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  • Writer's pictureL. Darryl Armstrong

Part One of Two: Generational Marketing – Do you serve ALL your customers?

The GI and Silent Generations – Part One

Consider this situation – your management team is made up of “Baby Boomers”. Your staff is made up of “Generation X and Y” and your current customer base consists of “Seasoned Citizens” and the “War Generation”.

How are you going to communicate effectively to all these various generations? How can you motivate them? How do you advertise your products and services? How will you grow your business? How do you decide which generation to market to?

Understanding your customer today, and the generations that make up your staffs and management is important on a “macro” level. As well as the specific marketing segments you must motivate in order to be successful.


In a marketplace that’s evolving from product-driven to customer-driven, understanding the fundamental needs, values, icons and historical experiences of the various generations to whom we hope to market is more critical than ever. Generational mindsets and feelings are major factors in determining what and how consumers buy, and in developing an effective marketing strategy, according to Ann Fishman writing in Circulation Management, July 1998.

“We are each members of our own generations, and our world views are colored by our own experiences, we have to work at understanding the feelings and behaviors of those from other age groups to effectively communicate and market to them.” Fishman says.

Each generation is molded by the world events that occur during its formative years. For example, if you lived through the Great Depression, you carry some mark of that experience. You save; you may be thrifty. If you lived through the Vietnam War, it almost certainly affected your view of authority. These distinct historical experiences create characteristics that stay with people throughout the rest of their lives.

Currently we have five generations that coexist in our country today, along with their personality types, as defined by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss.


The GI Generation consists of people between the ages of 74 and 97. Researchers call them a civic personality type: They are concerned with others and have a sense of “rendezvous with destiny”. They survived the Great Depression and World War II and made our country the most powerful in the world. They put the first man on the moon. They are the “Can-Do Generation” and include such notables as John F. Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne, and Ann Landers. They identify with and believe in Superman as an icon – able to do whatever needs to be done.

Accenting the positive is critical in marketing to them. They may not be as hardy as they used to be, but they want to be offered upbeat experiences. They are positive and active, and do not dwell on negatives. This is a generation that had to postpone personal gratification because of social upheavals. They learned that the good life had to be earned. Today, they feel that their time for reward has come. Example: “You’ve earned the right to …”

Vicki Thomas, creator of the “Dancin’ Grannies” video, which has sold over one million copies, says, “They are interested in looking good and feeling confident.”

At this stage in their lives, GIs are still generous with their children and grandchildren, but they’re also finally ready to spend more on themselves. However, their style of spending is cautious. They are willing to spend money to enjoy life, but they’re too disciplined to spend frivolously. They have the funds for a full retirement and they plan to spend it, but wisely and responsibly. Example: They will come early for the “Early Bird Specials” in  nice restaurants when offered and will often become regulars.

One strategy in communicating with this generation is to make a strong appeal to their conviction that they have earned a full retirement and that they are still young enough to enjoy it.

It’s also wise to base your direct marketing campaign on old-fashioned American values. Members of this generation do not live in the past, yet they do respect old ways and values. Older, more established brands give them a sense of security. This is also the generation that built today’s institutions, they prefer doing business with an established institution. Therefore, if your company has history, it’s smart to emphasize this in your marketing. Example: “In business since 1975 or with more than 25-years experience we offer …”

They are also realistic about their limitations, although they don’t want to be patronized, or treated as “old people”. It’s okay to enlarge the type subtly on your direct mail piece to accommodate their eyesight, just don’t overdo it. If you create a special piece with really large letters, you’ll offend them-not only by stressing their infirmities, but because people in this age group don’t like to be segregated or singled out. This generation overcame obstacles together, and they like being part of a team. With this group, you must take particular care to ensure that your copywriting is grammatical and that your arguments are sound. This is our most literate generation. They are willing to read longer letters to find out about your product, and they won’t throw your mail away-if it meets their standards. Direct mail is also important to many older people because they may be isolated by transportation difficulties.

Finally, be sure to offer polite, considerate customer service. The GI Generation expects it. They don’t want a salesperson; they want a friend in the business. Be that friend.


People aged 56 to 73 have an adaptive personality type. They excel in the role of helpmate. This generation has never produced a president, but has produced almost every civil rights leader, as well as the leaders of the women’s movement. They were trapped between the powerful leadership of the GIs and the forceful numbers of the Baby Boomers, so they developed skills to help others, Fishman says. They became mediators, commentators and problem solvers. They include such people as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Phil Donahue and Rosalind Carter.

There is a tendency among marketing agencies to lump the Silent Generation in with the GIs. This is a mistake. They did grow up in the shadow of the Great Depression and WW II, and they do share some of the same characteristics. Yet, unlike the GIs, they are much better mediators than decision-makers. Their defining war was the Korean Conflict. In times of peace, they fought for equality so that all people might succeed.

There’s certain guilt in this generation because they know that they never had it as hard as their parents did and that their children will never have it as easy as they did.

Your Silent Generation customers are savvy travelers, loving grandparents, budding entrepreneurs, affluent retirees and life-long learners.

From a financial standpoint, this generation is very stable and upwardly mobile and holds most of this country’s wealth – and they do spend it. According to the Bureau of Statistic’s 2004 consumer survey, women aged 55 to 64 spend the most, per capita, of any age group on clothes: 56 percent more than the average household. They rank second in per-capita spending for transportation and entertainment. Those who are 65 to 74 spend more per capita than those age 25 to 44 on most major categories of goods and services, including food, housing and transportation.

“Although Silents are generally conservative, they are in a life stage in which they will also splurge on a big-ticket item. They will buy that titanium golf club, take a Caribbean vacation, or buy a luxury car,” Fishman says.

Medical science has given the Silent Generation a longer life span, yet they are not going to be elderly longer. Science has created something new: a second middle age. These are vital, active people who are redefining the aging process. Women in this generation, in particular, are pioneering the way that aging people look. They have their teeth whitened, they have plastic surgery and liposuction, they dye their hair, take hormones and exercise.

If you want to get into the hearts and minds of the Silent Generation, you have to market to them as people who are in the prime of their lives. For example, a subscription offer to them that highlights a senior discount will be discarded, because these people don’t see themselves as seniors and yet you may want to market to them as “mature and seasoned citizens.”

A strategy that does appeal to the Silents is Revlon’s choice of Melanie Griffith to represent “Age-Defying Makeup”. However, it’s generally best to avoid the use of the word “age” and instead refer to “life stages”.

Silents respect the opinions of others particularly experts because they had heroes to look up to when they were growing up, such as Truman and Eisenhower. Therefore, testimonials and expert endorsements also tend to work with this group. Example: Wilford Brimley advertising help for diabetes … or Robert Vaughn advertising legal services.

They like to help other people. Their generosity tends to be directed toward their grandchildren.

According to George Mochis, director for the Center of Mature Studies at Georgia State University, “Today’s grandparents are much more involved with their grandchildren, mainly due to the high number of single, working and divorced parents.”

As grandparents, they spend more per capita than people aged 25 to 44 on pets, toys and playground equipment. Clearly, there’s a substantial opportunity for marketers to target grandparents on behalf of children’s products.

Part Two: Baby Boomers and Beyond

Until next time.

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