March 10, 2015

Marketing Research Chart: Do different age groups prefer different channels?

SUMMARY: We recently published data about how customers want to communicate with companies.

A MarketingSherpa reader wrote in to ask for empirical data showing how different age groups and generations prefer to communicate with companies.

In this Chart of the Week article, we take a deeper dive into the data to discover how age affects channel preference.
by Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content

In January 2015, we asked 2,057 U.S. adults:

Q. In which of the following ways, if any, would you prefer companies to communicate with you? Please select all that apply.

View Chart Online

Click here to see a printable version of this chart

Note: The data has been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

Email is popular across generations

Gen X. Millennials. Boomers.

When we label, sometimes we divide. The conventional wisdom is that these different generations are vastly different in how they interact with technology.

However, according to our recent research of 2,057 U.S. adults, these different age groups are more alike than we may have thought when it came to one form of digital communication — all age groups said that email was their preferred means of communications with companies.

Now, there were some variations within age groups:
  • 35 to 44-year-olds were the most likely to prefer email (78%)

  • People 65 and over were the least likely to prefer email (a still robust 68%)

Also, while people 65 and over list email as their preferred means of communication, it was tied with postal mail for the top spot (both 68%).

So are generations just false labels we create? Well, not quite. While TV ads were another channel that was pretty consistent across age groups (about a third of people in every age group preferred TV ads as a communication medium with companies), there were some key differentiations between the age groups:

Postal mail is favored by older people

Postal mail was the communication medium that showed the biggest differentiation between age groups. As I said, 68% of Americans 65 or over prefer postal mail (tied for the top spot in that age group), but there was a dramatic drop off among younger people with only 30% of those 18 to 34 preferring postal mail.

Also, while most people preferred email across all age groups, email was the exception when it came to digital media. There was in fact a pretty significant digital divide:
  • 27% of 18 to 34 year olds want text messages from companies versus 6% of people 65 and over

  • 33% of 18 to 34 year olds want to communicate through social media with companies versus 4% of people 65 and over

  • 24% of 18 to 34 year olds want online content videos (like on YouTube and Vine) from companies versus 3% of people 65 and over

  • 22% of 18 to 34 year olds want to communicate through mobile apps with companies versus 2% of people 65 and over

Note: In response to a reader question, below is the data from the chart in table form.

View Chart Online

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