Across the Great
Divide: Target & Sell to 4 Generations!
By Carmen Ferme, president of New
World Leadership LLC
Are you frustrated with lackluster sales
performance? Are you still utilizing “a one size
fits all” generic approach? In June of 2006, the
Star Tribune Sales and Marketing warned that
companies who were still practicing “one size fits
all” marketing and selling tactics would experience,
(if not already) a flattening, if not a decline in
sales unless they change their marketing strategies
to appeal to each of the generations on their terms,
their values, and language. While the Boomers and
Gen X account for more than 80% of the workforce and
buyer, Gen Y numbers increase daily.
Traditionalists, many of whom are now retired, are
not the retiree of yesterday. In fact, due to
medical advances, the 85 and above age group is one
of the fastest growing! This group is often
overlooked as not having enough value to be
considered. Perhaps we should think again.
Marketing and selling to these diversely driven
generations is challenging but possible. The better
able you are to understand their thoughts, fears,
and motivations; the better able you will be to
market to and service them so they will hear you!
Traditionalists: This group is traveling,
volunteering, learning new hobbies, and some still
work for the sheer social aspect of it. They are
looking for ways to reinvent themselves and be an
appreciated member of society: They are far from
ready to be put out to pasture. Having grown up in
times of depression and frugality, when they spend,
they buy products and services that satisfy their
basic conservative values. This generation is brand
loyal more so than any of the others.
How they hear you: Your message is best heard by
them when it rewards their discipline, hard work,
and saving for later. Reinforce that they have
earned the leisure time and retirement. The best is
yet to come!
Buying style: They pretty much like to buy in the
traditional way. Face to face and personal. Be
willing to listen to their stories, (even if they
are unrelated to the transaction). Be thorough in
presentation, but pace it slowly. While they are now
venturing onto the net for information and
purchases, they will only make purchases if they can
also contact someone by phone when they need help.
And if you’re a known brand, that’s in your favor!
Boomers: Optimistic and individualistic, they live
to work, and have double the spending power of the
previous generation. They sacrificed all to live
lavishly and largely and feel a sense of entitlement
to do so. While not brand loyal, status branding
will get their attention quickly, (BMW, Rolex,
Lexus). Time is money! An interesting mix of instant
gratification and deep personal fulfillment, they
are also the ones who push for recycling and will
pay more for products that support good causes; like
a vineyard who charges a little more for their
bottle, but a certain percentage of the proceeds
goes to the Humane Society.
How they hear you: Your message is best heard when
your product or service enhances their status, gives
them back (or saves) time, or makes a political,
social, or environmental statement. Send messages
that motivate their desire for sophistication or
acknowledges the impact they’ve had on society.
Buying Style: Their preference for buying is still
face to face or on the phone, and they receive well
the formal consultative/presentation approach. This
group has become tech savvy, out of sheer necessity.
They are growing in their numbers of online
purchases, provided they feel comfortable with
representation of product, because it saves time.
They are venturing at varying degrees into social
media as well.
Gen X: Skeptical, mistrusting, and brand disloyal,
they work to live. They love malls and shopping,
(often on Mom and Dad’s dime), and acquired taste
and discerning eye for quality. Internet and
wireless phones blossomed in their formative years:
They expect to receive easy and personalized service
at their convenience; not when you’re open. They are
repulsed by hype and insincere pitches and can spot
them quickly. They side emotionally with the common
person and will buy things to help elevate the
ordinary. They are cause-sensitive and will often
rally in support. They also think and make decisions
communally (“mall” mentality).
How they hear you: Send messages that encourage
their communal decision making preferences (would
their peer group also agree?) Emphasize the
immediate use and value. Speak to their desire to
have control in their lives; more leisure/family
time while also providing a sound economical and
functional solution. Advertising is a pop culture to
them; they respond to images, humor, music, and a
tad bit of irreverence: this will best get their
Buying Style: While comfortable with all channels,
they like the face to face because it appeals to
their need for socialization, entertainment, and
fosters their communal way of purchasing. They
usually have their research done prior, so they
prefer that you get to the facts: Be straight. Be
clear. Be authentic (don’t pitch) and demonstrate a
genuine interest in them as a person.
Gen Y: Optimistic, confident and collaborative,
coupled with their amazing dexterity in the use of
technology, this group already has their goals for
where they want to be by age 20, 30, etc. They seek
solutions to get them there. But they want to be
part of the solution. They will go online for
product information before they look in a printed
directory. They’re savvy and impatient and very much
influenced by colorful and useful websites that they
can easily find and navigate. They buy the “hottest”
and the “coolest” and their peer group is key to
making these determinations.
How they hear you: Send a clear message that you
have solutions. Use color, graphics, and sound, and
provide some type of guarantee. Solve their problems
quickly and completely and you’ll have their ear.
Prove that their peers agree. They are not brand
loyal and prefer to actually “make the brand”
through their collaborative influence. Post a blog
asking for their input on a product or service
before finalizing product or strategy to market.
Buying Style: This group is very individualistic and
instant about their purchases, so they probably
spend more buying time on the net than in person.
They are big on viral marketing and won’t hesitate
to tweet out their support of or denouncement of a
product or service. They speak an abbreviated
language and look for people to speak to them
similarly. Content on the Web is king…it must be
unique, enticing, and solution focused.
It is important to remind ourselves that selling and
marketing are not sciences, and that generational
trends are not stereotypes. Today’s marketing and
sales professionals are being challenged like never
before. Today’s buyers emerge from all four
generations. It is the savvy organization that
recognizes the importance of target marketing, most
especially in today’s economy.
---Source: Carmen Ferme is the President of New
World Leadership, LLC, specializing in
communications for generations. Her passion and
expertise in this emerging diversity issue comes
from her experiences managing multigenerational
teams and research. Carmen can be reached at
or by phone at 720 252 6560. Visit her website:
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