It’s nothing new… you’ve done it for years. Hmm? You know, separate them into colours, so you can enjoy their similarities. Of course we’re talking M&M’s, those best-selling crunchy coated chocolates that disappear quicker than your waistline expands. But what do they have to do with branding?

The first of this 6-part series on Generational Marketing, explains how just like M&M’s, each generation owns its distinct differences and shouldn’t be marketed to (or eaten) together.


You’ve heard it time and again: target your marketing to connect with your ‘right’ people. But how exactly do you do that, when there’s so many confusing names and niches?

One way is what I like to call, the M&M Method – by segmenting people (AKA M&M’s) into age cohorts (or colours) for a more specific appeal. In doing that you’ll be practicing what’s termed, generational marketing.

Exactly what’s that?

Generational marketing is what it sounds like: you market to a specific generation of people (those born and living about the same time), based on the unique preferences, attitudes and upbringings that distinguish them from another generation. It also means switching from creating mass products and messages, to tailoring and customising them for specific age groups.

It’s based on two founding principles:

(1) your product needs change with life stages, and

(2) promotional messages and products targeting the generational groups should reflect the generational values and drive purchasing behaviour.

However, age is not the only factor influencing behaviour and choice. There can be differences within a generation that are larger than those between them, and the birth-year boundaries are not sharply fixed – especially for those born near the age breaks.

Also, each generation is typically composed of a variety of segments or sub-groups, for example in Gen Y/Millennials there are the Hipsters, Goth and Cyber-geek niches, and the Baby Boom generation has the Hippies and Yuppies.

As with each generation, sub-groups also have their own distinct features and opportunities that you can mine for rewards.


PART One: Generational marketing, defined

There are currently six generations across the world population. Each one has a different mind-set, priorities and preferences and is motivated by different messages and language.

To place them in context, I’ve given you a quick overview of what makes each generation unique. Further articles will focus on the three generations primarily shopping in beauty salons – Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials – because each not only has differing beauty product needs, but shopping and marketing preferences. Understanding how to reach each generation and anticipate their interests and shopping needs, can build greater brand loyalty, engagement and sales success.

generational marketing

Similar to sorting M&M’s, each generation owns its distinct differences and shouldn’t be marketed to (or eaten) together.


GI Generation – born 1901-1926 – in dwindling numbers

  • Conservative, altruistic and less material as they grow older.
  • Many live alone and keep themselves company with television, radio and print reading materials.
  • Place high value on contacts made via face-to-face and through personal services.
  • Rarely use the Internet. However, since their children and grandchildren most certainly do, may be reached ‘second-hand’ by using technology.
  • Traditional advertising works well, but remember some are not able to drive anymore, so radio and direct mail are a natural fit.


Silent Generation – born 1927-1945 – the Depression and war years

  • This generation includes World War II and Korean War veterans, so sacrifice and responsibility for the common good appeals to them.
  • Patriotism, hard-work and responsible behaviour held in high esteem.
  • They value morals, social tranquillity and family togetherness, distrust change and generally skew toward financial and social conservatism.
  • Are now willing to spend money on themselves, feeling it’s now-or-never time to splurge on that big-ticket item.
  • Like to trust what they read, so talk to them with “you deserve it” messages using respectful and easily digested written and face-to-face communications as well as through their network of trusted professional advisors.
  • Many have been cajoled online by family posting photos on social media and websites. Keep usability in mind (larger text, non-moving menus/navigation, easy scanning, etc.) to successfully use technology with this group.


Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964 – the busy generation

  • Don’t call them old. They are a vitamin, physical fitness and cover-the-grey-hair generation, and many reject the idea of retirement.
  • Are often juggling kids, parents, jobs and spouses, so anything that makes their life easier or more convenient is appealing.
  • Have no time to read lengthy messages or details.
  • Capture their attention in minutes or lose them.
  • Are experimental, individualistic, free-spirited, self-believing, into self-fulfilment and self-improvement and have redefined traditional values.
  • Were influenced by birth control, television, social movements, free speech, civil rights, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, the Beatles, Vietnam War, Apollo moon landing and women’s liberation.
  • This generation tends to separate into the Hippies of the 1960-1970 era, and the Yuppies of 1970-1980, depending on when they came of age.
  • Talk to their sense of individuality and determination to “do their own thing.” Their independent attitudes prompted the do-it-yourself marketplace, so give them service options and ways to customise.


Generation X – born 1965-1980 – the market savvy ones

  • The latchkey generation. Don’t respond well to advertising, because they grew up with it on television when they got home from school.
  • Demand an honest, straight-forward approach without hype and are distrustful of authority.
  • They expect you’ll deliver on your promise. Burn them once, lose them forever.
  • They appreciate good design and entertainment, so focus on high-quality images and truthful copy.
  • Are rebellious, independent, entrepreneurial, anti-establishment, sceptical, ecologically-minded, anti-consumerist, have short attention spans and are multi-career minded.
  • Were influenced by Watergate, the 1970s oil shocks, the Iran hostage crisis, rising divorce rates, the rise of personal computers, AIDS and grunge music.
  • Are very independent, starting 70% of new businesses.


Generation Y/Millennials – born 1981-2000 – influenced by brand-conscious boomer parents

  • Also known as Millennials.
  • The children of boomer professionals who opted for late parenthood and early Gen X parents.
  • Are attracted to brands at an early age and remain loyal.
  • Associate brands with companies that stand behind their products.
  • Are style conscious, tech savvy, wealthier at a younger age, independent, civic-minded, socially and environmentally aware, pro-community, multicultural, organic focused, pro gender equality and often emulate the values of the Hippies.
  • Were influenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the birth of the internet, the dotcom boom and bust, 9/11, social media growth and the rebirth of pop culture.
  • Causes prompt them into action but they can be intolerant of things (and brands) that do not support their favoured causes.
  • Their activities focus on digital communication, so reach them via the internet and their smartphones, but keep your messages short, funny and true.
  • They are the generation responsible for the Occupy movement and support Wikileaks, so market to them carefully.


Generation Z – born after 2001 – values fitting in with their peers.

  • Also known as the Gen I (for internet) or Net Generation.
  • The children of Millennials.
  • Overprotected by their ‘helicopter’ parents in formative years – at school (due to shootings) and in society (because of terrorism)
  • Have grown up with educational games on their own computers, phones and video game controllers.
  • This digital involvement has resulted in an early disinterest in traditional toys, as well as a general resistance to advertising and cause-oriented messages.
  • Will likely tend to be risk-averse and therefore conformists as adults.
  • Are internet and technologically savvy, brand conscious, community-minded, multicultural, pro-equality.
  • Were influenced by the explosion of social media, the War on Terror, growth in mobile technology, Obama presidency and reality TV.
  • All marketing should recognise their mature and savvy understanding of life.
  • The number of children born in 2006 has led to the belief that this generation will be the largest in history.


What’s this all mean?

Even a cursory glance shows that what happens in your early years, ultimately impacts who you are as an adult — your preferences, personality and general attitudes about the world – and also impacts who you are as a consumer and how you make purchase decisions.

While not prescriptive, generational marketing acknowledges the importance of appealing to the unique characteristics, sub-sets and mindsets of each generation.

And regardless of what they say about M&M’s, you savour a different flavour with every colour!


This is Part 1 of a 6-part series, on Generational Marketing: Part 1Part 2 Part 3Part 4 Part 5Part 6
NOTE: This post originally appeared as an article ghostwritten for a client and was published in Professional Beauty (Aust) magazine.


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