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 attention.
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.

Did you miss out on Carmen’s first article?
Read “Across the Great Divide: Bridging the Gaps Among 4 Generations at Work” here!

---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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