More professionals working in marketing are keeping an eye out for insights about generations. It should come as no surprise that the amount of questions industry professionals have on their agenda about all the different generations is growing.
There’s Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y, Z, and a wildcard of Alpha appearing on the radar. The theory about all these generations can help you get a better understanding of who your target audience is without making assumptions. What is the psychology behind marketing to all these different generations? What is the new Generation Alpha and how will it influence the global market in the coming years?
The answers to these questions are complex and significant. We decided to give the lowdown on everything you need to know, from the theory about different generations to a detailed overview of targeted marketing to each one of them. We also curated four collections with thematic visuals that you can use for your creative projects.
The theory of generations
Among the first attempts to define what a generation is, was Karl Mannheim’s study “The Problem of Generations” at the beginning of the last century. The scholar outlined that a generation is a cohort of people of similar age who have lived in the same historical environment and witnessed the same events.
At the end of the 20th century, two more books describing the theory of generations appeared. In “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069” and “The Fourth Turning”, Neil Howe and William Strauss provided us with a detailed interpretation of what the different generations are and defined cycles and archetypes of each one. According to the authors, a generation is a group of people who were born within a span of 20 years. However, in addition to age, they are also identified by their beliefs and behaviors.
Each definition and assumption they share in their books is now united under the title “The Strauss–Howe generational theory”. Their statements are noteworthy in the American but also in the global context so let’s have a closer look at the most interesting and widespread ones.
Generations and their cycles, according to Howe and Strauss
In the book “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069”, scholars name the generations going from the Arthurian Generation (born from 1433 to 1460) to Generation Z (born in the 21st century). While conducting their research, they noticed looped patterns (turnings) of events throughout generations and divided them into four categories:
- The High Turning
- The Awakening Turning
- The Unraveling Turning
- The Crisis Turning
The High is an era when institutions were strong. At this time, the decisions were taken collectively and individualism was in decline. The last time this turning was noticed during the times of Silent Generation – people born before and during the Second World War (1925 and 1942). They valued stability, sought after corporate jobs, and married early.
The next turning was the Awakening. This was an era when people got tired of discipline imposed by institutions and looked for ways to regain personal autonomy and authenticity. With an overview of historical events that took place when the Baby Boomer Generation (born from 1943 to 1960) grew up, you can witness countercultural and radical events like the rise of Hippie movement, Rock and roll music, and the sexual revolution.
The Awakenings is followed by the Unraveling, an era opposite to the High. At this time, the focus was on strong and confident individuals – Generation X (born from 1961 to 1981). However, the keen desire of groups for autonomy has led to the Culture War in the US when each cohort of people believed that their values and beliefs were more important than those of others.
The Unraveling turning leads to major contradictions between individuals and paves the way to the Crisis. During this era, people returned to the understanding that institutions are important and started establishing them almost from scratch. The generation relates themselves to a larger group again, getting engaged in civil affairs. We can see these events taking place with the Millennial generation (born from 1982 to 2004).
However, turnings are not the only sequence that has been discovered by Howe and Strauss. Experiencing particular events, the generations also acquire similar personas (archetypes) which make them follow resembling behavioral patterns from era to era.
Modern generations and their corresponding archetypes
Although there are over 20 generations described in the book, in this article, we will review the four generations you focus your marketing around – Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y, and Z – and their corresponding archetypes.
Howe and Strauss differentiate the four generational archetypes:
The Prophet archetype generations are those raised after a crisis or a war like Baby Boomers. They are the witnesses of the Awakening turning in their youths and the Crisis in old age. They appreciate personal authenticity and spirituality, concentrating on the realms of religion, vision, and values.
Nomads are those born during the Awakening like Generation X. This is an archetype at the times of which the institutions give way to individuals. They evolve the spiritual values even further than the Prophets, concentrating on the domains of survival, liberty, and honor during midlife. Their aging falls in the post-crisis era.
The hero is an archetype that comes after the Awakening turning. These people are already strong individualists that live in an era of affluence like Millennials. As they are getting older, they understand the values of teamwork and pay attention to the community and rely on technology.
The last archetype is the Artist. Born during the times of a crisis like Generation Z, they face the consequences of previous generations. They sacrifice their personal needs for the sake of collective, handing the board to institutions.
In general, the logic of the archetypes cycles is that each one tries to compensate for the behavior and mistakes the previous generation made. You can see that generational archetypes go hand in hand with the four turnings. Thus, you can make predictions on the events that might take place during the life of a generation.
Having sorted out with the four turnings and generational archetypes in detail, the next chapters are designed to help you get an understanding of the most important characteristics modern generations have, as well as find out how to market to them.
Generation Baby Boomers
Who are Baby Boomers?
The generation of Baby boomers is a group of people born from 1943 to 1960. The oldest Baby Boomer is turning 77 in 2020, while the youngest one will be 60. They are parents of Generation X and grandparents of Millennials.
The generation got its name because of the birth rise that took place right after the end of the Second World War.
Baby Boomers are a very controversial generation. On the one hand, they belong to the Prophet archetype and value individual authenticity. They were born during the Awakening turning and brought forth the radical and countercultural movements like the Hippie, sexual and psychedelic revolutions. They were influenced by Andy Warhol, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis, and other prominent artists. However, they were quite conservative in their actions. Baby boomers worked hard and a lot in order to maintain the household, did not devote time to leisure, and stayed at one job for many years.
How to market to baby boomers
As for 2017, the data showed that in the US alone, there were over 72 million Baby Boomers. This generation is one of the largest groups of people to market to, however, they are the least materialistic one. They pay a lot of attention to spiritual values and prefer traditional ways of communication, according to the study of the University of California.
When choosing a product or service they’d like to get, they think about the rationality of consumption. Having cultivated the idea of respect for all people during the civil rights movements, they are guided by the same idea in relation to things. They have their moral code and perhaps you’ve heard a couple of times from your parent or grandparent a statement that you have to know the value of things.
The implications of their mindset are to some extent reflected in the meme “Ok boomer”. It was created as an answer to a Baby Boomer’s claim that Generation Z has the Peter Pan syndrome and never want to grow up.
However, you shouldn’t underestimate the Baby Boomer generation, as with the span of time, they were changing their views and priorities and adjusting to the contemporary world. It is worth noting that key characteristics like conservatism are still key for them.
It is also noteworthy that Baby Boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV which affects the channels of marketing you should use. In 2020, these people are still attracted by TV commercials, unlike their succeeding generations. Check out our themactic photo collection for visual references.
Generation X, latchkey or MTV Generation
What is Generation X?
Generation X are people born from 1961 to 1981. The oldest representative of this generation will celebrate the 59th birthday this year, while the youngest one will be 39 years old. Generation X are the parents of Millenials and grandparents of Generation Z. They are often referred to as the latchkey generation, as their parents (Baby Boomers) were work-centric. Children of Gen X returned from schools to empty homes and were often supervised by older siblings instead of adults. As teenagers, they have grown up to be called the MTV Generation with a reference to the major TV channel’s influence on youth.
How to market to Generation X
From all generations reviewed in this article, Generation X is the smallest one. As for 2017, their population in the US was around 65 million people. They were born during the Unraveling when individualism was flourishing. All their values were concentrated around spirituality and the small cohort they belonged to. They grew up during the Culture War in the 90s and witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Unlike baby boomers, they try to keep a good work-life balance and are ready to spend much more money on leisure.
As baby boomers were the first generation who enjoyed the perks of having TVs at home, Generation X saw the rise of computers during their adolescence. Again, this event has greatly influenced the way they consume goods.
Although television remains one of the main sources of entertainment for this generation, they are also attracted to digital mediums. The GlobalWebIndex research says that a third of the time spent watching TV is happening online. What’s even more insightful, Generation X is almost as present on social media as Millennials. To prove that, here are some eye-opening statistics from Global Web Index:
- 39% of them use social media to find out about recent news and events
- 37% simply want to stay in touch with friends
- 28% use social media to find and buy products.
These numbers might not be as high as with Millennials or Generation Z but Generation X still gives marketers an opportunity to reach them through digital mediums, in addition to traditional ones. Here’s a photo collection with visuals illustratingGeneration X.
Millennials or Generation Y
What is Generation Y?
Generation Y or Millennials is a group of people born from 1982 to 2004. The oldest will turn 38 in 2020, while the youngest ones will be just 16. This time interval is presented by Howe and Strauss. However, the Pew Research Center defines Millennials as those who were born until 1996 and states that from 1997 onwards comes the new generation. The latter definition is the most used one and according to it, the youngest millennial will be 24 this year.
In general, the population of Millennials in the US is approximately the same as of Baby Boomers, reaching the number of 72 million.
How to market to Millennials
Generation X was the first one to start using computers but Millennials literally grew up with them. They are the tech-savvy generation who also experienced all the benefits of cell phones and other mobile devices from the early years. Due to the fact that their adolescent years have fallen on times of rapid technological evolution, the psychology of marketing to Millennials is different.
In addition to being tech-savvy, Generation Y has also been influenced by the world’s economic crisis and unstable political situation on both global and local arenas.
Millennials are self-centric and quite often referred to as the Me Generation. Eventbrite’s research found that consumer spendings of Millennials currently reaches $1.3 trillion a year. What this means is that they value experiences and gladly spend money on entertainment.
As social media is an integral part of every Millennial, 7 out of 10 experience the fear of missing out (FOMO). Although for Generation Y this syndrome is definitely a disadvantage, marketers can easily use it for the benefit of strategies and campaigns. Whether on Facebook, Instagram or through email marketing, a couple of catchy lines can easily arouse a Millennial’s desire to consume.
On the other hand, marketing to Millennials through traditional channels becomes a challenge for professionals. Generation Y does not like ads and believes friends to be the most credible source of advice. Considering all this controversial information, you can make marketing to Millennials successful only by constant trial and error. You can also appeal to them with relevant visuals from out thematic photo collection.
What is Generation Z?
In regard to the widely accepted statement that 1996 is the last year of Generation Y, Generation Z is a cohort that was born between 1997 and approximately 2010-2012. However, there’s still no commonly accepted border. The oldest representative will be 23 in 2020, while the youngest one might not even be a teenager. Generation Z are the children of both Generation X and Millennials and is the largest by population with over 90 million people in the US.
How to market to Generation Z
Although still being children or teenagers, their buying power is already estimated around $44 billion a year. With their population being the largest one by far, their buying power will only grow with the years. In brief, forward-thinking businesses should already invest in their ties to Generation Z.
Considering that Generation Z grew up at the times of advanced technology being accessible to all, marketing to them is even more digitized than to Generation Y. The WP Engine study found out that 27% of Generation Z can only stay one hour without access to the internet. Moreover, they are 25% more ready to provide personal information to get personalized online experience. They also believe that personalization is not enough, the websites should also be predictive.
Randstad’s survey shows that for Generation Z, honesty is the most important quality of a leader. This finding concerns not only personal but also the business perspective, as we can see more and more brands taking this route recently.
When marketing to Generation Z, focus on quality is extremely important. Thinking about how to market to them online, brands came up with a solution to influence consumer behavior of Generation Z through photography. Thus, honest close-ups of products or services are one of the main trends of 2020.
Find a photo collection illustrating Gen Z below.
The border years of Generation Z have not been defined yet but there’s already some insightful information about Generation Alpha – people born after 2010. They are the children of Generation Y and are still toddlers or kindergarten kids. However, the most exciting fact is they are people who might see the 22nd century.
The definition of Generation Alpha was coined by Mark McCrindle, a social researcher from Australia, using the Greek alphabet to mark the coming of a totally new generation. Generation Alpha will be the most tech-savvy, educated, and affluent generation. With 2.5 million newborns around the world each week, by 2025 their population might be around 2 billion.
The researcher also calls them Generation Glass, highlighting the fact that when they were born in 2010, Instagram was launched and the iPad was released. McCrindle also states that after 2025, the time for a new generation will come and most probably that will be Generation Beta.
To sum it up
With all the conducted research, it turns out that implementing the generational approach in marketing is more complicated than it might seem at first glance. For example, defining millennials as your target audience solves a range of problems at once. You already have an age range and characteristics that shape consumer behavior. It seems as if you can easily come to a conclusion on how to market to them. However, there are many more things to be considered, from turnings and generational archetypes to locations. Obviously, the consumer behavior of an American millennial might differ from the one who witnessed the Soviet Union collapsed and was at the forefront in the struggle for their country’s independence.
All in all, being guided by the generational theory in marketing is on the surface level but it can serve a solid foundation for building a general target audience for your brand or polishing up your marketing strategies and seasonal campaigns to different age groups.
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