CARLY, HENRY and your commerce marketing strategy

Looking to understand the most impactful groups of Gen Z and millennial shoppers? Start here.

woman in orange shirt using iphone

Get to know CARLY and HENRY. (Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash)

Marketers have always used “buyer personas” or, more recently, “avatars,” to pinpoint and describe their ideal target audience. Buyer personas and avatars can get very detailed, from the consumer’s name, age and income level down to their hair color, hobbies, career and the biggest challenges they face in life.

On the other hand, CARLY and HENRY are broader descriptions of a specific target audience. In spite of their gendered names, they can describe any type of consumer as long as they fall into a broad demographic based on age and income level. While their interests, pain points, and geographic region may vary, those belonging to the HENRY segment share enough in common that marketers can use specific tools and tactics to reach them. The same goes for those in the CARLY segment.

For further context, CARLY and HENRY follow in the line of DINKs (Double Income, No Kids), and the Yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) of the 1990s. Much like those cohorts at that time, CARLY and HENRY are key to knowing your respective target audience and reaching them effectively.

Any brand seeking to reach Gen Z in particular and future proof their business in general needs to know the nuances of CARLYs and how to speak their language, especially if they want to engage with this next generation of consumers as they come into their own and eventually start using their own funds for purchases. The same goes for HENRYs, who shouldn’t be overlooked. They make up approximately 40% of all consumer spending, and are especially key for luxury brands, which they have a penchant for purchasing. Let's take a closer look.

So, who are CARLY and HENRY? 

CARLY, as coined by the marketing automation company Klaviyo and the media firm Future Commerce, stands for “Can’t Afford Real-Life Yet.” These Gen Z consumers range from age 18 to 25 and if they are spending money, it’s not a lot — yet. Based on Statista figures, shoppers in the US ranging from age 18 to 24 years old make up only 13% of all digital buyers.

But this demographic is brand-savvy and aware, so it’s important to reach them now and begin building brand recognition and loyalty. The day is not far off when CARLY consumers will graduate college and have money of their own to spend. For now, they are spending their parents’ money with fervor, but only on brands that make a positive impact and match their ideals.

HENRY, on the other hand, is the consummate millennial or young Gen Xer, ranging in age from mid-30s to roughly 45. As first detailed in a 2003 Fortune Magazine article, HENRY stands for “High Earner Not Rich Yet.” Members of this market segment — of any gender — earn more than $100,000 yet have investable assets less than $1 million. They make more money than roughly 66% of the U.S. population in 2022, according to statistics from Zippia, but despite remarks during the ‘08 presidential election and the cost of living, are not yet classified as “the wealthy elite.”

Marketers once considered HENRYs as part of the aspirational luxury market, but these individuals do more than just aspire to wealth; they have figured out how to enjoy the finer things in life without virtually limitless income. A Deloitte report discovered that the average HENRY household spends $86,000 annually on luxury goods, including travel, clothing, accessories, and entertainment.

Something more about CARLY

Although CARLYs don’t have a lot of their own money to spend yet, these consumers are savvy shoppers, and they do influence the purchases of their parents and older family members. They are also highly influenced by TikTok trends, Instagram influencers, and their peers. Gen Z is the most digitally savvy, socially skeptical, community-oriented, and nostalgia-driven market segment. It’s not unusual to see them sporting Crocs, Converse, or a Care Bears hoodie, unironically embracing the childhoods of their Gen X parents. But they are also not brand snobs; quality and value is more important than the brand on any product.

CARLY is not superficial. This market segment believes in diversity, sustainability, and social change. To win their hearts and digital wallets — perhaps forever — and build long term customer loyalty, brands should not just pay lip service to these ideals, but make them part of their brand DNA.

​What you should know about HENRY

HENRY consumers have more in common with their high net worth older brothers than you might imagine. HENRY will research every purchase online and rely on reviews and the recommendations of peer groups before making a purchase.

HENRY also shares traits in common with CARLY. The market segment is also socially conscious and sustainable — and they have the funds to support their beliefs through their buying choices. Both HENRY and CARLY seek out experiences over “stuff,” and rely on their tribes as a second family.

How HENRY and CARLY differ

Despite their similarities, HENRY and CARLY are also very different in their buying habits. Remember, HENRY has money to spend on luxury goods, while CARLY has less disposable income. CARLY wants products that will last and may defy conventional fashion or what’s popular among older generations. Names don’t matter as much as value and finding brands that align with their ideals. HENRY still cares about prestige, but also wants to know they are getting good value for their money.

Ecommerce tactics to capture HENRY and CARLY

When it comes to online marketing, the way you approach these audiences may differ. Personalization through the use of big data and artificial intelligence algorithms, however, will be a key in reaching both market segments.

From deep product tagging for ecommerce clothing sites to retargeting through Google Ads, it’s important to show these consumers that you know what they are looking for — sometimes even before they do. This level of hyper-personalization will appeal to the HENRY market segment, but it’s an expectation of Gen Z.

Personalization in email marketing to attract HENRY

Email marketing remains a viable tool, especially for millennials and Gen X who tap into their email consistently for work, shopping and entertainment. While millennials increasingly rely on chat platforms like WhatsApp, Messenger, Slack and Telegram, email remains a staple of life for high earners in a business setting. Personalizing an email with not just a person’s name but specific information based on the reader’s past purchase history, demographics, and psychographics can increase click-thru rates by 14%, and conversion rates by six times.

Other examples of personalization in email marketing include:

  • Abandoned cart follow-ups
  • Product recommendations
  • Discounts based on past purchases

​Social shopping links to attract CARLY

Although email works for some demographics, younger generations are moving toward other ways to connect with their favorite brands. SMS, for instance, can yield 7.5 times the amount of clicks as an email. Don’t shy away from emojis or GIFs in your texts, either – this, too, can increase engagement and conversions.

Above all else, CARLY consumers want their personalized shopping experience to be easy. Shopping links in Instagram posts and on TikTok deliver exactly what this generation wants: convenience, personalization and the ability to snag whatever catches their eye quickly. TikTok trends have sent CARLY flocking to retail stores to buy everything from Mini Brands collectibles to orange juice and strawberry-adorned dresses. But the joy is not in the hunt. If these consumers can click a link to get what they want quickly, easily, at a fair price and without the environmental impact of a trip to the mall, they will embrace that experience.

​What’s next for the top target audiences?

From Yuppies to DINKs, CARLY and HENRY are merely the next incarnation of market segments for retailers. As buying habits have shifted to ecommerce, retailers face new challenges in attracting the most influential demographics.

Understanding what’s important to CARLY and HENRY — and then implementing the right marketing tactics to meet their needs — can be the key to your success.

Ashley Scorpio is the Senior Vice President, Partnerships at Hawke Media. A former Chief Marketing Officer, with over a dozen years of experience in traditional and digital marketing, she is a performance marketing leader that has helped launch and scale digitally native brands. She is nationally-recognized as an 'Amazing Woman in eCommerce’ by Ecommerce Magazine and Yotpo.

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