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One Tip About the Value of Gen Marketing Tips: Useless

What do you think of the plethora of stories telling you what Generation (fill in the blank) wants and how to reach them?  Mainstream media, often including the few respectable ones left, is full of simplistic, over assumptive pop portraits of us all, based solely on our age.

Consider a few pearls of wisdom regarding what Gen __’ers want and/or what you need to know/do to reach them:

“To reach Millennials on social media, a brand or product must become a routine part of their conversations concerning product information, updates and special offers.”Accenture, June 2013 “Who are the Millennial shoppers? And what do they really want?”

“This generation values individuality, as long as they’re still considered part of the group.”Psychology Today, May 2013 “5 Things you need to know about marketing to Gen Y”

“Decisions are made on the basis of feelings, not intellect. Intellect is used to understand; feelings are used to decide. When looking for a reaction to what you have presented, ask them, “how does that feel to you?” not “does that make sense to you?” Bank Management (no date) “Eight tips for selling to baby boomers”

Ever wonder how many named generations there are, or when you first became aware of their existence? Only looking back to those whose members are still mostly alive, Baby Boomers was the first for me. I knew about The Greatest Generation that preceded them, but not the name until Tom Brokaw first used it as a title for his 1998 book.

After the Boomers we moved on to Gen X followed, in turn, by Millennials, also referred to as Gen Y. And now we have Gen Z, also called The New Silent Generation, although I have no idea why.

The “news” accounts about them are usually based on “research” done by some one or company you’ve never heard of. They take one of two, and sometimes both of the following approaches to the topic: they tell you about the Gen in question and/or they tell you how to “reach” them. The reader is then presumably in a position to use this newfound information to sell whatever to their Gen of choice.

Would that it were that simple.

How effective would your marketing be were you to simply focus on men, Presbyterians, Hispanics, heterosexuals, Republicans, middle schoolers, Arizona residents, Ford owners, left handed individuals, people who like anchovies on their pizza, or any other broad stroke description you can name?

Add to that list Gen ___ and you should see the problem. Gen whatevers are no more than age based groupings, and while that sometimes makes for interesting “brain candy”, that’s all it is if even that.

We’re told Boomers include those born between 1946 and 1964, Gen X 1965-1980, Gen Y/Millennials 1981-2000, and that the latest, Gen Z, are those born after 2001. Don’t ask me what’s next now that we’re at the end of the alphabet. Seems like someone should have thought about that when they came up with Gen X instead of Gen A.

You can use broad descriptors to generalize a consumer group you think will want to buy what you sell, but understand when you do you are also describing those who won’t.

For example, when talking about golf consumers, “middle aged, Caucasian males” probably seems reasonable shorthand. But you likely know a lot of younger and older males, females, and people of other ethnicity who also golf. Bottom line, “middle aged, Caucasian male” describes more individuals who don’t golf than it does those who do. And that’s with three descriptors (age, ethnicity, gender); can you imagine how non-specific it is with just age?

The lesson is, demographics alone are rarely useful when attempting to define an optimum consumer group, not to mention what you need do to reach them. Humans are far too complex for things to be otherwise. Age is a demographic and so a categorization that relies solely on that, as is true of Gen grouping, is, to be kind, totally, completely, unquestionably useless.

William Matthies is the CEO of Coyote Insight, LLC, a planning consultancy specializing in the consumer electronic industry, and the author of “The 7 Keys to Change”.  He can be reached at [email protected] or at 714 726-2901.