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The generational email effect

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1:1 email communications have become the future of marketing. However, language and formality standards are ever-evolving, making mastering personalized language in digital email communications a constant challenge across consumers of different age groups.

To succeed, businesses need to understand how their target audiences perceive language and learn how it can be used to build trust, drive brand image, and ensure that consumers feel acknowledged.

The generational email effect: The survey

To better understand the varying generational opinions toward language and tone of voice in email communications, Exclaimer surveyed 800 participants from four generations:

  • Gen Z

  • Millennials

  • Gen X

  • Baby Boomers

The aim was to uncover how different age groups respond to informality and slang in brand email communications.

We found that Gen Z, the youngest generation in our study, was the most open to using slang and informal language in their email communications. In contrast, our oldest participants, Baby Boomers, were much less receptive to brands that spoke casually to their audience.

The results show that it’s critical for marketers to research how to communicate with their consumers and show an understanding of their target audience. Failing to do so puts brands at risk of alienating key demographics.

The case for formality: Understanding and adapting to generational consumer preferences

percentages of generational opinions on formal tone

Our survey findings revealed a preference for formal language in email communication across all generations, with nearly 65% of participants agreeing that emails should always be formal.

Surprisingly, 54% of Gen Z supported formal email branding, followed closely by millennials, with 61% in agreement. The preference for a formal tone is even greater in Gen X, where 65% of participants voted in favor. Finally, Baby Boomers exhibited the highest preference, with 76% advocating for formal email communications. The survey’s insights suggest that while younger consumers are more open to the use of informal language, a substantial majority still prefer a formal tone.

Formal language is a marker of professionalism, which is critical for building a solid brand image, brand advocacy, and a positive customer experience. Understanding your target audience shows that you’re willing to understand their needs, letting you tailor your messages to their preferences and values. This increases the probability of your message being understood, accepted, and acted on, leading to higher levels of customer satisfaction and retention.

As such, going against consumer preferences and including slang, colloquialisms, or informalities could damage brand growth with both new and existing consumers.

Does informal language in email communication affect consumer trust?

percentages of generational losing trust

Our survey analyzed whether consumers lose trust in a brand if they use a casual tone of voice in their email communications. Significantly, 64% of consumers admitted that informal language could result in them losing trust in a brand, with 20% of those surveyed believing this to be ‘very likely’.

Millennials (44%), Gen Xs (46%), and Baby Boomers (48%) all believed that informality in email communications is somewhat likely to tarnish a consumer’s trust in a brand. However, Gen Z opinions differed, with the majority (43%) confessing that they thought this unlikely.

Our findings show the nuanced generational differences in how informal language is perceived in digital communication. For Gen Z, having grown up in a digital age, informality in email correspondence may not raise red flags regarding brand trustworthiness. However, our data shows that as the age of consumers increases, they are more likely to distrust those who use casual language in email communications.

Marketers should not overlook the distrust expressed by Baby Boomers. Informal language can often be misinterpreted as overly casual or, in more severe cases, disrespectful. As such, brands must present a consistent corporate identity through their tone of voice to older generations–one that reinforces a company’s professional identity and fosters a relationship built on understanding and trust.

Brands that fail to adopt personalization and don’t meet individual requirements and generational preferences risk alienating entire audience sections and putting their reputation on the line.

The impact of slang and ‘Gen Z language’ on brand image

percentages of generational opinions marketing damages brand

Using slang can alienate consumers, and generation-specific idioms or phrases can undermine inclusivity, ruin consumer relationships, and be misinterpreted.

Despite a growing interest in using casual language in email communications, most consumers did not favor slang. In fact, 48% of participants said that slang negatively impacts brand image, with just 1 in 5 seeing slang as having a positive effect.

Baby Boomers were the most disapproving, with 60% stating that slang could tarnish a brand’s image. Half of Gen X participants surveyed agreed, along with 43% of Millennials and 42% of Gen Z consumers.

Similarly, we asked consumers for their opinions on Gen Z-inspired email trends and language, such as brands using phrases such as ‘seeyas’, ‘peace’, or ‘haha bye’ in their email marketing.

Despite the recent trend proving popular in the workplace amongst colleagues, only 2% of participants thought this language was ‘professional’ when communicating with a customer, with 65% believing it ‘unprofessional’ and 11% deeming it ‘risky’. However, Gen X (70%) and Baby Boomers (77%) stood out as having the strongest opinion, stating that using these phrases in email communications is strictly ‘unprofessional’.

Interestingly, a quarter of Gen Zs viewed the use of Gen Z lingo as a modern approach to email communications, thinking it is creative in fostering relationships with younger consumers. However, as per the majority, although Gen Z is willing to adopt informalities, colloquialisms, slang, and jargon into their social and digital spaces, many still believe this isn’t a professional or accepted way to approach customers, especially in more corporate environments.

Furthermore, while slang and generational lingo could resonate with younger audiences, they evoke skepticism among older generations, who often prioritize professionalism and formal communication standards.

Overall, using slang can potentially undermine a brand’s professionalism and diversity. Attempting to use generational lingo risks miscommunication with your target audience, which can result in a brand being perceived as untrustworthy and inauthentic. As such, favoring formality is a much safer route to ensuring broader appeal, increasing credibility, and improving customer satisfaction. These factors are crucial for ensuring company growth and maintaining a professional, likable brand identity.

Do informal emails leave consumers feeling a lack of connection?

percentages of generational opinions on slang impact

We asked participants if informality and slang in email communication left them struggling to form a connection with a brand. Overall, most (58%) said they felt disconnected from brands that used an informal communication style in customer emails.

A quarter (25%) of consumers said they’d struggle to make a connection, 20% revealed that they'd find it hard to understand the message, and 14% said that they’d find it difficult to understand the message and forge a connection.

When broken down generationally, the majority of the three younger generations, Gen Z (58%), Millennials (46%), and Gen X (38%), didn’t believe that informalities would deter a connection. However, a third of Baby Boomers stated that casual colloquialisms made connecting with a brand difficult.

The connection between brand and consumer is crucial for business growth. While Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X were not necessarily put off by informalities, it begs the question of whether the shift to casual language is necessary. However, brands with Baby Boomer target audiences must ensure that loyalty remains intact and customer-brand connections don’t suffer by respecting the need for formalities.

Navigating email communication: Best practices for engaging Gen Z consumers

Gen Z’s responses to the survey often contradicted each other, making them the most challenging demographic to please. As mentioned earlier, half of Gen Z consumers believe brands should use a formal tone over email, and over a third of Gen Z consumers found it “cringe-worthy” if brands tried too hard to use slang. Despite this, our survey did uncover that 32% of Gen Z’s felt more relaxed when they received more casual messages from brands, and 57% found themselves feeling more inclined to reply to casual email communications.

These contradicting results suggest that, when approaching Gen Z, brands need to balance engaging and creative language with formality and respect. Gen Z seemingly favor authenticity so it is important that brands invest in creating a likable and genuine tone of voice that aligns with their brand identity. It’s crucial to avoid forced attempts at being trendy, as this comes across as inauthentic and may alienate this crucial younger audience. For example, consider the use of emojis. If brands want to add these to their email communications, they should use them sparingly and only to emphasize points.

Brands also must consider their product. For example, only 32% of Gen Zs believed that formality was necessary when it came to digital communication from retail brands. However, this spiked to 77% with finance corporations. As such, with this open-minded younger audience, it’s important to remember that there’s a fine line. Brands must be able to justify their casual approach and prove that it benefits the consumer. While Gen Z are more tolerant, it’s crucial that such tolerance is not exploited.

What we learnt: Formality is the safest option

In summary, we’d advise brands to limit the use of informal language and slang in email communication to only those situations where they know it’ll work. Remember that slang and informality aren’t the same as personalization. Marketers can still be relatable by tailoring content to generational interests, behavior, and demographic information.

While pushing informal language in email communications to follow trends may seem appealing, it can damage brand credibility and tarnish the customer experience.

Colloquialisms are challenging to master. Informalities can harm brand relationships and the customer experience. As such, a research and evidence-driven approach must be taken if brands want to explore a more informal route in email communications. Embracing the future of 1:1 email communications requires brands to understand and respect generational opinions, with preferences carefully considered.

Methodology

The survey was conducted using www.pollfish.com, which included responses from 800 participants aged 18-54+.

Additional information used in the copy was taken from:

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