How to write for different generations

Organisations must consider how they write and present content for different generations – both as customers and employees – to establish trust.
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Millennials are entitled, work-shy and overly sensitive, while Gen Z is unprofessional, resents authority and craves constant praise. Meanwhile, the Baby Boomers are gleefully hogging all the senior leadership positions – and wealth – as they count down to retirement. Right? No, not really, but these kinds of intergenerational myths are common.

Undeniably, the world is in the middle of an important generational shift, with hundreds of millions of Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) nearing retirement age. At the same time, the economic power of Millennials (individuals born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) is becoming evident as they enter the workforce and establish their careers.

As this shift continues, it will be crucial for businesses to pinpoint what makes younger generations tick and how individuals from each age group relate to organisations – both as customers and employees. Companies must also pay closer attention to how they communicate with their target audience to find common ground and establish trust.

This includes prioritising authenticity and transparency across internal and external communications, aligning content with the topics and issues your intended audience is interested in, and clearly articulating how your business addresses these issues. Staying on top of trends, including pop culture references, will help ensure content is relevant and engaging for younger audiences. Embracing social media and mobile-friendly formats is also crucial.

Businesses may also need to rethink how they present their content. Most people now scan text rather than read it, so it is important to get to the point quickly. Breaking text up with subheads, boxes and tables and using multimedia elements like videos and audio, can also help engage audiences.

Drawing on our extensive experience writing for diverse audiences, we’ve compiled our best practices for creating content that will resonate with your target audience.

Get to know how your audience thinks

While it’s impossible to generalise across generations, different age groups tend to share certain traits. Gen X people, for example, tend to be independent, resourceful and strong communicators. They aspire to a good work-life balance and financial stability, and like flexible, informal workplaces with access to leadership. They can remember life before computers and the internet but are tech-savvy and open to new technologies.

Millennials prioritise work-life balance and will seek employers offering flexible work arrangements. They also prioritise purpose-driven work and prefer to support businesses and brands that align with their values. Millennials place a high value on personal development and are often drawn to entrepreneurship. Having grown up with rapid technological change, Millennials are very comfortable with the internet and social media.

Like Millennials, Gen Z is purpose-driven, prioritising meaningful work and social impact. They value diversity and inclusivity, seeking environments welcoming and respectful of different backgrounds. Gen Z also prioritises work-life balance and values flexibility in their work arrangements. However, they are considered more pragmatic and financially cautious than Millennials. They are also more focused on individuality, with a greater emphasis on personal branding and self-expression.

Understanding how your audience thinks enables you to tailor your content to suit their needs, interests and drivers.

Find your authentic voice

Authenticity is highly valued by consumers when deciding what brands to support. This is especially true of younger generations, who appreciate organisations that are honest and transparent about their intentions, actions and values. Most Millennials (90 per cent) say brand authenticity is vital when purchasing. Furthermore, 30 per cent have unfollowed a brand on social media because they felt its content was inauthentic.

Businesses will benefit from prioritising honesty and transparency across all their internal and external communications to build trust and credibility with younger consumers. Ensure your writing has a consistent style but avoid overly formal or corporate language. Instead, opt for a more conversational tone.

Sharing behind-the-scenes stories or insights into your business’s day-to-day activities can make your business seem more relatable and help to build more personal connections. Tap into user-generated content like product reviews or create opportunities for clients to share their stories about working with you, for example, in a case study.

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to distort the truth. Most people these days are adept at finding information online, and you must assume that any claims you make will be checked and potentially exposed on social media. This is something Volkswagen learned the hard way after it was revealed that the company had installed software in its diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. The news spread quickly on social media, leading to a significant backlash against Volkswagen and resulting in billions of dollars in fines and payouts.

Showcase your organisation’s greater purpose

Millennials and Gen Z are passionate about social issues and value content that aligns with their desire for positive change. They also seek meaning and purpose in the content they consume.

To appeal to this social consciousness, clearly articulate the purpose behind your writing, showcasing how your work contributes to a greater cause or addresses relevant issues. Share stories that highlight social responsibility, sustainability and inclusivity initiatives. If you can evoke an emotional connection with a social cause, Millennials and Gen Z will likely support it.

Diversity and inclusivity are also important for younger audiences, so make sure your content is accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. This includes using readable fonts, providing images with alternative text, and ensuring screen readers can easily navigate your website.

If you’re writing for an internal audience of younger workers, acknowledge and support employees’ preferences and values. For example, by highlighting the purpose behind projects and the impact of employees’ contributions or offering personal development opportunities.

Stay on top of trends

Staying on top of social, demographic and technology trends can help your content seem current and relevant. Millennials and Gen Z are known for setting trends and following them closely.

Including appropriate pop culture and viral references can also help articles and blogs resonate with younger audiences. But tread warily. Misusing these kinds of references can also backfire and lead to online ridicule. Pepsi, for example, was forced to take an ad featuring model Kendall Jenner handing a police officer

Update blogs and articles regularly to make sure they are fresh.

Embrace social media and mobile-friendly formats

Most people these days are extremely comfortable using digital communication channels and social media platforms, and you should be too.

Having an active social media presence is particularly essential if you want to reach younger audiences. Gen Z globally spends an average of 3 hours per day on social media, while Millennials rack up 2.25 hours per day. More than 50 per cent of Gen Z also start their buying journey on social media.

However, there’s no one-size-fits-all-ages social media platform – different generations gravitate towards different platforms. For example, Baby Boomers tend to use Facebook and WhatsApp while Gen X uses Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Meanwhile, Millennials use Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), and Gen Z loves visually orientated platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.

Whatever the platform, sharing snippets of stories or quotes and engaging visuals on social media platforms will help you broaden your reach and encourage social sharing. And keep an eye on length. Posts of 280 characters or less are not only pithier, but they also encourage people to share them.

Optimising your content for mobile devices is also essential. In 2022, 94 per cent of all Australians used mobile phones to access the internet, with those aged 35–44 being the most likely to use a mobile phone to view content.

Get to the point

These days, most people (of all ages) skim text rather than read it all. Too much text can be overwhelming, especially when viewed on a mobile phone.

Lead with the main point and explain why readers should care. Keep your sentences short and to the point and paragraphs brief. Provide links to additional information instead of explaining it to avoid over-complicating the story, and structure copy in a way that allows people to scan it for important information quickly. Subheadings, lists, pull-out quotes, boxes, infographics, graphs and tables allow you to emphasise key points.

Adding multimedia elements like infographics, illustrations, audio and short videos will also help engage younger audiences.

Invite feedback and collaboration

Millennials and Gen Z appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback, especially when they feel their input is valued and can lead to meaningful changes. Having grown up with the internet and social media, both generations are accustomed to openly sharing their opinions online and expect to be heard by businesses and employers. Gen X also likes to provide feedback but, having grown up before social media, is equally receptive to more traditional approaches, such as surveys and focus groups.

If you ask people to give their opinion in this way, be prepared to tweak your content or writing style in response. Demonstrating that you’re willing to change and grow aligns with Millennials’ interest in ongoing personal and professional development.

Working with external subject matter experts – or influencers, if appropriate for your brand – is a great way to diversify your content and tap into the interests of different generations. Incorporating quizzes, polls, and interactive elements into digital content also encourages active participation and enhances the overall user experience.

Ultimately, there is no magic bullet to finding common ground and building trust across the generational divide. However, by understanding how different generations view the organisations they interact with, businesses can build stronger connections and help shape a more socially aware and impactful future for everyone.

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