The Six Markets You Need to Know Now

Generational Groups in the U.S. Today Vary Widely by Taste, Need and Media Consumption

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Kenneth Gronbach
Kenneth Gronbach
Five major generational markets exist in the U.S. Shaped by cultural circumstance, world events and fertility, they each span about 20 years and vary greatly in size -- as well as in economic, social and political impact on the U.S. population. And each brings serious significance for marketers. A sixth market, Latinos, is having an impact in its own right.

A wise mentor told me early on in my marketing career that it is very important "to fish where the fish are" -- because, of course, that's where you will catch the most fish with the smallest effort. The same principles apply to marketers. I've watched large corporations with leading agencies using award-winning creative and huge advertising budgets chase markets that demographically no longer exist. The best example is Detroit car manufacturers scratching their heads because they can't figure out why they can't sell as many cars to Generation X as they did to the boomers. Too bad they didn't count them.

Let's take a closer look at the different U.S. generations -- and how to target them.
This was once a huge, consuming generation of about 70 million people, if you combine native births and massive European immigration. Defined by its participation in WWII, this generation has dwindled to about 5 million hearty souls who are 84 and older. Its consumption is largely limited to health-care needs, assisted living and funeral parlors. (Contrary to popular belief, the elderly market is not growing but will actually shrink dramatically in the next 10 years.) You can market to this group directly or through their boomer caregivers, who can be easily reached through conventional media. So hire a Wilford Brimley-type to be your talking head and make your buys on late-night and overnight TV. This generation sleeps fitfully and often leaves the TV on during the night so they can have some company each time they wake up.
This is the smallest generation of the past 100 years. Its members are now 64 to 83 years old. There are about 45 million silents remaining out of the nearly 53 million born. As a market they have a presence, but their consuming days are really behind them. They will buy anything that will help them maintain their independence, delay aging and stay in their own homes. They love to eat out. They are value shoppers who love a real deal. They can be reached with conventional media -- particularly newspapers -- and are coupon clippers of the highest order. Electric-scooter makers and wheelchair manufacturers have done well reaching silents with TV advertising. Making silents aware of products that are paid for through Medicare is a no-brainer.
Ah, yes, the boomers. Born 1945 to 1964, they remain a consuming force to be reckoned with. About 75 million of them remain, and they continue to devour products with a vengeance, especially big-screen HDTVs. Their consumption heyday is nearly over, however, as the peak of the boomer generation crests the defining age of 50. Their purchase of apparel and cars is most noticeably down, never to return to former levels. They control the nation's personal wealth and are retiring at a rate of about one every eight seconds.
Kenneth Gronbach is author of "The Age Curve: How to Profit From the Coming Demographic Storm," out July 3.
If ever there was a signature boomer marketing success, it is Pfizer's Viagra. As you recall, the G.I. Generation's Bob Dole was the original spokesman for Viagra because the product received its Food and Drug Administration approval as a quality-of-life enhancement for the elderly. Yeah, right. Now very young boomer-age couples gaze at each other in high-production-value TV spots in prime time while a warning flashes, "If the effects of Viagra last longer than 48 hours, see a doctor." Remember that if you want to do business with the boomers, then make their lives easy, save them some time and don't rip them off. Conventional media is the best way to reach them.
This generation is now 24 to 43 years old. Relative to the boomers, they are a small, disappointing market owing to an alarming 11% decline in fertility during their birth years. They are consuming age-appropriate products at normal rates, but they can never consume at boomer levels because there are 9 million fewer of them. This numerical fact has dealt a death blow to many consumer-product manufacturers who were caught flat-footed and uninformed, most notably Japanese motorcycles in the early 1990s. Generation X has other issues. They don't respond to conventional media. They are natives in the cyber world but are difficult to reach because of the internet's fragmentation. Despite the market's small size and difficult access, Steve Jobs at Apple has done a wonderful job branding this group and making them Mac disciples. The Mac, after all, is a Generation X product.
Anyone born from 1985 to the present falls into Generation Y. More than 90 million strong, they've surpassed boomers in size. They are consuming at 500% of the rate of their boomer parents in adjusted dollars, age for age, when you take into account their unprecedented influence on family purchases. Generation Y is the first U.S. generation that routinely has had brand-new cars in high-school parking lots. One-carat diamond engagement rings are the norm. Apparel sales will spike as Generation Y seeks mates. Wal-Mart will have difficulty serving them because its retail model cannot bring fashion to market fast enough to satisfy this fickle group. In addition, they will not buy products from retailers and manufacturers with dubious ecological or humanitarian records. They'll fall prey to no amount of greenwashing. Difficult to reach with marketing messages, their principal medium is cyberspace. Unlock the formula for efficient marketing to Generation Y, and you will print money. One anomaly: They love snail mail and anything with their name on it. Converse figured them out. Check out the shoe brand's site and its unique sales model.
Latino immigrants have essentially formed their own generation. Latinos came to the U.S. in droves to fill the entry-level job vacancies unsatisfied by Generation X's small numbers. This group is roughly 20 to 40 years old and numbers anywhere from 15 million to 25 million, depending on whose numbers you believe. This is a substantial, geographically defined market that is here to stay. The Latino market is freestanding, unique and quite valuable. One area where Latinos stand out as significant consumers is at the supermarket. They buy fresh, shop more often and spend more than average consumers. Anheuser-Busch does a nice job branding Latinos and dominating their beer market with high-production-value spots on Spanish TV. Latinos can be reached with conventional Spanish or mainstream media. But don't make the offensive mistake of translating ad messages in English to Spanish; either leave them in English or create them in Spanish. This market has nowhere to go but up, and while many of these immigrants will return to their native countries when the work dries up, millions will stay, assimilate and make the United States a better place.
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