Understanding Technological Engagement across Generations

By Nicole Mitchell, Knowledge Specialist

Today’s global citizens vary widely in terms of digital behavior. SSI recently conducted a study with 6,173 people in six different countries, asking a variety of questions to gain insight into their digital lives. The results helped researchers understand how a consumer’s interactions with mobile technology affect their participation in market research. These interactions were largely defined by which generation they were born into and hinted at how we should conduct digital marketing research in the future.

Who You Can Reach with Expanded Hardware Capabilities

It comes as no surprise that millennials and generation Xers are much more likely to own a smartphone than  baby boomers. While there are many similarities between these generations, when it comes to purchasing technology the baby boomer generation lags behind significantly. Hardware is important from a research perspective because it informs the modes of data collection and narrows the different participant segments.

Baby boomers—also known as digital immigrants—have had to adopt (and adapt to) new technologies as they come out. The millennial generation simply grew up with these advances. As digital devices become increasingly connected to mobile capabilities, researchers may have a harder time using mobile surveys to reach baby boomers—simply because they tend to access hardware in a different way.

However, expanded hardware capabilities may make it easier for media rich data collection such as recording videos, taking pictures and recording audio responses. For example, as millennials further adopt specific technologies like IOT devices, new avenues to data collection will be open to researchers.

Communicating Online and Across Different Platforms

When it comes to digital contact, SSI’s research found that while 80% of boomers stated they stay in touch with people online, only 22% said online was their only means of communication. This greatly differs from millennials, where nearly a third of the age group solely use online channels to correspond with others.

Not only are different generations using a variety of means to communicate, they have even further separated themselves by the platforms they use online. While boomers prefer Facebook, they rarely use Instagram—whereas millennials tend to communicate through platforms like Snapchat. Knowing which channels each generation prefers to communicate in will help researchers choose the platforms and style of data collection that are most appropriate to the target demographic.

How Consumers Purchase                                                                                    

A changing path to purchase has emerged. There are four distinct stages to how consumers buy—and how they use their mobile devices to do so. How this looks in terms of a specific process varies by generation. The stages begin with information gathering, followed by short listing, purchasing and finally rationalizing the purchase.

People have always looked for advice and information at each stage in this process, but how they receive the information is changing. 72% of millennials surveyed stated they use their mobile devices for the data gathering part of the process. Boomers, on the other hand, are more likely to use their at-home PC and other forms of technology.

As a result, when data collection is part of the buying process, it’s important to consider in-store push surveys vs. giving consumers a code to fill out later or sending a follow-up email. Different generations will prefer one method of data gathering to the other and the difference is essential to consider if market researchers want to reach their target demographic.

Privacy across the Board and Incentives for Access

People care about information privacy, and unlike other categories, the need for privacy doesn’t differ much by age. People have admitted that newer technologies used for information gathering can be downright “creepy.” Consumers want to have a relationship with a brand before they share information and more importantly, understand how the data is being used, as well as how sharing information is profitable for them.

Across the board, all age groups are more likely to consent to data collection techniques when they are offered some benefit in return. From a free download to a limited trial, people are much more likely to take a survey and offer personal information when they there’s some clear incentive. It is important for researchers to understand that before utilizing technologies that access personal data, providing a clear benefit in return for access is an important way to build trust between a consumer and brand.

While today’s global citizen has habits that vary more with age than reason, understanding key trends around factors such as hardware and privacy concerns can help researchers conduct their market studies more effectively. The patterns of digital behavior each generation possesses can dramatically shape research outcomes. If well informed, researchers will be able to ensure that they’re making the best decisions possible with their target audience and research objectives to obtain the most accurate information possible.