Marketing Across the Generation Gap

The idea of a generation gap is nothing new: What is true about one age group can rarely be said about another.  We all grew up through different stages in time and technology, and through various social and political world events that have shaped who we are today.  It’s logical, then, that we would all have different wants and expectations in terms of marketing techniques.  As Ann Fishman of Circulation Management once said, “In a marketplace that’s evolving from product-driven to customer-driven, understanding the fundamental needs, values, icons and historical experiences of the various generations to whom we hope to market is more critical than ever.”

In a market this complex we need to ask ourselves: Is it possible to communicate with all of them in the same way?  How can we reach each group effectively?  What is our target age group really looking for from us?  By comparing different characteristics of today’s  five prominent generations – the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and Generations X, Y, and Z – we can pin-point what each group is likely to be drawn to and do our best to reach them most effectively.

The Silent Generation: 1925-1942

After years of spending on their children and grandchildren, this is a generation that is finally ready to do something for themselves.  They have earned their retirement and they want to enjoy it!  So, how can we help them do this while bringing their business our way?  Here are a few pointers.

Most people in this age group still respect old-fashioned ways and values, so it is important to emphasize this when reaching out to them.  They also appreciate history and look for brands that are older and more established.  If your business has any sort of history or background, you’ll definitely want to bring it to their attention.

Direct mail is a great way to reach the Silent Generation because they are more likely than others to actually have the time and willingness to sit down and read it.  This is not to say that this group cannot be internet-savvy as well.  A study in 2008 found that 91% of the people in this group that do use the internet, use it to access e-mail.  They are also likely to use the web to view health information, news sources, and government sites.  So, when making a website or online campaign you may not want to leave them out.  They are looking for a website that is clearly organized and easy for them to navigate through.  The font should also be a bit larger than average, so it is easier for them to read, but never to the point where it would make them feel like “old people”.

Baby Boomers: 1943-1960

Frequent travelers, loving grandparents, and wealthy retirees – these are the generation of baby boomers.  Some believe the Boomer’s to be the most nurtured generation yet because of the large number of stay-at-home moms after World War II.  Perhaps this is how they earned the nickname, “The Me Generation”.  You can appeal to this characteristic by creating campaigns that focus on what’s in it for them and reinforce the idea that they deserve it.

This generation also holds most of the country’s wealth, and a 2004 survey by the Bureau of Statistics found out exactly what they’re spending it on.  They spend more than any other generation on goods and services and come in second for spending on transportation and entertainment.  The women, specifically, spend the most on clothes – 56% more than the average household.

Because of the increasing number of single and working parents, grandparents are now more involved than ever before.  It should come as no shock that the grandma’s and grandpa’s in this group are actually spending more than the Gen X-er’s on pets, toys, and children’s products.  So, when advertising for these products we need to remember the baby boomers as a key part of our audience.  What kind of toys would they want their grandchildren playing with?  Something safe.  Something that teaches good values.  Maybe even something that brings them back to their own childhood.

Generation X:1961-1981

Juggling new careers, marriage, and parenthood makes this generation a busy one.  If you can’t capture their attention immediately – you’ve probably lost them amongst everything else they’ve got going on.  Emphasizing the convenience or ease of your product/service is a great way to stand out to this crowd who would appreciate the break.

“Exposed to consumerism and public relations strategies since we could open our eyes, We Gen X’ers see through the clunky attempts to manipulate our opinions and assets, however shrinking,” writes Douglas Rushkoff, in his 1994 book, The Gen-X Reader. “When we watch commercials, we ignore the product and instead deconstruct the marketing techniques.”  What he is saying is a very valid and useful point – Generation X wants us to be genuine.  They aren’t likely to like or fall for gimmicks.

Generation Y: 1982-2000

A group of Gen-Y volunteers from Oxford College

Full of hope, optimism, and (most importantly) energy – this generation is determined to change the world.  It seems like every Gen Y’er is passionate about some cause or another and they are ready to do something about it.  For this reason, they are most likely to be drawn to a business that shares these ideals and is equally passionate about them.  Cause-related marketing is a very effective way to reach Generation Y – and of course, helping out the world while doing it is a nice little bonus!

Another interesting thing to note about this generation is that they have grown up in an age where having single or divorced parents is not uncommon.  But how can we use this to reach them as consumers?  The key is to make them feel like a part of something – like family.  One example that comes to mind is the Mac vs. PC campaigns.  No matter which side you’re on, you become a part of their team.  You no longer “have” a PC, you “are” a PC, etc. And from then on, you have some sort of connection with all the other users on your team.

This generation also places a strong emphasis on their friendships; so word-of-mouth marketing is extremely effective.  If they see that a friend of theirs “likes” your company on Facebook, for example – it makes a powerful first impression.

Generation Z: 2001-

The most important thing to keep in mind when marketing to Generation Z is that they are still too young to make their own purchases (with the exception of the occasional candy bar bought with their weekly allowance).  So when you target this age group, the people you really need to convince are the parents – Generation X and Y consumers.  In fact, they even have wish lists that kids can make online now, so begging your parents has never been easier!

And while you may not immediately think that internet advertisements would be the way to go, children are becoming very proficient on computers at a young age and many go online almost daily to play games. Interactive ads or short videos that will keep their attention work best.  Because they are so visually oriented, television commercials are still very effective with this age group as well.

Reaching Them All

Years of working with all kinds of clients at The Souza Agency have proven to us that the first, and arguably most important step in effective marketing is to know your audience.  Know what they like and dislike, what they’ve been through, and what they are attracted to.  Age cannot answer all of these questions, but it sure is a great place to start.

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