The greatest to the latest

Experts interpret research data about four age groups and discuss how distributors and their clients can market to each generation accordingly

Data can do a lot of things for marketers today. It can give direction to meandering campaigns. It can show exactly which geographic market should be targeted. It can show the type of media that’s best to use when aiming your sales arrow in specific directions. And, it can tell you how to interact with and market to different age groups of buyers.

Ultimately, it’s that last factor that often has ad specialty distributors fumbling for the right methods and messages when it comes to generational marketing. Tactics and media outlets will differ depending on your target market. But you can’t know exactly how to help clients target specific generations if you don’t look at the data to know what those audiences want.

Here’s a look at some of the latest market data for Millennials, Generation Xers, baby boomers and Silent Generation members – some of which may surprise you – and suggestions for using that data to help clients effectively reach and sell their products and services to each generation.

Millennial Mission

A UBS survey released earlier this year found that Millennials (age 18-32) are still more scarred than other generations from the 2008 American financial crisis. The survey went as far as to conclude that Millennials carry a “Depression-era mindset.”

That’s why Morley Winograd, co-author of Millennial Momentum: How A New Generation Is Remaking America, says distributors have no choice but to be price-competitive in order to earn business from this generation.

“There are a bunch of studies that show that Millennials are penny-pinchers when it comes to spending, that they’re much more conservative as to how they invest their money – as in cash and savings accounts vs. stocks and bonds – and they’re much more careful to compare prices and pick the best bargain than other generations have been or would be,” he says. “There’s a very clear indication in the market that the effect of the Great Recession on that generation’s psyche is not going away.

“So, the message there for small-to-medium-sized businesses is, if you don’t have a price-competitive strategy, if you’re not offering a better bargain, then you’re going to have some difficulty with Millennials.”

But that doesn’t mean Millennials still don’t expect the best. In fact, Winograd says this is a generation that has come to expect quality and affordability.

For example, Millennials are avid users of Uber, an app that facilitates taxis finding them rather than the other way around – and have the ride cost no more than it usually would.

“The fundamental point is it’s not more expensive to take an Uber ride than to take a taxicab ride,” Winograd says. “It’s a better experience, it’s a nicer experience and it’s not necessarily a more costly experience.”

Ultimately, Millennials believe this is always possible in every transaction that they make. “They think that it’s always possible to get something that’s really good – it’s easier, it’s innovative, it’s better in one or more ways – and it’s not more expensive,” Winograd says. “In fact, it may be cheaper. So, you really don’t have the choice of picking the traditional strategies of price vs. quality vs. innovation; the market is now demanding that you do them all.”

Millennials have also become known as the “selfie” generation. A 2014 Pew Research study showed that 55% of Millennials have posted a selfie – a digital photo of themselves taken by themselves – on a social media site, which is a far greater percentage than any other generation.

Ann Fishman, founder of Generation Targeted Marketing, says this presents an opportunity for those in the ad specialty business. Fishman recalled a recent trip to Hong Kong in which young people were persuaded by a local business to come take pictures of themselves with a cardboard cutout of Bruce Lee at a booth it had set up.

“If you’re not offering a better bargain, then you’re going to have some difficulty with Millennials.”

Morley Winograd, author

By the same token, Fishman says setting up a booth at a trade show or other event that attracts attention from Millennials and includes your company’s name and website is a fantastic free way to obtain Internet visibility, and earn credibility among other Millennials.

“If you have something that they can take a selfie with that has your website on it, that’s great. They’ll have it and they’ll send it all over [social media],” Fishman says. “One satisfied Millennial will have something go viral, and that company all of a sudden will have 100,000 hits because of something clever that a selfie was taken in front of.”

Target: Gen X

A 2013 study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute revealed that members of Generation X (age 33-50) are especially health-conscious. Consider:

  • 87% of respondents described their health as very good or excellent.
  • About 60% said they incorporate sports and/or exercise into their daily routines.
  • 25% said they stick to a healthy diet.
  • 13% said they use herbal remedies.
  • Nearly 10% practice yoga.

That’s why Fishman suggests pitching products to Gen Xers that they can incorporate into their healthy lifestyles, such as prepackaged healthy food that includes your company’s name.

“If you can get a high-quality organic snack for the road or for the room, it’s sure to be picked up by a Gen Xer, but it has to be organic and dry-roasted – no oils, no anything,” she says. “If you can get that with your name on it in smaller packages, or something similar to that, that can be a great item.”

Also, a 2010 DePaul University study noted that Gen Xers are appreciative of creative, off-the-wall items, noting that they “have a fondness for presentation and are more willing to try products that feature cool graphics and ingenious packaging but (are) also affordable.”

On that note, Fishman says items that are both creative and useful will appeal to Gen Xers. “A backscratcher is a great thing. Sometimes hokey things work really well with this group,” she says. “But don’t give them something that’s useless. For example, don’t give out a calculator anymore, because they have it on their iPhone.”

Fishman also suggested investing in some of the more stylish pens on the market, such as the Pilot P-700 and the Zebra Sarasa 0.7mm. “These are two of the world’s greatest ballpoint pens. You cannot help but love them, carry them around with you and buy 12 more,” she says. “These are things that Gen Xers will talk to other people about.”

Indeed, Kile Lewis, co-CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial Inc., says Gen Xers are all about functional items that just look cool.

“It could be anything related to technology, whether it’s the iPhone or tablet or smartphone,” he says. “One of the promotional items we give to all our new Generation X clients are the little retractable earbuds that they can use on their phone. They pull them out from either end, and it has our logo on it. We get tons of compliments on that kind of stuff.”

Boom Time

Not marketing to boomers (age 51-68)? That could prove to be costly, as Nielsen Marketing reports that baby boomers will comprise half of America’s population by 2017.

And while the assumption by many is that the younger generations are the most concerned about the environment and eco-sustainability, Brent Green, founder of consulting firm Brent Green & Associates Inc., which specializes in baby boomer-oriented marketing, says it’s actually the baby boomers – the generation that began the eco-friendly movement – that is most passionate in that area.

“What we associate with eco-consciousness is the movement that springs from the ’60s and ’70s,” Green says. “The modern Earth Day began on April 22, 1970, founded by Denis Hayes – a member of the Silent Generation, not a baby boomer, but born after 1940. The whole Earth Day started as a phenomenon of the boomer generation when they were in college, and that spring-boarded forward to our eco-consciousness today.

“A lot of the revolutionary organic product companies, such as Whole Foods, are companies founded by older boomers – what I call leading-edge boomers – when they were in their 20s and heavily populating those companies.”

A recent survey by the trade publication Environmental Leader revealed that 85% of baby boomers are interested in owning a home that has a reduced carbon footprint, and roughly 50% of baby boomers would be willing to pay up to 5% more to stay at a hotel that has a “green design” and implemented sustainable practices.

It’s one reason why baby boomers over-represent those who consider themselves members of Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) by 21%, according to Green. “One in five baby boomers can be described as LOHAS,” he says. “These are extremely committed people. These are the people who will chew you out when you take your trash out and it’s obvious you’re not recycling something.”

Green says distributors can take advantage of this in one of two ways: offer promotional items that are inherently eco-friendly and sustainable – even the old calculator standby, provided that it’s solar-powered – or provide items (including apparel) that carry a worded pro-environment message.

“Products that carry an eco-conscious message with them would be good product ideas. That can come on a T-shirt, too,” he says. “A T-shirt can come from organic cotton, or a T-shirt can have a socially responsible message that’s just cool. It’s all how it’s branded and positioned.

“You can appeal to Millennials on that (eco-friendly) level, without question. But they’re the children of the boomers. A lot of them learned those values from their parents.”

Also, baby boomers do become more health conscious as they become older. In his book, The Next Trillion, Paul Zane Pilzer says baby boomers are expected to boost their annual spending on wellness-based services from about $200 million to $1 billion in the next 10 years. A related metric shows that gym membership is higher among Americans 55 and older than it is among any other generation, according to IBISWorld.

“These are the people who will chew you out when you take your trash out and it’s obvious you’re not recycling something.”

Brent Green, Brent Green & Assoc.

Fishman says this is a result of people who are becoming more concerned about their overall health as they age – and while this presents an opportunity for distributors, she says they must approach the topic delicately.

“I don’t care if it’s at a convention for aging; you do nothing that implies they’re getting older,” she says. “For example, I might hand out a 5X travel mirror – a little round thing women can put in their purse – but it has to be subtle.”

Fishman says other items that may fall into both the health and beauty categories (but can be marketed more in the beauty category), such as a Louis Licari comb that has wide spaces between the teeth so that it won’t pull fine hair, could appeal to baby boomers.

“You can have your company’s name on it. It doesn’t have to have ‘Louis Licari’ on it; it can say ‘ABC Beauty Supplies,’” she says. “It has to be something that deals with aging but never talks of aging.”

The Silent Generation

The report includes those who are a few years outside the Silent Generation (people over 68 years of age), but according to the latest U.S. Census data, people 65 and older control 75% of the country’s wealth, along with 70% of its disposable income.
Green says there are two primary ways for distributors to tap into that income. The first is to remember the G word – grandchildren – when marketing to the Silent Generation.

GRAND magazine reports that over six million American children are being raised by grandparents. In addition, the Natural Marketing Institute noted that 64% of grandparents say they like to spoil their grandkids, 35% spend over $500 a year on them (an average of $364 among all grandparents) and 23% even contribute to their grandchildren’s college savings.

“Silents are a generation that never think of themselves. They are very likely to pick up something not for themselves, but for someone else. Something they can take home to grandchildren fills a need for that generation,” Fishman says.

Silent Generation members believe products that their young grandchildren would find cool, but will also be safe in their hands, are a home run, according to Fishman.

Specifically, Green says a functional item like a daypack that includes a cute message like “Grandpa and me” on the front could be a winner.

“Part of what a 70-year-old person is thinking about relative to their grandkids is their own legacy with their grandkids and great moments to share together,” he says. “Promotional products can fill some of that need if they’re identified and given that way.”
Also, Green says Silent Generation members often use some of their disposable income by taking time to travel to destinations that they didn’t have the time or money to visit earlier in their lives.

In this case, Green says logoed travel necessities – including items that could come in handy in foreign countries – are the way to go.

For example, Green says a Coach universal adapter with the recipient’s name and your client’s company’s logo on it could be a perfect fit. “Older folks love to travel,” he says, “and you can pitch them something they wouldn’t buy themselves even though they have assets in the millions of dollars.”