Sociologists began characterizing generational kinetics back in the early 1900s with the identification of the segments we all read too much about:
- Traditionalists born 1900–1945 (aka the Veterans, Radio Babies and The Forgotten Generation)
- Baby Boomers born 1946–1964 (aka the “Me” Generation and Moral Authority)
- Gen(eration) X born 1965–1976
- Gen(eration) Y, more commonly known as Millennials, 1977–1994
- Gen(eration) Z born 1995–2012
And we marketers have bought into the theory that we can draw conclusions from these categories of populations based on their similar influences and characteristics. Well, I call foul.
The age span alone seems to defy this logic:
- Traditionalists: 45 years
- Baby Boomers: 18 years
- Gen X: 11 years
- Millennials: 17 years
- Gen Z: 17 years
Them’s a lot of years. And while I’m sure there has to be some logic or psychology behind each of these particular age spans, they’re so broad and diverse that I can’t help but question the accuracy of the broad-sweeping generalizations that result.
We can all appreciate there are so many criteria that affect who we are as consumers, not the least of which are the influences of our tender growing years. But that’s where the group dynamic ends, and individuality comes in.
I can say with confidence that as a “latent baby boomer,” I have very little in common with my compadres born in the late ’40s, and can also point out that my daughters, born in 1990 and 1992, respectively, do not follow the norms defined by today’s “typical” Millennial (lest I beat them with a spoon).
I get we need some broad characterizations when it comes to audience segmentation, if for no other reason than to complain about the newer generation by name. However, in marketing in particular, it all begins with WHO, so it’s critical we understand the specific influences, characteristics and behavior of our particular target audience, no matter their generational moniker. Otherwise, sweeping generalities will lead to marketing strategies carved from a blunt edge that are destined to be bested by those honed with sharp precision.