Imagine devising an internal communication strategy for initiatives such as a new employee benefits plan or a flexible work program. Or think about creating an external marketing campaign for talent recruitment. Audience analysis is integral to any communication strategy—and must assume diverse populations. The diversity of generations in the workplace makes understanding the audience, choosing media channel strategy, and crafting compelling messages and delivery methods even more complex.
When marketers segment audiences and create buyer personas, one of the first factors they consider is chronological age: how many years a person has lived. Marketers and other researchers gain insight about a generational group by reviewing how they were educated and entertained, and how they receive and exchange information. However, business communicators also need to lead the way and transcend stereotypes about generations to create a more nuanced view, beyond the familiar profiles of the traditionalists (born before 1945), baby boomers (born 1945–1964), Gen X (born 1965–1985), and the millennial group (born 1986–2006, which includes Gen Y and Gen Z).
Generational preferences for media channel choices are well documented. Traditionalists and baby boomers relate well to print, Gen Xers go online, millennials connect through personal devices and social media. Parenting styles also differ across generations, which affects people’s expectations of authority, individual autonomy, and the style, tone and frequency of performance feedback.
But where do useful generalizations cross over into shallow assessments leaning toward stereotypes? When we only look at age as a number. Instead, communication professionals can apply a psychographic approach to audience age analysis to focus on shared values, and avoid a one-size-fits-all template for each generational group.
Think back to developing the types of internal and external communication strategies mentioned above. How could a nuanced psychographic approach with cross-generational audience analysis be applied?
The “Prism of Age” framework
One way is to apply the “Prism of Age” framework developed by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. In a 2012 report titled “Through a Different Looking Glass: The Prism of Age,” the authors identify 11 dimensions that describe a multifaceted view of age: chronological, physical/cognitive, socioeconomic, social, career stage, tenure, normative, generational, relative, life events, and subjective.