Marketing to Millennials and Baby Boomers

Understanding the nature of the marketplace requires knowledge of the different demographic groups’ values and desires.

Today, 78 million Americans fall into the description of “Baby Boomers” (post World War to 1960), in the 50 to 68 age range. An almost equal number, 76 million, are classified as millennials. They were born from 1978 to 2000. Baby boomers grew up with fallout shelters and “Give me Shelter.” Millennials, on the other hand, know very little about the “cold war” or life without the Internet. How could marketing to both of these very different generations be successful?

Both Boomers and Millennials share some common values such as community. Millennials are driven by the need for good citizenship and “to lead well-structured lives based on adherence to clear and mutually agreed-upon rules” according to Millennial Makeover. In a LinkedIn blog post, Julie Blaszak notes that “…millennials are concerned with more than political and ethical issues. They care about what’s genuine and authentic….truth and honesty are a powerful force for motivating…”

Boomers (always needing to be catered to) seek brands that emphasize their eternal quest for youthfulness. Millennials seek to embrace the youthful exuberance that adds risk and happenstance to a shopping experience. Finding something new to share with friends that mimic their values is important to them. Chasing down a food truck to get the last taco is a great story to tell. They tend to share this experience with their friends and seek friend’s advice before purchasing. Boston Consulting Group reports, “the vast majority of millennials report taking action on behalf of brands and sharing brand preferences in their social groups.”

Millennials also want to be involved in collaborating with businesses and brands and seek to eliminate the boundary between the customer and the brand. According to Blaszak, “With millennials, ‘a new brand or service is only started by the company; it’s finished (evolves) by the customers.’”

Both generations want technology to be responsive and work well. Millennials expect it to be and Boomers need it to be. They also feel a need to be current with the latest and best. Speed of connectivity is also essential. Mobile devices are gaining an increasing share of commerce. A recent NPR Business Report indicated that banks are closing branches due to the fact that a face to face interaction with a teller is no longer necessary.

“Surprisingly, 85% of teens name one of their parents as their best friends” says Micah Solomon. He also reports that one third of millennials say that they influence what products their parents buy and where they shop. Crafting a message that meets the values of both generations requires both understanding and creativity.

Peter Hubbell, in his book titled The Old Rush: Marketing for Gold in the Age of Aging, notes that certain brands, like Levis, now tend to advertise outside of the boomer cohort. Hubbell continues by saying that younger Boomers were “aged out” of company marketing cohort in 2014 when they were no longer in the prime target of 18 to 49. He admonishes Madison Avenue and suggests that they “need to get old.” He suggests that this aging trend will do more to affect global economics than any other factor. Companies that recognize this will need to fine tune their message to stay relevant. When crafting a message for Boomers, businesses need to be cognizant that they are extremely optimistic about the future and their part in it. “Aging is the future of living” says Hubbell.

The truth is that both groups will be in the market now and be in the future for some time to come. Developing a target market for your product is essential. Anyone who states that everyone should buy their product is really saying, “no one will buy my product.” Narrowing the target might make the bull’s eye smaller, but all the sweet to hit!

Michigan State University Extension educators and the MSU Product Center assist aspiring and existing entrepreneurs to develop targeted and focused business marketing plans.

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