Marketing Across Generations

For the first time ever, your customers fall into four different generations. This creates a
wonderfully diverse customer base, but it also creates challenges for the marketing team. Of course, each generation’s work habits, values, interests, spending styles, skill sets, and world perspectives are all very different. But so are their communication styles, which affects how we market to them.

For example, Millennials want “just the facts” in short, easily digestible bullet points accompanied by attractive graphics, ideally delivered digitally in a mobile-friendly format. A Baby Boomer will more likely seek out more-detailed information, perhaps on a website or in a brochure, especially when making a high-risk or important financial decision.

So to get you up to speed, here’s a “cheat sheet” for the generations and how to reach them.

Traditionalists (pre-1945)

Approximately 50-55 million

The most knowledgeable and wisest generation, traditionalists, care about respect and status earned through experience. They’re hardworking and loyal. They take pride in their work and in achieving a “job well done.”

They are disciplined, dedicated, obedient, patriotic, patient, and loyal. They respect authority, put duty and work before fun, and place great value on “showing up.” Traditionalists value family and community and believe in giving back.

Their communication is very clear and direct and presented in a formal, logical manner. They appreciate good manners, formal language, and proper spelling and grammar, and they dislike profanity. Traditionalists prefer written word and personal interaction to email or digital communication.

How to reach them:

  • Show them that you appreciate their loyalty.
  • Don’t expect them to make impulse purchases; be patient.
  • Listen to what they want and need; don’t assume.
  • Use traditional marketing tools such as flyers, newsletters, and postcards,
    keeping in mind that some will use the internet to search for information.
  • Use non-glossy papers and larger fonts for easier reading.
  • Use proper grammar and language to avoid offending them.
  • Use a single, dominant image or visual that evokes emotion.

Baby Boomers (1945 – 1964)
About 76-80 million

Hardworking and loyal, Boomers tend to be “workaholics” who have sacrificed their home life for their careers. A competitive, ambitious group, they measure status and self-worth by career success and recognition. They are highly ethical, believing in equality and teamwork, and aren’t afraid to challenge authority.

Boomers prefer personal interactions and face-to-face communication but also use email, juggling multiple communication modes. They are diplomatic, yet open and direct communicators who like having options. They answer questions thoroughly and expect to be pressed for details. Boomers don’t like manipulative or controlling language, and they prefer to be involved in decisions.

How to reach them:

  • Don’t use canned, mass-marketing pitches; personalize your approach for them.
  • Listen to them and focus on their wants and needs.
  • Provide details and explanations about your product.
  • Make information available online or by phone.
  • Communicate clearly using product/service features and benefits.
  • Deliver on what you promise; service after the sale is important.
  • Ask them how they prefer to receive communication.

Generation X (Approx. 1965 – 1980)
About 51-65 million

The first to challenge the status quo, Generation X has a steady work ethic but little loyalty
unless it’s earned. They’re more tech-savvy than Boomers. Tradition, experience, status, and hierarchy matter less to them. They desire meaningful work and are very results-driven and outcome-oriented. They love to learn, are independent, and work well with others while encouraging others to think independently.

As the first generation of “latchkey kids” — many the children of divorce — they are savvy, skeptical and self-reliant. They seek a good work/life balance and place a high value on time and efficiency.

Gen Xers are more blunt and direct communicators, preferring straight talk that presents facts in sound bytes or bullet points. They communicate informally using their own language and idioms which they prefer to buzz words and jargon. Gen Xers communicate often and immediately, usually with digital technology.

How to reach them:

  • Don’t try to “sell” them; rather understand their lifestyle and customize your offerings to meet their needs. Hardcore sales tactics won’t work.
  • They’re skeptical and brand disloyal; back up claims with research and testimonials.
  • Earn their loyalty; they won’t automatically give it to you.
  • Mass-marketing and fake personalization won’t resonate with them.
  • Be straightforward, honest and sincere; make a genuine connection.
  • Use traditional and digital marketing; they’re well-versed in both.

Millennials or Generation Y (Approx. 1981-2001)
About 75-80 million

The largest population in the workforce, Millennials, are not impressed by job status
or titles, nor are they very loyal. Lifestyle is more important than money. Extremely tech-savvy and adaptable, they’re focused on self-improvement and career growth. They are also very inclusive, respecting others for their individuality and seeking independence as individuals themselves.

Millennials need constant communication, engagement, and feedback. They want to feel connected to their community and volunteer often. Optimistic and high-energy, they were very busy as children and still want to be busy and involved.

They’re polite, positive, respectful, and motivational in their communication, preferring digital mediums such as cell phones, email, voicemail, or messaging because these are more “fun.” However, they communicate important messages in person.

Millennials don’t like being talked down to; they’ll be respectful of you if you’re respectful of them. Being humorous and showing your humanity will appeal to them. They respond well to positive words, action verbs, and visual imagery.

How to reach them:

  • Maintain a strong digital presence on multiple platforms.
  • Be straightforward; use honest, hype-free messaging.
  • Research and adopt the latest technology trends; this generation is the first to
    adopt them.
  • Make sure your digital and online messages, flyers, and webpages are mobile-friendly.
  • Be creative to get their attention in their media saturated world.
  • Respond immediately to any queries or requests; they are used to
    instant communication.
  • Engage them in the process; Millennials like to be involved in their solutions.
  • Make the overall experience fun, pleasant, and rewarding.

How to Reach All Your Customer Groups
The most effective way to market your products and services is with a carefully thought-out, strategically developed marketing plan. Looking at the demographics of each group simply helps you more easily identify your target markets, personalize your messages, and choose the right media.

Acknowledging these generational differences in behavior, values, and communication can help your salespeople, marketing staff, and even customer service representatives better serve your current and potential customers.

Katrina Olson is a freelance writer and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. Reach her at katrina@katrinaolson.com.