Print and Multi-Generation Communication

This story appears in the
Association Focus 2024 Issue 1

For the first time in history, we have five generations in the workplace, which also means associations are juggling the interests, needs and communication styles of members whose ages span over a half-century. Each of these groups has been influenced by the socio-cultural events that took place during the formative years of their lifetimes, including how each generation views its financial needs, goals and communication preferences. A generation is defined as “a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in this birth cohort exhibit similar characteristics, preferences and values over their lifetimes.”

This generational melting pot presents an interesting puzzle for association communication directors because a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer an effective way to engage all members. In order for members to be fully engaged and participate, more and more, the feedback is to communicate with members how they want to be communicated with.

Generations have differences in the values, beliefs and opinions of different groups of people. While some believe strongly in the differences, others believe they are a myth. Those believing in the differences assert they are important to recognize and accommodate, especially in settings with multiple generations, such as in today’s workforce, and in turn, in today’s association membership:

  • Traditionalists value workplaces that are conservative, hierarchical and have a clear chain of command and top-down management.
  • Baby boomers value workplaces that have flat hierarchies, democratic cultures, humane values, equal opportunities and warm and friendly environments.
  • Generation X values workplaces that are positive, fun, efficient, fast-paced, flexible, informal and have access to leadership and information.
  • Millennials value workplaces that are collaborative, achievement-oriented, highly creative, positive, diverse, fun, flexible and continuously providing feedback.
  • Generation Z is motivated by security, is competitive, is independent, will multi-task, is entrepreneurial, wants to communicate face-to-face, is digital-native and wants to be catered to.

Print is a medium that speaks to all generations, as it can be tailored and nuanced. Many brands have turned to magazines to communicate with both employees and customers.

Are these brands feeling nostalgia for the 1990s? Possibly. But it’s more likely they understand that Generation Z and millennials see novelty in print, thus leveraging printed media as a special component in their media mix. In a rush to digitize everything, sophisticated print magazines are a great way to stand out from the crowd.

There is a huge misconception that younger generations are so addicted to their phones that they are no longer interested in reading physical products. The opposite is, in fact, supported by statistics. According to MNI:

  • Baby boomers read 9.2 magazines per month
  • Gen Xers read 9.1 magazines per month
  • Millennials read 8.9 magazines per month

This means younger generations are reading almost as much as older ones.

FedEx Office found 90% of all consumers prefer to read printed materials vs. digital screens, and “despite the familiarity with digital, nearly half of millennial respondents (ages 18-34) reported having something professionally printed at least once a month.”

In his book, “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter,” David Sax, a Canadian journalist, explains that the millennial fascination for print comes from digital burnout:

“Because the millennial generation came of age with broadband, internet, smartphones and social media, we assume that is all they want. But, in fact, when you look at who is driving the return of things like vinyl records, print books, paper books, new magazines and niche publications, it’s exactly that demographic of millennials and those younger than them.”

In a world where consumers are fed up with too many online ads and retargeting campaigns, the payoff for print ads seems to be higher than for digital ones. According to MarketingProfs, 92% of 18- to 23-year-olds find it easier to read print over digital content, and the response rate for direct-mail marketing is 37% higher than the email rate.

Building product stories around people creates ongoing success and brand loyalty. Good content always comes first, and print should always balance quality editorials with commercial goals.