Across the Generational Divide: Two Marketers’ Perspectives

A Guest Post by Gail Nelson, Head of Marketing, SYZYGY & Amanda Degelmann, Marketing Coordinator, SYZYGY

We’re in the midst of millennial marketing mania. But what, if anything, makes millennials truly different?

It’s a topic that hits close to home, as most of us working at SYZYGY* were born between 1980 and 1996. Beyond our personal interest in generational differences, it’s our job to understand our audiences. We work at a digital marketing agency focused on data-driven performance media—programmatic advertising, PPC, SEO and more—and our clients rely on us for out-of-the-box thinking.

So, we decided to find out. About 10 years ago, professors conducted studies showing that Millennials had higher levels of narcissism than older generations. We wondered: had that elevated rate of narcissism persisted? And was narcissism correlated with the exploding use of digital technology?

We fielded a national study of over 5,000 adults, half of whom were Millennials. We assessed narcissism levels using a proven psychological assessment tool—the NPI 16—and asked questions about their digital behavior. We found that Millennials had remained a lot more narcissist than previous generations – 16 percent more, to be exact. And those higher levels were clearly correlated with digital behaviors. For example, those who scored at the higher end of the narcissism scale:

  • Used more on-demand apps—2 to 3 per day
  • Posted more than 3 social media updates per day
  • Were 34% more likely to own a selfie stick

We published our findings under the title, “EgoTech: How to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of adult millennials.” It compared Millennials’ responses with those of Baby Boomers and Gen X. We explored how to apply digital technologies and tactics to connect with the narcissistic tendencies of consumers – belief in one’s superiority, exhibitionism, and more. (Brands like Starbucks, Tesla, Uber, and Instagram are doing this effectively.) And we concluded that the digital future holds, even more, EgoTech – more technology designed to flatter the ego and pander to the cult of self. (Want the full scoop? You can read the full study s and recommendations, and take narcissism quiz on the SYZYGY website.)

The EgoTech study has spurred many office conversations with each other, but we had stayed away from some of the hard ones around our generational differences. Recently, two of us—Gail Nelson, born on the cusp of Baby Boomer and GenX, and Amanda Degelmann, Millennial, sat down to learn from each other.

  1. Can technology bring the generations together?

GN: I think that technology has brought people together. It’s a tool of discovery. With Instagram and Facebook, I know more about what people younger than me are doing and care about. It fosters transparency and sharing, and that often extends to in-person interactions.

AD: Yes, I think technology at its best does just that. Whether keeping in touch through Skype or social media or taking a moment to teach someone something new, it can bring people together. However, at its worst, it’s a shield for inappropriate behavior or any interaction we don’t want to face head on. Maybe I’ve been watching a little too much Black Mirror, but I worry about the obsession with likes and ratings.

  1. What surprised you the most about the EgoTech findings?

GN: That the difference between Millennial and GenX was not bigger. GenXers are pretty narcissistic and digitally savvy, too.  For marketers, that means that products and messages built on EgoTech can gain a lot of traction across generations.

AD: Probably the large percent of Millennials who would rather skip breakfast and sex rather than give up their phones for a week. A lot of studies suggest that Millennials have fewer partners and I wasn’t sure I believed that, but EgoTech has made that finding come to life for me.

  1. Which brands exemplify EgoTech at its best to you?

GN: I love Fitbit and 23andMe. I’m a regular user of both, and now I know why: These services appeal to my need to “know myself” and allow me to self-monitor.

AD: Amazon for sure. I always go to them first when I’m online shopping and rely on the app on my phone. They make just about everything you could want and it’s all available from the same place with just a few clicks. And the perks of being a Prime member can make you feel important.

  1. Which one “Millennial” trait should GenX/BabyBoomers adopt and which typically “older generation” trait should Millennials adopt?

GN: Millennials should seize their independence, for better or for worse. That means cutting financial ties with their parents (stop mooching!) and start to balance the equation of who gives and who receives. GenX/Baby Boomers should try to look at situations through fresh eyes rather than relying solely on their experience of what’s worked before.

AD: I think our unwillingness to settle. We watched our parents and grandparents work at jobs they don’t care about just to move up the ladder so they can enjoy retirement. The same can be said about relationships. Previous generations seemed to get married for comfort, or to check a box. Millennials are choosing to wait longer to get married if they even do at all. On the other side, I admire the importance Baby Boomers assign to in-person engagements and communication. My peers don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so things tend to get swept under the rug. We also all hate/fear talking on the phone and could use some help with that!

  1. Thinking about digital technology, what do you expect the GenX/BabyBoomer legacy to be? And what’s next?

GN: We invented a beautiful monster—built on the backs of the tech inventions and breakthroughs of previous generations, of course. I’m interested to see where Millennials, the most tech-savvy generation ever, take it.

AD: I guess creating the Internet and paving the way for the digital luxuries we now all enjoy. (And now we get to flood the Internet with memes and cat videos.) I think older generations are way more digitally savvy than they’re given credit for. I hope my generation uses our love of technology and activism to solve big problems like environmental quality and income inequality.

  1. Would you have a bought a selfie stick when you were in your twenties?

GN: Not a chance. It’s not my style. But many of my generation certainly would have. I would draw a similarity between the selfie stick and the Polaroid camera. It taps into similar motivations—exhibitionism and instant gratification.

AD: I’m in my twenties now, and I’d never buy a selfie stick. They’re embarrassing and tacky. I’ve also had way too many close calls with tourists who wave those things around New York.

*SYZYGY is a Pure Performance Communications Consulting Client.

Gail Nelson, Head of Marketing, SYZYGYGail Nelson. A senior marketer, Gail Nelson has held positions at B2B companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 firms in the technology, Internet, financial services, consulting and marketing services sectors. She now heads marketing at SYZYGY, an award-winning digital marketing firm, and through her private consulting practice advises brands on marketing strategy and brand-and-lead generating tactics. Previously, she served as global CMO for brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale and market research firm Guidepoint. Prior to that, she created effective marketing plans for Accenture’s global insurance practice, BurrellesLuce’s media monitoring service, and Intralinks digital workspace offering. Gail is also a two-time entrepreneur, having founded both a software and a consulting business. The latter grew to $1.8 million in revenue in the first year and was the top performing firm of its kind in the region for more than five years. She is consistently named on lists of top CMOs on Twitter.


Amanda Degelmann, Marketing Coordinator, SYZYGYAmanda Degelmann: With a wide range of media and marketing interests, Amanda Degelmann has held a range of positions at fashion houses, magazines, start-ups and market research companies. For the past year, Amanda has served as marketing coordinator at SYZYGY, a digital marketing firm. Previously, she spent a year as a marketing assistant at the global watch brand, Citizen. As a marketing communications major at Fashion Institute of Technology, Amanda interned at two fashion brands, Marie Claire and Candela, at beauty tech start-up Vensette, and market research firm Guidepoint. Amanda’s passions include politics, music and fashion.