For the last few years, marketers, economists, and sociologists around the world have obsessed about people born between 1980 and 2000. Because this group constitutes the next generation of spenders, influencers, and leaders, companies in nearly every industry wonder how to attract these Millennials to their brands. Their previous business plans were meant to appeal to those born in the mid-20th century and their Generation X offspring, so they're preparing for future demand.
Then in mid-2015 marketers began rethinking their Millennial-driven business plans. Like Ad Age, they determined that appealing to passions – rather than age – were the key to attracting customers. And like the many marketing consultants cited in a New York Times article, they saw that plans to cater to the whims of this younger generation also meet the needs of older folk. For example, in response to the plans of an upscale American grocery store chain to create a cheaper, less cluttered sub-brand for Millennials, a Boston Consulting Group partner commented, "[I guess they're saying that] Gen X and baby boomer shoppers are fine with or even prefer old, cluttered stores that sell a confusing array of stuff at high prices." The bottom line is that in 2016 and beyond, marketers will pull back from their Millennial obsession.
But the basic question about behavioral differences and preferences among different generations remains a valid one and should factor into marketing plans. What we at CSA Research wondered was whether age affected the buying behavior of people visiting foreign-language websites. For example, do Millennials, their Gen X elders, and parents and grandparents born way back in the mid-20th century react to such websites differently? Do these three generations have different expectations about getting online content in their language?
We turned to CSA Research "Can't Read, Won't Buy" dataset to find the answers. It consists of 3,002 respondents to a 10-nation survey that we conducted in the language of each country (all non-English-speaking, including Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Spain, and Turkey). We divided the respondents into four clusters that we labeled by age: Millennial (ages 18 to 35); Generation X (36-50); Mid-Century (51-69); and Mature (70 and older). Then we analyzed the behaviors of these four groups for each of the questions that we asked in our survey. We discovered many valuable correlations, but two findings from our age-based analysis of the role of language in the customer experience stand out:
1. Consumers of all ages prefer their own language.
Buyers from our 10-nation sample favor information in their language throughout most of the customer experience. Without support for their mother tongue, they're likely to choose another product or abandon a website.
2. Millennials are tolerant of English, but most still want their own language. The 18-to-35-year-old cadre is more accepting of English across the customer experience than any other age group. Our analysis shows a fairly linear distribution among the different generations, with Millennials most tolerant of content in English, followed by Gen-X, Mid-Century, and Mature respondents. However, while the Millennial respondents claim a high degree of English-language competence and tolerate content in that language more than their older counterparts do, a substantial margin still prefers reading information in their own language.
These findings should guide marketers as they consider the age question. Language matters to people of all ages. Any company that wants to sell to anyone who speaks another language should remember that if they can't read the information about a product, they're much less likely to buy it. All of CSA Research's business-to-consumer and business-to-business primary research since 2002 underscores the importance of making information available to people in their native tongue. To reach your target audience of any age: 1) Get the market intelligence you need to determine which language matters to your potential buyers; 2) translate and localize as appropriate; and 3) target content to the audience variables that make sense for each market.
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