We tend to exaggerate when we describe the peculiarities that characterise the different generations. In fact, we know very well that behaviours, inclinations and values are linked together and influence one another. Thus, the analysis of the elements that concern a demographic group is an overall study, which must consider the history, culture and trends of a given period of time and social context. We explore the differences and contact points between the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Z and the Millennials. Here are the "identity cards" of the four groups, all simultaneously active both as workers and consumers, each characterised by a different vision of the world.
Distinctive characteristics: children of the Silent Generation, they have been successful in creating future for themselves. They have found work, bought a house and raised a family. They grew up in an age of social protest, but they believe in the system and above all in the opportunities it offers them. They are optimistic, confident and idealistic.
Motto: "If you work hard you can do it".
Money: their relationship with money is good, they capitalised on the thrift of their parents, they’ve always had money and manage to keep hold of it.
Digital: born in the days of the analog system, they don’t have a fluid relationship with digital, but smartphones have offered them access to the network. They experience this tool with reverent complacency.
Brands: their relationship with brands is aspirational. They are tied to physical possessions, collections and are sensitive to quality. They fulfill their desires and even their status ambitions.
Film: "Cast Away" by Robert Zemeckis, the new Robinson Crusoe abandoned on a desert island survives by recreating a habitat with the necessary comforts and talks with Wilson, a brand.
Distinctive characteristics: raised with the triumphant example of the previous generation, they found themselves in the middle of an epochal passage: globalisation. Not yet as cosmopolitan as the generations that follow, the Xs faced challenges they weren't fully prepared for. It is a disillusioned generation but also practical and pragmatic.
Motto: "There is a crisis".
Money: money has never rewarded them, their fate seems to be that of someone who arrives a moment after money is finished. They have a little and don’t know if they will still have it tomorrow.
Digital: they are halfway in this too - their relationship with digital is conflicting. They use it with ease, but often give up the advantages of hyper-connection from which they feel a little threatened.
Brand: The Xs trust the brands that have grown with them: they prove faithful to the brands they have chosen because they represent a value reference they identify themselves with.
Film: "The train to Darjeeling" by Wes Anderson, three brothers traveling in search of themselves and for the reason for loving each other again.
Distinctive characteristics: children of the new Millennium, they are the most studied and analysed generation in history. They have seen the disillusionment of gen X with their own eyes and for this they shy away from politics. However, they are pragmatic dreamers, individualists and aware of their potential.
Motto: "Live everything, always".
Money: they grew up wrapped in the cotton wool by their Boomers parents who gave them everything, but the confrontation with reality soon made them understand that not everything is at hand. They have built up a set of values and ideals which lead them to have a neutral relationship with money (which, however, is scarce in their pockets). They know how to spend their money and they have clear ideas on what is worth buying and why.
Digital: Millennials are the first true digital natives in history. They trust technological evolution - which is part of their lifestyle - while for the previous generations represents a continuous effort; continuous upgrading and updating is their way to be interactive. Online shopping is a daily practice.
Brands: if technology has them, brands don’t win their Millennial hearts. The prejudices and disillusionment they often feel towards brands makes their relationship often full of obstacles. They are well aware of the mechanisms of marketing and refuse them. They like to live the experience, to feel pervaded and embraced by sensations and emotions that glorify their wish to celebrate themselves. The virtual access to an unlimited number of experiences generates the FoMO (Fear of Missing Out), or the desire to fill every moment, accumulating experiences more in form than in substance.
Film: Millennials are the Netflix generation. Series and series to watch how and when they want. These are the cultural basis they share, a hunger for media generated by unlimited accessibility, which retains almost nothing but lives everything.
Distinctive characteristics: if there has ever been a generation with their feet on the ground and practising a healthy realism, then it is that of the Zs. Born in a world threatened by climate change, populisms, the chronic lack of work and prospects, they have a clear look and a resilience unknown to previous generations. They are the brothers and sisters of Greta Thunberg, interested in big world issues and passionate about ethics and politics again.
Motto: "Reinvent the basics".
Money: they practise a healthy cynicism towards money, dictated by their experience of the global recession experienced when they were only toddlers. Aware of the usefulness of money, they save it and manage it wisely, as their great grandparents of the Silent Generation did.
Digital: the Z are not interested in the digital dimension itself, it is simply the only one they know. They have a functional relationship with technology, it is a simple tool to perform necessary operations, but does not exert any fascination over them.
Brand: skeptical by nature, they relate to brands with detachment and demand maximum transparency. They are not interested in the experience, as the Millennials are. The term JoMO (Joy Of Missing Out) well describes their desire to give value to little things. The Zs want to know, analyse and then decide whether to trust someone or something or not. It is proven that they don’t like any superfluity and that any attempt to approach them in a frivolous way is bound to fail. The right way to engage them is to talk of social responsibility and be authentic. Watered down and photoshopped images are not for them. Gen Z prefer to shop in store to see the products and make sure of their real quality. Imperfections, roughness and sincerity, which the Boomers have flattened, are relevant elements of attraction.
Film: Tik Tok and Instagram videos of no more than 15 seconds. It is not the images but the music that talk for them. Spotify and Apple Music are their common home.
These demographic differences indicate the ability of the various generations to adapt to changing environments. To be relevant in across these generations, marketing and communication must learn to evolve established practices, even those that are considered untouchable. A single approach is no longer valid, brands need a set of synergic strategies, capable of addressing the different needs of increasingly diverse consumers.
Today, generations are no longer just demographic groups, Today, generations are no longer just demographic groups. Their languages and attitudes guide the relationship between brands and people of different ages. The younger generations influence the older ones, like the 70-year-olds using
This article original appeared in MarkUp magazine, February 2020