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Can Your Business Bridge the Generation Gap?

How do you market products to people of different generations? This is one of the toughest questions for small business owners to answer. In an ever-changing world, generations develop disparate tastes, preferences and psyches. Marketing that works well for one age group might be a complete failure for another.

Here is a breakdown of the generations you should be focused on, and how to woo them:

Baby Boomers — (Born 1946 to 1964)

Current Population: 76 million

The children of the post-World War II birthing explosion, this demographic consists of many of those currently contemplating retirement. They came of age during an unprecedented era of widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence. As the generation that received peak levels of income, they benefited from abundant levels of food, apparel, retirement programs and sometimes even “midlife crisis” products.

As the most financially secure demographic, they often are viewed as a “gold mine” for business. According to an 2012 Nielsen study, Baby Boomers account for nearly half of consumer packaged goods spending and will control 70 percent of disposable income within five years.

Baby Boomers are characterized as having a strong sense of self-empowerment with the drive to be the best they can be. Tailoring your messaging to this can make your products/services more appealing to them. Many Baby Boomers are now grandparents, and appealing to this new stage of life can be a successful marketing tactic.

The Great Recession has forced many Baby Boomers to postpone retirement, but also has compelled many to start their own businesses. Centering messaging around “reinvention” rather than “retirement” can be an effective way to attract Baby Boomers.

Generation X — (Born early 1960s to early 1980s)

Current Population: 41 million

Sometimes called the “lost” generation, this was the first generation of “latchkey” kids, subjected to plenty of daycare and divorce. As the generation with the lowest voting participation rate of any that came before, Newsweek called them “the generation that dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them.”

Gen X was the first to grow up with home computers, making them the first truly tech savvy generation. Many of them went on to build the next wave of technological wonders that all generations currently enjoy.

Members of Gen X tend to be skeptics, with “what’s in it for me?” attitudes. They also happen to be one of the best-educated generations, with 29 percent obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher. Keep this in mind when tailoring your marketing to Gen Xers. Be clear about the benefits they will receive for doing business with you and don’t make empty promises.

Generation Y (early 1980s to early 2000s)

Current Population: 71 million

Coming of age at the turn of the new millennium and the largest cohort since the Baby Boomers, this demographic is characterized as incredibly sophisticated (*ahem), tech-savvy and immune to most traditional marketing and sales tactics. They have seen it all.

Gen Y also is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse generations. As a result of the rapid expansion in cable TV channels, satellite radio and the Internet, they are much more segmented as an audience. The rise of the internet has made Gen Y less brand-loyal due to flexibility in fashion, style consciousness and how this is communicated.

While an unforgiving economic climate has made it tough for Gen Y to achieve the same level of prosperity as their parents (many still live with their parents after college), they are tomorrow’s cash cow. As more and more members of Gen Y find their economic footing, they will be the ones determining which products and services are consumed in the long run. To be successful with Gen Y, your marketing needs to be more than just adaptable — it must be smart. You’re dealing with the most educated generation in history, after all.

Generation Z (1995-present)

Current Population: 23 million (and counting)

Just when you got sick of reading about how to seduce Millennials, you learn that there is a post-Millennial demographic emerging already. Yes, a new generation is afoot. This newest generation will grow up in a tech-dominated world where every social interaction is recorded and stored, and privacy is passé. They will never recognize the elegant sound of dee-dong-dee-dong-deee-dong of internet dial up. For many of them, their first words were not “mama,” but “tap tap” (due to the omnipresence of touch-screen tech). Their parents will have had Facebook accounts for years before they were even born. Though currently little is known about their consumption habits, you can bet the moment they are old enough to hold credit cards, they will be the most data-mined generation in history.

The moral of the story: your audience matters. Determine which demographic(s) is/are most likely to want your product and/or services and center your marketing around it. Awareness is key. So is creativity. Don’t worry — you got this.

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