Jennifer Cantero, Sensiba San Filippo LLP
Today’s market of buyers is more diverse than ever. With the added challenge of generational complexities — different priorities, values, and preferences — it can seem like an uphill battle. These differences have driven the need for change and innovation within marketing departments and are pushing us as an industry to target our messages even more, delivering them in various and innovative ways.
The key to successfully marketing to these different generations is to gain a better understanding of them and what trends shaped their generation, e.g. parenting, technology, and economics. To recognize their differences and learn how they operate, you will need to determine these essential questions:
- What is their age and stage of life?
- What are their preferences and values?
- What kind of marketing experience connects with them best?
- What do they want most of all?
Below we will explore the five generations within our marketplace and learn how they differ. From there, you will be able to tailor your marketing message and tactics and have greater success in reaching the right client, the right way.
The Greatest Generation
We will start with the generation that Tom Brokaw dubbed the ‘Greatest Generation.’ These folks were born in 1945 or earlier. They are our seniors, the veterans and builders of our great nation post-World War II. They are 70 years or older and believe strongly in hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. They respect honesty, authority, and conformity. They yearn for stability and security. They value respect for the rules and loyalty. At this point in their lives, they do not want hassle and a ‘we will take care of it for you’ experience will drive their loyalty. Because they believe in delayed gratification, messages conveying, ‘this is your time,’ ‘fruits of your life’s labor,’ or ‘you have waited long enough,’ will resonate well with them.
Traditional print marketing is the best way to reach them. They still want a printed brochure or direct mail piece and value a phone call over an email. They want a personal, tactile connection as it plays to the stability and security they look for. They respond to ‘we’ language that focuses on a company’s hard work, proven track record, and loyalty.
The Baby Boomers
Next, is the largest generation to hit the planet, the Baby Boomers. They were born between 1946 and 1964, making them the 52-70 year-old groovy hippies who loved a good protest. They believe in involvement and community as well as personal gratification. This generation wants to feel like the center of the universe and receive personalized service. Baby Boomers grew up in an era of optimism and rising aspirations. Due to this, they respond and identify well with optimistic phrases like ‘there is no challenge too great,’ ‘we are committed to winning together,’ and ‘it is just the beginning.’ They like to feel as if they are part of a team, so teamwork or ‘you are a part of a team’ messages are highly effective.
Traditional print marketing still works for them, but personalized radio and TV messages work well as the Baby Boomers' world was shaped by television. They respond best to pieces with a ‘you’ message, which personally targets them.
Then, along came the MTV watching, Atari playing, latchkey kids, of Generation X (Gen X). They were born in the range of 1965-1979, making them 37-51 years old. Also referred to as the lost generation, they were exposed to an increasing amount of daycare and divorce. Since this generation was left to fend for themselves, they like to do everything on their own. This fiercely independent and techno-literate generation also is hugely skeptical. Gen Xers want you to be upfront and honest. Respect their skepticism, embrace it with extreme candor, and you will have a lasting, loyal client.
In reality, they should have been dubbed the ‘self-serve’ generation. They like to see all options and plans for contingencies themselves. Present them with options and allow them to choose. However, do not linger after them trying to guide them into the sale because they will not be guided. Be there when needed and then be gone when you are not in demand. Where sales people worked for the last two generations, Gen Xers will run screaming for the door. Self-serve websites and search engine marketing work well for this generation. It gets their attention, lets them surf for themselves, and then provides resources for quick answers to their questions.
Generation Y (Millennials)
Recently, the generation that has been making the most headlines is Generation Y, better known as the Millennials. Practically born with a computer in their hands, they have been the most computer savvy generation to date. They were born between 1980 and 2000, making them the 16-36 year-old hipsters that have saturated the marketplace. Millennials make up the fastest-growing generation of customers in the marketplace. They exhibit different attitudes toward employment, sales, and marketing, which challenge many conventional strategies and approaches.
They thrive on diversity and the untraditional. They are collaborative, civic minded, and extremely confident. Suits and ties are not necessary for this crowd and, actually, will turn them off. They want to see your diverse personality and be recognized for their unique personalities. Seeing the financial struggle their parents had with money and upside-down mortgages has made Millennials more financially savvy. This generation has started saving more at a younger age than previous generations. Employers have seen their 401(k) participant rates double since the Millennials have hit the workforce.
Millennials like to be guided and led but not be told. They like ‘FYI’ or ‘just in case’ gentle messages. They will start and finish everything in their lives online. They have no desire for tangible marketing and without digital and social marketing strategies, you will not capture their attention. Their lives revolve around their phones, so mobile advertising and apps are a big win. Standing for something and being a part of the community also is something they respond to positively.
Generation Z (iGen)
Finally, we have the newest generation and the first true digital natives, Generation Z or iGen. They were born in 2001 or later making them 15 years or younger. They are growing up with a highly sophisticated media and computer environment and will be more technology savvy than their Millennial forerunners. They are conscientious, hardworking, and somewhat anxious of the future. Having their eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the War on Terror and Great Recession. They have the weight of saving the world and fixing our past mistakes on their small shoulders. They worry about the economy and entrepreneurship is in their DNA.
Since this generation is still fairly young, you would wonder why marketers are paying attention. Generation Z has the highest influence on household purchases than any other younger generation in history; everything from food bought to a new family car.
Generation Z takes in information instantaneously and loses interest just as fast. In an era of emoji and six-second Vine videos, if you do not communicate your marketing message in memes, you will not reach this generation. Focus your marketing on video, imagery, and live streaming. They are drawn to social media, which disintegrates and self-destructs, further feeding their fear of missing out. Being culturally connected is critical to them and can be leveraged. They respond to messages that connect with authenticity and are future-focused.
While most of this generational information is common, we all know a few oddballs born in the wrong generation that are exceptions to the rule. However, you can tell by looking at a target’s background what they value; their economic and cultural influences can help you pinpoint your messages, mediums, and approaches to be successful.