Generational Marketing – A Trip thru the Ages

The consumer marketplace in 2018 has up to 5 active generations transacting, making them all prime targets for prospect marketing and CRM campaigns. I am going to focus in on the big three, in my opinion: Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennial (Gen Y). These groups are all dynamic in their interests and consuming behavior. They are unique subsets of the large pool of marketing targets and all respond to different call to action prompts in marketing campaigns. Understanding these key trigger points and knowing what group is the right prospect for your service or offer can make or break your success in 2018. There is more to understanding these groups than just looking at base demographics – take the time to learn the societal norms they grew up with and the values that are important to them. These psychographic factors underpin there purchase behavior and what types of products will best appeal to them.

Baby Boomers:

Let’s start with the Boomers or my parents generation. Imagine being at a holiday meal, and your parents, their siblings and maybe cousins of this group are having a conversation. What stands out to you? I always notice the theme of simpler time and a feeling of community. The idea of leaving your door unlocked without fear of a break-in and an innocence, that seems a bit lost in the modern world.

There is more that just what we empirically can learn about this generation. The Boomers were born in arguably the peak time for the American Economy. The 1950’s and 1960’s saw a thriving economy, a middle-class that was able to move up and live comfortably and this engendered a general belief that everything would work out and be okay. It was an extremely optimistic time in America economically speaking.

However, the social fabric of America was changing and we are all familiar with the struggles for Civil Rights, Gender Equality and more open opinions on relationships and life, shown vividly in events like Woodstock. This dichotomy of changing social norms while living in a stable economic environment defines the Boomers and gives us insight into their behavior as consumers.

Some other interesting aspects of this generation are they are the first generation where the idea of working mothers, working outside of the home, became accepted. This is also the generation where divorce was becoming an acceptable reality. Most importantly, they were the first generation to view retirement as an opportunity to enjoy life after they were done working and the kids moved out. College was a reality for many of the Boomer generation – and education is very important to them. Finally, due to pure size of the Boomers – this is where a lot of the disposable income in 2018 resides.

So, what does this all mean for marketers? Well, this is still a very Direct Mail responsive universe. They didn’t grow up with the cell phones, computers or technology we have today. They are still more likely to open up a well-designed Envelope package with strong sales content. Brick and Mortar stores, in general, are still their choice. The idea of being able to touch the product and interact with it in a real, tangible way is important to them – so drive to store offers are a good marketing tool to use.

As I noted, the Boomers enjoy retirement. They worked hard, saved their money and now they want to enjoy life now. Think about travel offers to this generation. Offer products and services to them that take advantage of their free time and allow them to live life to the fullest.

Another aspect is they are now the Grandparent generation. They want to pass on many of the values noted above to their grandchildren. So offers that stress saving for college (like 429 Plans) and offers that are geared for their grandchildren work well.

Gen X:

Hopefully, I know this one, as I am part of this generation. I often compare Gen X to Jan Brady(Boomers, Boomers, Boomers!!!).  The middle generation – between the Boomers and the Millennial, they are the majority of the workforce now. Gen X has dealt with two or three major economic recessions and due to this, does not have the same optimistic outlook on the economy. Gen X has not been able to save as much as the Boomers and have inherited a lot of the debt left behind by Boomer era policy choices.

Though labeled the “Slacker Generation”, Gen Xer’s are driven by working for things they believe in. The idea of working just for increasing profit and material gains is something they did not embrace. This generation wants to learn and make a difference, not just punch a clock. They commit to themselves rather than join a corporation or a specific career path. To this end, they are entrepreneurial,  extremely individualistic and big business means very little to them.

From a societal/cultural perspective, they have often been called the “latch-key generation”. The majority grew up in homes where divorce was prevent or both parents worked, so they had to learn to fend for themselves. This is where that individualistic spirit mentioned above comes from.  A side effect of this “latch-key” generation is they tend to be very cynical of institutions. They saw things like mass firings affect their parents lives and the effects of divorce really tainted the institution of marriage. These events were examples of how institutions didn’t really look out for them or the people they cared about.

Gen X grew up on the cusp of the technological boom. They were the first generation to have computers in schools and knew what it was like to not have any smart phones (Imagine, leaving the house and not being able to be contacted… the horror). This transitional period makes them good candidates for both traditional marketing strategy – like Direct Mail or Print media, as well as digital advertising.

Finally, this generation is late to marry and quick to divorce. They are impulsive – meaning they want what they want when they want it. Even if they can’t afford it, they are more likely to use credit cards – and subsequently, end up with some debt.

When marketing to Gen X, it is important to make the offer relevant to the individual. They are skeptical and are not going to respond to generalized offers or things that seem like they are tied to large organizations. They are Brand loyal and it is important to make sure that your brand image and messaging targets what they care about. Additionally, this is a very good audience to offer credit-based offerings. Try offers that extend credit on a service or product, that allows them to purchase now and pay later. Test all channels with this group – email, Direct Mail, on-line ads, display, Social Media. As long as your offer is something they can connect to – they will respond.


Ah, the much maligned Millennial Generation is up next. Sometimes called the “Echo Boomers”, this generation takes the “Me Generation” to the next level.

They are the polar opposites of Gen X. Where Gen X was the “latch-key” kids, Millennial’s were raised by helicopter parents, where the concept of play dates and organized activities were the norm. They prefer to schedule everything as a result of this type of parenting. Where Gen X was individualistic, this generation is much more into scheduled group activities and interacting via Social Media outlets. Their parents and teachers told them they were special and this is something that they have carried thru to adulthood, causing them to place high expectations on themselves and the world.

They are the first generation to grow up in a completely digital world. The availability of technology like smart phones, tablets, social media and the internet made this generation digital literate and this is the way they consume information. There is an immediacy that this generation expects with everything. Channels like Direct Mail or Print Media are not effective here – stick to Social Media, online display, mobile apps and ads on their phones to engage this audience. Make the offer something that can be consumed immediately.

Their relationship with work is extremely different than the Boomers or Gen X. The concept of “Work-Life Balance” is very important to them. They prefer a work environment that is more relaxed and expect a lot of hands on training and accolades. This is a direct effect of the parenting that told them they were special and they expect to be treated this way. In the work environment, they are not afraid to voice their opinions, which is tied to their access to information 24/7 from digital sources. Products or services that offer enhancements to their work-life balance are great for them.

The best way to market to this generation is the digital channels. As you offer products and services, you need to play into the belief that they are a special generation and make the services/products call to action something that is fast and immediate (almost like a digital Gold Star for clicking on your ad). This generation is a good target for Mobile Apps or products you can download. If there is a shipping process, follow the Amazon Prime lead and make it 1 to 2-day.

One cautionary not, be careful with the language and imagery used in your marketing efforts. The Millennial Generation is a bit hyper-sensitive and if they feel that something in the ad is offensive, they will let you know and also post it all over Social Media. Sometimes, it’s not offensive at all, but the reaction can cause harm to your business or product line – so it’s something to keep in the back of your minds.


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