Why generational marketing is ridiculous

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As marketers, we're often tasked with communicating with groups of people that we don't personally identify with -- people of different genders, different races, different ages, and different belief systems. And that's OK -- we're often pretty darn good at connecting with consumers unlike ourselves. Why? Because we have scores of data, loads of white papers, and a bunch of preconceived notions that tell us exactly what those people want. So that's what we give them.

Why generational marketing is ridiculous

One of marketing's favorite distinctions is that of generations. The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z -- you name it. Some generations go by several names, but the thrust is this: Marketers can and do lump people into groups based on where they fall on the generation spectrum, and they craft their messaging around it.

Well, stop it.

This marketing mindset and approach just isn't relevant anymore. And quite frankly, the very notion of generations isn't relevant anymore.

First off, the goal of defining generations has typically been to identify groups of people with shared experiences. That might have had some merit a few decades back when media was so limited and controlled that people truly did seem to share only the experiences that made headlines -- wars, presidential elections, national tragedies, etc. But today -- and arguably for some time now -- we have media, news, and culture coming out of our ears. Everything is a shared experience. Every bit of news and celebrity nip slip. So how exactly do you decide which events "define" a new generation? Sure, go ahead and point to September 11. Take the easy way out. But where do you draw the line? In recent years, people of all ages have shared every experience from the death of Michael Jackson to Lindsay Lohan's DUI(s).

But the absurdity doesn't stop there. Let's take a look at other reasons why you might want to stop casually referencing "The Boomers," "The Millennials," and the like in your marketing strategy meetings.



Marc A
Marc A October 16, 2013 at 1:38 PM

So how would you propose talking about a 25 year old vs. a 55 year old -- in a marketing meeting?

Would you say -- "yeah, those 25 year olds really like their smart phones"? Or just use the term "Millennials" instead.

Also you're confusing a biological generation with a cultural generation when you write:

"Furthermore, nature be damned, lots of people are waiting longer and longer to have children. Why? Because we can -- and because it's nice to save some money before you have a child. What am I saying here? People who are raising babies don't fall into one generation or another. Not like they used to. A 65-year-old might be right behind a 16-year-old in the checkout line at Babies "R" Us".

Scott wilder
Scott wilder October 10, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Curious about what you recommend instead? How should Marketers target people?

Tony Thornby
Tony Thornby October 10, 2013 at 9:28 AM

As an internet marketer keen on social networking, I frequently get told, by people ten to twenty years younger than me that they're too old to get to grips with such things - I smile. Equally, so many small SEM owners assign their company's social network presence to the youngest employee in the mistaken belief that effective personal use is a good capability indicator for effective business use.

How refreshing to read an article that decries ageism. But online marketing in social networks inevitably tempts people into using age criteria because it is one of the available demographic segments.