Every generation has its own distinct style, and I’m not talking about fashion alone. Every generation approaches life and the world we live in with new eyes. Their sensibilities and tastes are going to be totally different than the generation before because they don’t see the world the same way. In fact, not only do different generations have their own unique style for the aesthetic of the world they live in, but they also have a unique set of values and ethics.
The Values that Rule Us
A recent study by Titus uncovered words that summed up the values of the current four generations at work in our world today. These are the words Titus found:
- Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) = Security
- Gen X (b. 1965-1980) = Significance
- Millennials (b. 1981-1996) = Freedom
- Gen Z (b. 1997- 2012) = Purpose
It’s easy to look at those generations and the experiences that influenced them and see how those values came to be. But it might be a little harder to know what to do with that information, especially when it comes to marketing your business.
The Power We Hold
I think there’s an idea that the generation gap is wider and more drastic today than it has been in the past. We blame this on things like technology, but I think it’s a little cheap and lazy to jump to that conclusion. Look back at the Boomer versus Gen X value. Security and Significance have a huge disparity between them. Significance and Freedom have a big gap. In fact, I actually think the gap between Millennial and Gen Z is probably the smallest, but even those are very different.
In my personal opinion, the thing that makes these generational “wars” so seemingly dramatic is the fact that Baby Boomers still hold much of the power, meaning that though our cultural values have shifted as a society at large, those who value security above all else still hold the power from younger generations who would have slowly introduced change over time. Baby Boomers have enjoyed a longer lifespan than generations of the past, meaning that they retired later, or never retired at all in some cases.
So as we begin to see Baby Boomers age out of their grip on power much later than previous generations, the change that comes with younger generations stepping into power places feels incredibly drastic. We’ve held these values for quite a while now, but those values being turned into tangible change have taken much longer.
Changes Are Coming
So what does all this have to do with Marketing? A lot, actually. As we see these younger generations finally step into the opportunity to hold more of the cultural power, it means that there are three generations of adults all vying for their worldview to become the dominant one. This means the way we talk to, and about those generations will have to change.
My prediction as Baby Boomers begin to hold less and less cultural power is that the way we market will have to change drastically. Not necessarily because it was bad marketing but because it no longer works on or appeals to younger generations.
A Tale of Two Commercials
If you look at how we’ve marketed to each generation, we’ve intuitively used those words that resonated with them. I actually saw a great example of this the other day. Two back-to-back car commercials came on while I (a Millennial) was watching a show with my Gen Z sister. The first was a well know, incredibly popular car company. Everything about the first commercial screamed Security and Significance. The car was praised for being American made, for being reliable, for having a litany of guarantees, for looking impressive. Even the music and voice of the voiceover actor exuded a sense that this was a car that was a secure purchase and would make you feel like someone important or special.
The next commercial could not have been more different. This one featured real employees sharing why they loved working for a company that gave back in a big way. Their tones were soft, as was the music. Rather than a series of shots of the cars they sold, we instead saw people from the company working in pet rescues, giving food boxes to those in need, and participating in activities to help fight climate change. That’s a whole lot of purpose. They went on to talk about how their company provides people with the ability to live full and free(dom) lives and how their cars are built for those who want adventure on the open road, in the wilderness, or in the city.
When I watched these commercials, both my sister and I were unimpressed with the first, while the second made both of us seriously consider buying from that company. What’s even more interesting is that in the past, I’ve actually owned a car from the second company, and I deeply miss the 4 Wheel Drive (freedom) and fuel efficiency (purpose). While my mom (Gen X) still drives a car made by the first company and frequently talks about how much she loves the reliability (security) and how often she gets asked about her car (significance).
Not Bad, But Old
Now, I want to say that this old style of marketing isn’t bad. The first car being marketed isn’t a bad car, nor are the people who are being targeted by that commercial. The entire point of effective marketing is to find your ideal customer and show them that you have the product they’re looking for. Both these commercials did that very well, and neither are wrong.
However, the world is changing, and the reality is demographics are changing. As generations age, it’s inevitable that they are going to stop purchasing at some point. Someone in their 80s just isn’t (usually) going to be in the market for a new car, so basing your entire marketing strategy on what appeals (or once appealed) to that demographic is a bad business plan – even if you successfully sold to them for years.
Your business needs new customers to survive into the future, so adjusting your marketing to appeal to those new customers is the best way to bring them in. This is probably going to mean focusing less on what sells to Baby Boomers and Gen X and more on what sells to Millennials and Gen Z. This is where knowing the values of these generations is going to help you. It also means there’s a ton of room for some really fun experimentation with your marketing. Because while you will need to shift your marketing tactics and messaging to appeal to younger generations, that doesn’t mean leaving the older ones behind entirely.
This is where having a team of marketing professionals on your side can really help you and your business. Those of us in the business of marketing know that appealing to demographics through their values is nuanced and open to interpretation. By that, I mean it’s possible to kill multiple birds with one stone. For example, say you switch your marketing focus to show how your company provides purpose.
A great way of doing that is by highlighting human interest stories. These are stories of real people your business has helped. If your messaging is focused on how you help, you still have a lot of room to play. Because maybe you’ve helped by helping others feel more secure. Maybe you’ve given someone the opportunity to make something significant with their life. Maybe you’ve provided a sense of freedom to someone. Yes, the main focus of all these is that you as a company have a purpose beyond profits and bottom lines, but they will also appeal to a wider audience. And if done right, everyone can leave feeling like they got what they needed.
This is why here at Pulse, we approach marketing as storytelling. Because, at the end of the day, customers want to support a company that has a story that aligns with their values. When we use the words heartfelt marketing, we don’t just mean stories that feel or seem soft and light. We mean the story of who your business is at its core, at its heart. Our goal is to learn your values and help you share them with those who share them. And there are so many creative ways to do just that. This is why we truly believe that value-based marketing is the key to your business’s future.
If you’re ready to revamp your marketing style to highlight the values at your company’s core and find the customers who are already looking for you, get in touch with us, and let’s tell your unique story.