The generational gap.

It’s trendy to point out the quirkiness of each generation. Millennials are obsessed with nostalgia and love avocado toast. Boomers are out of touch. Gen Z is too cool for school. Alpha is going to be the most sophisticated generation of all time (no pressure). 

What does it mean, though, about their buying habits? How much do they differ? Do we really need to get into the nitty gritty of what makes them tick in order to get them to buy from us? 

What are the different generations? 

There are five current generations that largely influence the market today.  

The Silent Generation is the oldest, representing those born before 1946. While high in age, they are also high in spending. They are of retirement age, though many still work. The Silent Generation was raised during World War II by parents who struggled financially. They were told to keep their heads down and work hard, hence the moniker, and things would be alright. They are rule followers who were taught not to challenge the status quo. They got married, bought houses, raised children, and retired.  

Next up are the Baby Boomers who were born between 1946-1964, these guys were the product of the Greatest Generation. They grew up in a post-war world where success was at the fingertips. They emerged from adolescence during a period of wealth and economic prosperity. They had a large influence on modern technology, banking, and politics. Baby Boomers hold the most political offices in the United States and hold more executive positions than any other generation.  

Generation X, or Gen X for short, are their children who were born between 1965-1976. They grew up in a mostly analog world, getting acclimated to a digital setting in adulthood. Gen X was raised on MTV, individuality, and the coming up of the computer. They are the black sheep or the middle child generation. 

Following Gen X is Gen Y, better known as the Millennial. Their childhoods were split between the analog and digital world, having been born between 1977 and 1995. This is the largest generation and they have been through… a lot. September 11th took place in middle school, they graduated into a recession, and now struggle to afford homes under the thumb of crippling student loan debt. They care deeply about social issues and the environment.  

Finally, there are Gen Z (Zennials as they are sometimes known) and Gen Alpha*. These youngsters were born between 1996-2015 and 2016+ respectively. All they know is tech, tech, tech. They are very trend-driven, live on social media, and are far less interested in being told what to do than any other group. 

*We mention Gen Alpha not because we are breaking into their piggie banks and splurging on shopping sprees but because baby and toddler products are a large retail space, and therefore little River and Olivia are influencing how money is spent. 

Why They Buy 

Each generation can be viewed as a use case for consumer behavior. While we like to think we are all individuals with our own thoughts and feelings, our purchases are largely framed by the environment we were raised in and what is trendy for our age group.  

Market research is used as a valuable tool to gauge how each generation spends. For example, we can clearly see that while the Silent Generation makes almost half the number of purchases of Gen Z, the value per transaction is higher. This could be interpreted as Zennials making fast purchases on inexpensive items while Silents are more careful about spending but what they are buying costs more.  

Other factors to consider are that Boomers and Millennials, often pitted against one another, have more in common than we think. They are both incredibly large (second and first, respectively) which is why they are targeted by marketers most often. They also have a great deal of buying power, where Millennials spend more money, but Boomers have more money.  

Generational overlap continues with Y and Z, who are very loyal to the environment, philanthropy, and their morals. They much prefer to purchase from companies with a purpose they can align themselves with, and will pay more to do so. Still, Gen Z is much more about what is trendy and prefer to be sold by influencers or celebrities they love and trust. Remember – they grew up on the social media and the internet, so it is how they best find exposure to new things.  

Of course, we can’t forget about Gen X, who sees value and practicality over everything. They aren’t influenced by modern means, and prefer word-of-mouth or personal recommendations over being sold on the internet.  

What does this mean for you? 

Well, for starters, you can do some research of your own to see which generation is buying your products. With that information, you can tailor your marketing plan to take in more of the lion’s share. If an overwhelming majority of your customers are Boomers, you can identify which methods of marketing best reach them. If you want to gain more millennial buyers, the same can be said. 

We all know the Platinum Rule is “treat others how they want to be treated” and marketing is no different. When you were raised, how you were raised, what was trendy in your adolescence, and what the economy looked like will have a large impact on how and what you buy. Customizing your messaging and delivery to the generation(s) you are targeting will gain you more traffic and ultimately, more revenue. 

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