Villing & Company

It's a Wrap: Generational Marketing

Now that I’ve covered each generation individually in my three previous posts, it’s time to wrap things up. By understanding what motivates each generation, you are more likely to be successful when trying to find a message that resonates with them. The lifestyles and social values associated with each generation may have as much, if not more, influence on buying decisions as demographic factors like income, education and gender. These generational attitudes should also play an important role in balancing your traditional marketing factors such as product quality, price, promotion and availability.

I found the chart below on a MediaPost blog. It provides a good starting point for reviewing some of the major differences between Generation Y, Generation X and Baby Boomers.

Gen Y Gen X Baby Boomers
Celebrates diversity Accepts diversity Assumes diversity
Optimistic/Realist Pragmatic/Practical Pragmatic/Idealist
Self-inventive Self-involved Self-expansive
Re-write rules Desire rules Reject rules
Irrelevance of institutions Mistrusts institutions Topples institutions
Nurtured kids Latch-key kids Laisse faire kids
High expectation No link between hard work and success Freedom to seek to achieve
Future is open Future is closing Future is now
Personalization & customization Labels (as security) Categorization (mass)

If you are in the retail world, another aspect of the generations you should be aware of besides their values and motivations is buying power. When you have flexibility in determining which generation to target for a certain campaign or promotion, buying power is an extremely important factor to consider.

  • Baby Boomers = $2.1 trillion (MetLife Mature Market Institute)
  • Generation X = $125 billion (Yankelovich, Inc.)
  • Generation Y = $172 billion a year (Harris Interactive)

As you can see, Boomers’ buying power is more than seven times Gen X and Gen Y combined. And, due to their much larger numbers, Gen Y has more buying power than Gen X, even though they are much earlier in their careers.

Based on these statistics, you may think that you should target everything toward the Baby Boomer generation. And, there’s certainly something to be said for that strategy. However, it would be short-sighted to completely ignore Generation X and especially Generation Y. Although these younger generations may not be as brand loyal, they will start to develop relationships with certain businesses and companies when they are younger, and if you wait until they have higher buying power, you may be too late.

When it comes to marketing to these generations, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  • In the past years of easy financial growth and seemingly endless consumer demand, general mass-market strategies were successful for marketers. Now, in times of less spending and more unpredictability, generational differences and more targeted messages must be considered before marketing dollars are spent.
  • Pick one or two of the generations to target, do your research, refine strategies, test, make adjustments and work on expanding market share. It is very difficult and expensive to effectively target everyone. More than likely, your product already appeals to one, possibly two, of the generations.
  • Those companies who can authentically target and service their audience are the ones that are going to have the most success.
  • Don’t forget that preferences vary within each generation as well. Understanding the general perceptions and differences of the generations will give you a good starting point for attracting these audiences, but it doesn’t guarantee that each member of the generation will respond to your marketing in the same way.
  • It might make sense to have a member of the generation you are trying to reach on staff. They can help provide crucial insights that someone from another generation might not be aware of. It also never hurts to do focus groups or other forms of primary research with your target audience to help get a better understanding of their preferences.

I hope you have found this series on generational marketing informative and helpful. If you missed any of my previous articles on each specific generation, you can find links below.

Note: On Tuesday, February 16, the Michiana Chapter of the American Marketing Association will be featuring a presentation on "Communicating Across the Generational Divide" by Ginny Baxter, Senior Manager, Workplace Dynamics at Herman Miller. For more information, visit the AMA Michiana website.

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