Generational Marketing
Generational Marketing

Is marketing to customers based on birth year a good idea?

Ever since the rise of the Baby Boomers, marketers have assigned personality, value, attitude and lifestyle traits to subsequent generations as a way to help discern spending patterns and sales strategies.

Through this psychographic shorthand, craft store operators may be able to draw conclusions that can help shape their marketing efforts. Or they may not, depending on who you talk to.

Eugene Fram, professor emeritus of marketing at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Saunders School of Business, has authored books and numerous articles on marketing and management topics. He thinks that, from a psychographic perspective, trailing edge Baby Boomers are virtually identical as a consumer group to the Generation X that followed.

Both are hitting the peak of their earning years, and many are fairly secure financially. Some of the older members of this generational cluster are even starting to think about early retirement. And many of those reaching retirement age are ready to simplify their lives.

"They're in a disquisition stage and downsizing their lives," says Fram. As a result, this group has more leisure time than do younger generations, and that makes them prime audiences for new hobbies and DIY projects. But leisure time doesn't mean wasted time.

Today's retirees aren't content to ride out their golden years on the couch. Instead, they vigorously pursue hobbies or have part-time jobs or second careers, and they are seeking intellectual challenges. Fram suggests craft retailers can appeal to them with classes that might nurture existing DIY aspirations or form new ones.

The Millennial dilemma

Today's retirees aren't content to ride out their golden years on the couch. Instead, they vigorously pursue hobbies or have part-time jobs or second careers, and they are seeking intellectual challenges. Fram suggests craft retailers can appeal to them with classes that might nurture existing DIY aspirations or form new ones.

"Luxury brands like Nordstroms are targeting Millennials, but by opening outlet stores," Fram says. Because even their brand sense generally comes with an unflashy sense of pragmatism, craft stores serving these less consumption-driven younger adults can benefit by targeting that characteristic and carrying products that reflect or enhance these core values.

But be careful about putting too much weight on marketing by generation. While members of a generation may generally share some traits, each person is an individual and needs to be treated as such. For example, carrying eco-friendly products may be seen as appealing to Millennials, but this may also be important to older crafters.

"Trying to segment an individual because he was born in 1987 is, to me, very close to marketing to someone based on their astrological sign," says Jeff Weidauer, vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom, a provider of in-store shopper marketing communications and services to the retail industry.

Weidauer thinks that, with one major caveat, generational marketing is an illogical way of segmenting audiences.

"Millennials are supposed to use technology more than other groups, but I have an iPad, I stream Netflix and carry an iPhone," says Weidauer, a trailing edge Baby Boomer. "And guess what? So does my 82-year-old father." He's heard every age-based marketing assumption and questions most of them.

"They say that Millennials are living at home longer, they're not getting married or buying homes, and they're tighter with the dollar, but that's because the economy tanked and they're young and they're trying to pay off student loans," says Weidauer. "Are they really that different? A lot of people are tighter with the dollar now. Is that Millennial behavior?"

Focus on the consumer, not the generation

As a marketer, Weidauer thinks factors such as gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background are better indicators of buying habits. And he points out that, as hobbyists, craft store audiences have already self-segmented.

"Just the fact that they do arts and crafts and shop at crafts stores give them more in common with each other than with others of their generation who don't do crafts," he says. The only accommodation Weidauer makes to the concept of market segmentation by generations is Baby Boomers.

"They really were different than their parents," he says. "They broke from all the norms. It was a shift so stark and dramatic that it gave us the term 'generation gap.'"

They broke from convention, protested the war and adopted dramatically different fashions and lifestyles. They truly were the counter-culture, so for that reason, boomers have been followed and microscopically examined through every stage of their lives.

And that, says Weidauer, is what got marketers and social scientists in the habit of labeling and segmenting consumers by their generation in the first place. But how different in outlook is the trailing Baby Boomer, perhaps someone born in 1962, from an American born six years later? Or 15 years later, for that matter?

He suggests that a better approach is for craft retailers to forget when their customers were born or came of age and appeal instead to what makes them uniquely different as individual consumers.


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