One of the most important parts of business and selling is connection. You need to be able to connect with your customer, or they will not want to buy with you. That’s great if your customer is the same age as you; they probably get the same cultural references as you, remember the same historical events as you and may even feel some sort of affinity for you based on the fact you are both of a similar age.

What do you do though, if your product is aimed at someone older or younger?

Being older or younger than your ideal customer doesn’t mean you can’t relate to their paint points and still provide a fantastic solution to a problem for them. Age has nothing to do with that. But when it comes to selling, you need to be able to make that connection with your customer. A brand purpose is essential in any business, and a part of that is knowing your audience.

Let’s take a look at the four main age brackets: the “baby boomers” and then generations X, Y and Z.

Baby boomers were born in the years after the Second World War, up to around 1964. They’re getting older now, but that doesn’t mean they should be instantly dismissed as possible customers. Many boomers are coming up to retirement age, which means they are likely to have more time on their hands. As the concept “baby boom” suggests, this is the largest generational group, and they still control up to 70% of all disposable income. They might be getting a little long in the tooth now, but their spending power should never be overlooked when it comes to marketing.

Generation X refers to those born between around 1965 and 1984. These people are children of the Cold War; they remember the Thatcher years and the miners’ strikes. They were the MTV generation and are often characterised as cynical and disaffected. Still, X-ers make up the larger part of the workforce; the people earning – and spending – the money. They are time poor and want speed and efficiency in every area they can get it. Research on Generation X-ers in midlife has found that they are concerned with work-life balance. These are the people who may have grown up without a TV or phone in the house, and have seen the world change almost unrecognisably with the advent of new tech and gadgets.

Generation Y are more often called millennials; people born between the mid-eighties and early 2000s. Millennials often get a bad rap for being entitled, the “snowflake” generation who grew up with trophies for participation in sports day. They are not to be discounted though; millennials are the generation who have grown up with the tech and communications; they’re often the ones coming up with and buying into the innovative new ideas. They’re often more creative, and share and collaborate more with those around them. These are the digital nomads who work remotely from anywhere in the world and are not tied to the notion of a standard 9-5 job as their parents may be.

Finally, we have Generation Z, the post-millennials. These were born around the mid-2000s, the youngsters and the first generation who have never known a world without the Internet – the ones for whom the idea of a phone attached to the wall with a wire is incomprehensible and video chatting to friends on the other side of the globe is not at all unusual. Still very young, these people are all about community, sharing and honesty.

Looking at these four generations, we see just how much the world has moved on since the time of the baby boomers. The world they grew up in no longer exists, and the world the Gen Z-ers are growing up in now may as well be another planet. You cannot market to these four groups in the same way.

Of course, there are numerous different ways to separate people aside from their age, but when we were born, the world we grew up in and what we experienced in that time is a major point of difference between us.

If you are marketing to someone who watched the same kids’ TV shows as you, has seen the same changes across the world, remembers the same major cultural reference points as you – you can at least relate to them with that. Marketing to someone in a different age bracket, who may have few if any shared experiences, can be a hard job. How do we get around this then, if we have a product we know will improve the lives of those older or younger than us?

  • User generated content. Let your customers tell your stories for you. Get them to tag you on social media or to fill in feedback forms which you can then repurpose into content for your other customers.
  • Segment your content. If you are marketing to different age brackets, segment your content and market to each group accordingly.
  • Really take an objective look at your marketing. Is the tone of voice right for your audience? Is the content right for your audience, in the right medium and using the best imagery?
  • Look at where you are placing your marketing materials. For example, if you’re marketing to baby boomers, the latest Women’s Health Magazine will not be the right fit for you, but something like Woman & Home may be more appropriate.
  • The younger your customer is, the more they are likely to expect and appreciate a more personal, one-to-one feel with their content. This means personalised emails, where you even go so far as to segment your list and really drill down into what your audience wants so as to better serve them.
  • Whatever the age of your audience, don’t talk down to them. It can be easy to fall into the trap of talking down to younger generations, but also if explaining something techy to baby boomers. This is never a good idea; in my experience age rarely determines how much someone is likely to know on any given subject. Respect their experience and intelligence and find a way to speak to them on a level rather than patronising.
  • Think about the media you are using. Baby boomers respond to the more traditional media of TV, radio and newspaper advertising – whereas someone much younger might consume their content via online streaming and rarely see TV advertisements.

Never forget the significant value and open minded learning approach can bring to the way we work with each other. My children teach me things everyday and have amazed me how adept they are at really knowing the things I value and the way I think.

Written by Vicky Charles

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