The Generational Content Gap: How Different Age Groups Consume Content
Columnist Kerry Jones shares recent research about online content consumption preferences and habits across different generations.
What do you buy? What makes you loyal to a brand? Where do you spend your time? If you could ask a modern 18-year-old and one from 25 years ago those same questions, you would probably get very different answers.
Each generations has its own distinct values and behaviors, so understanding the nuances of different age groups is essential for marketers trying to reach a specific target. This is why marketers fixate on learning about the newest generation, as we’ve witnessed with the present-day focus on understanding what makes Millennials tick.
When it comes to content marketing, considering the generation of your audience can help inform your content creation and promotion approach. A recent study by Fractl (my employer) and BuzzStream found the generations have as many differences as they have similarities when it comes to online content consumption habits and preferences.
The study surveyed more than 1,200 people across three generations: Millennials (born 1977–1995), Generation Xers (born 1965–1977) and Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964). Participants were asked their opinions and preferences regarding 15 types of online content, as well as their preferred content length and how much time they spend engaging with content.
Below are some of the study’s most compelling takeaways.
Blog Posts Are The Most Consumed Content By All Three Generations
As much as they differ in other ways, the generations have a lot in common when it comes to the content they consume most frequently.
- Blog posts take the top spot for all three generations, followed by images, comments and e-books.
- Audiobooks are the fifth most preferred content format for Millennials.
- Gen Xers are likely to read a case study, which ranks as their fifth choice.
- Reviews are a top choice for Baby Boomers, claiming their No. 5 spot.
Sticking with content formats that are universally liked by all generations may increase your chances of getting in front of the largest audience possible.
Looking at which types of content each generation reports they are least likely to consume can also help guide your strategy.
- White papers, webinars, SlideShares and flipbooks are among the least consumed content for all three generations. This is not surprising considering the penchant for short content by all generations — each of these content formats requires a larger commitment than reading a short blog post.
- Steer clear of quizzes if you’re trying to connect with Millennials or Gen Xers. Again, due to their preference for shorter content formats, getting them to complete a lengthy quiz may prove difficult.
- Trying to connect with Baby Boomers through memes may fall flat — leave this content type for the younger generations.
Everyone Likes Short Content
When it comes to content length, short attention spans aren’t just for the young.
- All three generations enjoy reading articles with around 300 words, which was the highest preference among every group.
- More than half of Baby Boomers like content with fewer than 300 words, and of that half, about 18 percent prefer very short content with fewer than 200 words.
- About 20 percent of Generation X respondents prefer content longer than 500 words.
So should you cut all of your content down to 300 words? Not necessarily. Keep in mind, the casual reader isn’t doing a word count on every piece of content he or she reads.
What these findings really tell us is that the generations like content that isn’t laborious to get through; it shouldn’t feel like it’s long.
Concise content that is formatted for easy scanning is likely to appeal to all generations, regardless of the total word count.
Baby Boomers Spend The Most Time Consuming Online Content
Surprisingly, Boomers take the lead when it comes to time spent consuming content. More than 25 percent of Baby Boomers clock in at over 20 hours of content per week.
They also lead in the range of 15–20 hours, with 17 percent, compared with about 10 percent of Gen Xers and Millennials.
Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Xers spend roughly the same amount of screen time. Their responses were strikingly similar:
- The largest proportion of both Millennials and Gen Xers, about 23 percent, consume between five and 10 hours a week.
- Around 21 percent of both generations consume more than 20 hours.
- Eighteen percent of Generation X and about 15 percent of Millennials consume at least five hours a week.
Age has long been, and will probably continue to be, one of the greatest indicators of a group’s likes and interests. But beyond age, further consideration should be given to the years the audience was born, as this can give insights into its unique generational microculture.
Want more data about how the generations engage with content? Check out this deck for findings about their weekend content consumption habits, preferred video length, and more.
Do you consider the generation of your audience when creating content? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.