Who's Your Daddy?  Marketing to different generations


Marketing success depends on understanding different consumer groups and delivering the appropriate marketing mix. Generations X and Y have commanded an astounding amount of media attention. So just who are Gen X and Gen Y .. and how do you get their attention?

Definitions vary but in general Gen X is considered to consist of those people born in the period 1965-78 and Gen Y of those born 1979-2000 or so.

Is there really anything that makes these generations different to previous ones, such as the famous Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), or different to each other? And if there are, what significance could it have for a marketer? For instance, what about Generation X – now consisting of people between the ages of 29 and 42. Aren’t these people just the ‘replacement’ baby boomers? Now that many of THEM have a family and a mortgage, just like their boomer parents did, won’t they be requiring the same things? Won’t the same marketing messages work with them? Won’t the same channels be successful?

Answer – NO on all accounts.

The reason: each generation develops attitudes and behaviors toward the world – which includes attitudes towards marketing and marketing channels – shaped to a great extent by the ‘novelty and change’ of their formative years. Successfully creating a product offering and developing channel and messaging strategies means varying them to suit the particular characteristics of the generation targeted.

Growing up in the 19860's was different to growing up in the 1980's .. and that was different to growing up today. People resemble their own time more than they resemble their parents time.

Savvy but cynical Xers

Gen Xers are considered the savvy generation. They led the boom. They took sports and entertainment to new extremes. And they have now entered parenthood determined to avoid the sacrifices and disappointments of the generations before them.

But they came of age during an era of widespread cynicism and distrust of institutions – attitudes they have imbibed and live by and that underlay their attitude towards marketing. Age won't diminish their sense of savvy nor, probably their irreverent, derisive view of marketing. Marketers can respond by being aware of what channels they prefer to use, how they use them and crafting their communications to take into account their attitudes towards the world.

Gen Xers use direct channels such as direct mail, email, infomercials, telemarketing and the Internet but their approach is to treat what they find there as information that will help them make a decision, to find out what’s going on in the marketplace and to contrast and compare as many sources as possible to arrive at the right thing to do. What they don’t do is take direct marketing at its face value or just use it to buy something.

Marketing resistance, particularly to direct marketing, is at an all time high and members of Gen X are among the most aggressive at rejecting intrusive marketing and resentful of saturation – what’s more they have the knowledge, sophistication, technology and willingness to disconnect themselves from marketers when they feel aggrieved.

Winning and keeping the business of Gen Xers will require something beyond just more of the same. It will take marketing savvy to match the consumer savvy of Gen X itself.

Connectivity kids

Generation Y is the generation of e-everything – in fact they are referred to as the ‘connectivity kids’. A complex, extremely diverse group, those born in Generation Y exist to consume. They are materialistic, but not so much that they don’t pay special attention and respond to particular marketing strategies.

Generation Y is a confident, self reliant, optimistic and positive generation empowered by their command of digital technologies.

For marketers a major issue is their lack of brand loyalty – one problem with an online purchase and they’ll ditch the trolley and try elsewhere; if the supermarket is out of Brand X then Brand Y is probably just as good. That requires working off other aspects of Gen Y – their need for memorable experiences and community – to try and build what loyalty you can through such techniques as cause-related tie-ins, lifestyle sponsorships and interactive promotions.

Marketing in the 21st Century

Profiling of consumer segments needs to consider the different characteristics, attitudes, values and priorities that characterize Gen X and Gen Y – and soon Gen Z who are currently developing their own language, their own attitudes to marketing and becoming adept at using the latest media channels. Without this knowledge marketers simply won’t be able to develop the messages that appeal most directly to them and are delivered through the channels that are most used by them.

Separating the generational hype and conjecture from the serious, usable research and analysis is a challenge and each business needs to carry out its own market research to better understand, engage with and market to the various generations they serve, and to the specific cohorts within each of those generations.

Until next week,
Mike Reddy