G’day Anthillians. Everyone’s yakking on about Gen this and Gen that, trying to figure out the perfect pitch that will make them rich. But does anyone really know what they’re talking about? Marketing maven Ray Beatty takes a knife to the alphabet’s tail.
Here’s a topic that I’m sure confuses you as much as it confuses me. What are all those “Generation” labels about and what exactly do they mean?
In the press or on TV, experts blithely talk about “Gen X”, “Gen Y”, “Gen Z” as if we automatically know what they mean. In fact, no one has an exact definition, but this is close.
Let’s start with the great-grandparents. They came from the Depression and the Second World War and are labelled the “Builders” or the “Silent Generation” or the “War Babies”.
They grew up at a time when unemployment meant hunger and work in a bank was a job for life. In marketing terms they are seen as being conservative and security-conscious. Their numbers are dwindling now, of course.
The Baby Boomers (b.1946-1964). Brash, confident, the product of a prosperous, growing society when youth was discovering its wings for the first time in history. From free love to freedom rides, they forced their social and political values onto society.
Today they’re the managers, the politicians – your boss. From the marketing standpoint they still follow their teenage values and can be brand-switchers, argumentative, know-alls (sound like anyone you know?).
On the good side, they are doers, communicators, achievers. But don’t expect them to retire at 65 – they figure that so long as they can think and talk, they can do the job better than anyone.
Generation X (b.1965-1979). Brought up by a bunch of would-be hippies, they swung the other way and tended to a more detached view of the world.
Their influences were MTV, small families, AIDS and higher education than their parents. Sex had been liberated by the sexual revolution and they were not inclined to commitment.
So only now are we seeing them start to marry, in their 30s and far later than any generation before them. Many have only recently left home – forever a puzzle to parents who couldn’t wait to get them out as soon as they left school.
Generation Y (b.1980-1997). These are today’s teens and twenties. Within them lies a reckless streak that has caused much of the nightlife troubles.
If you think they come from another planet, you’re right. Computers were mother’s milk, the internet opened up the world, mobile phones and SMS can pull them into temporary groups.
So a few text messages can cause a rave party of thousands to mushroom – or a riot to ignite. It can also cause viral marketing to blaze around the world in hours. Look at the Barak Obama campaign – built on the power of internet communications and small online donations by millions.
Living at home, Gen Yers get to keep any money they make and spend it on what they want. In any case, the housing market is so tight that what’s the point of even looking? The empty nest syndrome is starting to dwindle.
Finally to Generation Z, our rug-rats born between 1998 and today. They have entered a world of information overload, bombarded day and night. You’d better believe that their filters are hepa-fine, allowing only very well-targeted messages to pass through.
Family is a loose definition to them – so many of their school friends come from single (or even same-sex) families. The parents are often older and comfortably affluent, but with big financial commitments.
Everybody rushes off to work and to school in the morning and home at night. Junior has more time to study consumerism than the parents so their influence in buying decisions is powerful. The family works as a unit and relates on an adult level. It’s like no-one has the time or space for a childhood.
As marketers, we have to communicate to these very different groups. And the one message or medium can rarely cover them all. Before we can sell effectively, we have to learn our XYZs.
Ray Beatty runs MarketingSolutions, a consultancy advising companies on how to turn around their unsuccessful advertising campaigns.