millennials – the demographic suffering an effective unemployment rate of 16.2 percent and carrying an average of $53,000 outstanding student debt – are more optimistic about the Obama economy (71 percent) and are "more apt to maintain/increase spending" during the continuing recession.

Maybe it's a case of "too soon old, too late smart." Or "been down so long, it looks like up to me."

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