What Does Personal Branding Mean to Different Generations?

Do you have a personal brand? For most, the answer is yes.

Even if you haven’t made a conscious effort to do so, you developed your brand the moment you stepped online.

Before social media became as ubiquitous as it is today, an individual’s “brand” was largely built around what they were like in person – how they dressed, spoke and behaved.

Today, it is easier than ever to shape a personal brand and carve your digital footprint.

To help us understand what personal branding means to different generations, we looked at some of the attitudes, interests and behaviors of Gen X (aged 36-54), Millennials (aged 22-35), and Gen Z (aged 16-21).

Generation X embrace digital change.

Gen Xers are often thought to be behind the digital curve compared to their younger counterparts. Our research reveals something different.

In fact, this group stays clued into changing digital trends and is more likely to get online via their smartphone than a PC/laptop.

Smartphone ownership is at 95% or more, regardless of age, and more than 4 in 5 Gen Xers use the internet as the first point of call for information.

Millennials feel the pressure of technology.

Interestingly, more Millennials say they don’t understand computers or new technology than Gen Xers.

34% feel that technology makes their lives more complicated.

There’s an internal conflict here for Millennials: while they say technology complicates their lives, 66% are constantly connected.

What’s more, 57% feel more insecure without their mobile phone than their wallet.

This might be a result of the fact that Millennials grew up during a period of rapid technological, economic and societal change.

They’re the generation that created social media, but they also struggle between their desire to be constantly connected and their concerns over the impact technology has on their lives.

Gen Z spend the most time on social media, but older counterparts aren’t far behind.

Over 98% of all generations access social media from any device every month.

Unsurprisingly, as the first generation who grew up as digital natives, Gen Zers spend the most time here, averaging 2 hours 48 minutes on social media on a typical day.

However, Millennials and Gen Xers closely follow, at 2 hours 35 minutes and 2 hours 10 minutes respectively.

The most popular platform for active engagement in the past month is Facebook for Gen Xers and Millennials, while YouTube takes the lead for Gen Zers.

Outside China, Gen Zers are also 52% more likely to engage with Snapchat than the average user.

Gen Z are more image-conscious and care about others’ opinions.

More than 1 in 5 Gen Zers fall into the Image-Conscious attitudinal segmentation, making them over 10% more likely to fall into this segment than the average user.

This reflects Gen Zers greater interest in subjects relating to their personal image, like fashion and style (34%) compared to other generations.

Millennials and Gen Xers are more interested in professional interests, such as politics, personal finance and investment, and news and current affairs.

Gen Z (42%) is also more swayed by other people’s opinions than Gen X (31%).

Both Millennials and Gen Zers care more about uniqueness and standing out in a crowd than Gen Xers.

Their interests are also reflected in how they present themselves online.

For example, younger generations are more likely to be concerned with how they look online, and use social media to showcase their unique personalities, meticulously curating their personal brand to reflect how they want to be perceived by others.

Their experiences are carefully styled, recorded and shared on social media.

Gen Zers are also more selective about who they share with online by actively engaging with Snapchat and Instagram more than Millennials.

Gen Z and Millennials use social media for entertainment.

Over 55% of Gen Zers and Millennials fall into the Content Networkers segmentation, including those using social media for entertaining content, to consume sports content, or following vloggers.

45% of Gen Z and 42% of Millennials use social media to find funny or entertaining content.

This is compared to 29% of Gen Xers, who are also 20% more likely to advocate a brand if they get access to exclusive content or services.

They’re also more interested in ‘viral’ celebrity culture than other generations and are more likely to follow actors, singers and musicians, vloggers and comedians.

This presents a great opportunity for influencer marketing using the likes of Snapchat or Instagram, providing brands overcome authenticity issues associated with influencers.

Influencer marketing not only provides entertaining and easily-consumed content to a group who are admittedly more easily influenced, it also taps into the community connection they desire.

Over 37% of Gen Z say they would by a product/service simply for the experience of being part of the community built around it.

Gen X are more purpose-driven in their use of social media.

Gen Xers are more purposeful in how they use social media. This is probably because the majority are professionals at the peak of their careers with families, and as a result are more time-restricted.

They use social media most to keep-up-to-date with the news (38%) and search for products to buy (28%).

They also share fewer photos/videos on social media and follow news organizations more than Gen Zers or Millennials.

Falling into the Professional Networkers, 30% follow contacts relevant to their work, clearly reflecting what life stage they’re at and the role that social media plays in their professional life.

Gen Xers’ online persona is more profession-driven and pragmatic than other generations.

Unique experiences and love for the brand are important across all ages.

Over 58% of audiences we looked at, regardless of generation, would prefer to spend money on a unique experience than a status brand.

This tells us that offering an exciting and unique experience is something that will engage these audiences.

Across all generations, 30% will engage in advocacy simply for the love of the brand.

Gen X stick to what they know while younger generations want brands to elevate them.

Gen X consumers are in their prime spending years, earning more than their younger counterparts. They’re also more likely to be brand loyal than Gen Zers.

3 in 5 Gen Xers agree that once they find a brand they like, they’ll stick with it.

Reflecting this, Gen Xers are less inclined to try new products and are more risk averse – they like to stick with what they know.

They’re also more likely to find out about brands/products via ads seen on TV and in-store product displays or promotions, compared to the other audiences.

High quality and rewards/discounts are important factors here for brand advocacy. Brands need to take this into account and act quickly if they wish to engage this lucrative audience.

For Gen Zers and Millennials, image plays a key role.

15% of both Millennials and Gen Zers say they would advocate a brand that enhances their online reputation.

17% of Millennials and 21% of Gen Zers also want brands to make them feel cool/trendy. For this reason, influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements remain significant opportunities, in particular for Gen Zers who are 40% more likely to find out about new products and brands via vlogs.

Both appearance and entertainment matters to these cohorts and dictates much of what they do online, so it’s up to brands to leverage this to their advantage.

Online behavior is largely determined by life stage.

Across generations, these consumers all care about how they “look”, but what that “look” is depends on the life stage they’re at.

For example, younger generations are more interested in what makes them cool/trendy while older generations are more practical and family-oriented, not relying so much on social media prestige.

Millennials sit somewhere in between, both age-wise and behavior-wise.

This means brands need to tailor their offering to each audience and not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Targeting any generation, it’s important that brands communicate in an authentic and transparent way.

Marketers who can earn the trust of their consumers, understand their needs and values, and fit in with their lifestyles and the image they aspire to will reap the rewards.