By Len Jacobson March 5, 2019

Len is a motivator of meaningful dialog for clients. A frequent speaker on the power of story, Len shares insights on making brand stories real—from daily connections between colleagues, and how they share their purpose and passion with the world around them, to the way individuals and brands connect, engage, and build thriving brand communities.

Create informed + effective Story Moments with generations based on their terms, not yours.

I’m feeling inspired by the outstanding team at Engage Youth Company who are fighting to get brands to be completely authentic with Gen Z. It’s a timely reminder for marketing to all generations: Be brands with a clear purpose that fully respect each generation for who they are.

Youth culture is undeniably exciting. The youngest generations are an equal measure of hopeful, beautifully pissed off, and looking to change the world. Which is why marketers are understandably obsessed with them.

But consider this from a recent VISA report, “Gray is the new black: Baby Boomers still outspend Millennials.”

Though some offerings are clearly for one generation, others may be for many, young and old. As marketers, we get to discover them, engage them, and sell to them through a shared purpose.

Today’s Generations

Here are today’s generations as defined by KPCC, Southern California Public Radio. I’ve added recommended reading for each one.

GI Generation Born 1901-1924

They were teenagers during the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Sometimes called the greatest generation or the swing generation because of their jazz music.

The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw

Silent Generation Born 1925-1942

They were too young to see action in World War II and too old to participate in the fun of the Summer of Love. This label describes their conformist tendencies and belief that following the rules was a sure ticket to success.

Silent Celebration – The Generation That Transformed America, David N. Campbell

Baby Boomers Born 1943-1964

The boomers were born during an economic and baby boom following World War II. These hippie kids protested against the Vietnam War and participated in the civil rights movement, all with rock ‘n’ roll music blaring in the background.

In Search of the Baby Boomer Generation, Rick Bava 

Generation X Born 1965-1979

They were originally called the baby busters because fertility rates fell after the boomers. As teenagers, they experienced the AIDs epidemic and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes called the MTV Generation, the “X” in their name refers to this generation’s desire not to be defined.

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, by Douglas Coupland

Millennials Born 1980-2000

They experienced the rise of the Internet, Sept. 11 and the wars that followed. Sometimes called Generation Y. They are said to be entitled, narcissistic and tech-dependent, but also curious, idealistic, and ambitious.

Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, Malcolm Harris

Generation Z Born 2001-2013

These kids were the first born with the Internet and are suspected to be the most individualistic and technology-dependent generation. Sometimes referred to as the iGeneration, they are known to be independent, globally oriented and justice-minded.

Gen Z: The Gen Z Frequency from Gregg Witt at Engage Youth Co.

A couple of generational stories from the field:

In cycling, old dogs and young guns don’t always mix.

Working for many years with great cycling brands, like Giant Bicycles and SRAM, it was clear that, though there was a shared tribal lifestyle, different generations had their own views. At a co-creation session with riders, we mixed male Baby Boomers with Millennials to see how they played together. One from each generation squared off about their experience with a brand’s offering and it nearly came to blows … literally. The greybeards felt their emotional bond with the brand had been betrayed by a product defect and how it was handled a decade or so earlier, while the 20-somethings had nothing but love for the brand’s progressive technology and wanted the old boys to get over it.

Good luck expecting the Silent Generation to connect virtually.

I was presenting at a conference on the power of storytelling to humanize brands and had a chance to hear from a financial services CMO about her boss’s demands for more and better social media engagement with their clientele. The problem was that their typical client was over 75. They weren’t active online, but they did love having a good evening out to meet with peers and share an experience like wine tasting. It doesn’t matter to many over-80s that you have a disruptive app. It does matter if you serve them a nice sparkling Spanish rosé with tapas.

Marketing to generations should be seen as strategic. There are things to know and rules of engagement. But the tactical side, the customer experience side, is about seeing people as the unique humans they are and using smart technology where appropriate to deliver on rising expectations.

Successful Story Moments are about seeing people clearly in every way and respecting each individual for who they are. That includes their generational experience.