Should You Market to a Generation?

Five Generations

I was on the panel during a Q&A session at the Master Your Remodeling Business Workshop this January past. One of the questions thrown my way was, “Now that the boomers are moving out, how do we market to the other generations?”

Having just recently written the PowerTip article 4 Tips to Connecting with Millennials, it was pretty fresh in my mind. So I began rattling off some characteristics, “Millenials value engagement, transparency, philanthropy…” and so on.

After I was done announcing my less-then-inspired list of traits, a hand shot up, “Yeah, but what about Generation X?”

“Generation X?” I thought. “Oh right, what was the deal with them again?” I started thumbing through my mental Cardfile for descriptors for this group of people. “Let’s see, they were born between the Boomers and the Millenials, so they’re 60’s and 70’s kids. They grew up in turbulent economic times … blah, blah, blah.”

I just wasn’t feeling it. I ended up simply suggesting he “not worry about Gen X,” and we moved on.

As Judith Miller fielded the next question from the audience, I thought about my response to the followup question. It immediately occurred to me that I should have explained why he should not worry about Generation X.

You see, it’s not that I think Gen X-ers are not right for him. It’s that I don’t think he should be targeting the generations.

And so, today’s PowerTip was born.

Why use generational marketing?

According to Brandeo:

Generational marketing proponents believe that the generation in which people are born significantly influences who they are, what they believe, what their values are, life skills, and ultimately, what they buy. Members of a generation share the experiences of their formative years, including cultural, economic, global, political, and technological influences.”

Makes sense I suppose.

But here’s the thing; these “shared experiences” aren’t as clear as they may have been in 1950. From cable TV to 24-hour news channels to the internet to social media to smartphones, we’ve got shared experiences coming out of the wazoo.

The truth is; the world has been shrinking at an exponential rate over the past 40 years. I don’t think this type of market segmentation is relevant anymore. Certainly not at the level that you’re focusing on: local.

Let’s take a quick trip. I want you to think back to your high school years. Think about all the different cliques.

To borrow a line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

Grace from Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, d**kheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.

You remember them from your school? Do you think your marketing message will resonate with them all? More importantly, do you even want it to?

And consider that this is a group of people that grew up within four years (maybe five for the wastoids) of each other. This is a much more focused demographic than the 18 to 25-year spans that The Generations cover, and still it’s doubtful that the broad characteristics will apply.

But what about life stages?

Whenever I ask remodelers to identify their target market, one of the most common responses I get is income level. After some prodding and poking I’ll get a life stage. Things like “Their last child is heading off to college,” or “they’re retiring in the next couple of years.”

That’s great! The problem is that “life stage” has been erroneously linked to The Generations. This simply isn’t the case.

I’ll give myself as an example. I have two friends; both named Mike. We are all the same age and fall in the Generation X bucket. Mike “A” has two kids one preparing for college and the other following right behind.

Meanwhile, Mike “B” is expecting his first child in 4 months.

And that’s the point.

We’re no longer on the same timeline. We’re not following “the rules” anymore.

Get married young? Have 2.3 kids right away? Work in the office Monday through Friday? Retire at 65?

That’s all gone.

So what’s the verdict?

Generational targeting is an outdated practice. Maybe if you’re a billion-dollar global enterprise it still has a place, but for remodelers? No.

Sure it can be an interesting read. And don’t get me wrong; it’s okay to have a sense of tendencies for a generation (i.e., my millennials post). But don’t base your marketing strategy on generational segmentation.

Drill down deep into YOUR target market and identify the buyer persona that you want to go after.

Is your target persona a recently remarried women who used to work but has decided to stay home and care for her newly blended family? No problem. You can find her!

Is your ideal client a married couple that never had children and instead call their two dogs “the kids” and take a tropical cruise every January?

Go for it.

We live in an amazing time where you can identify and reach your ideal clients down to the granular level (if you choose).

Don’t focus on messages that satisfy a generation. Focus on connecting with your target customer.

What about you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic! Are you using generational marketing techniques? If so, has it been successful? Do you think it’s a viable option for the years to come? I look forward to reading your comments in the section below.

Should You Hire “Old” People?

I was interacting with a younger contractor about his search for an estimator.

Here is what the contractor wrote to me:

I wanted to get your opinion on a quick question. How much weight should I be placing on age when looking at potential candidates for the Estimator?

Ideally I would really like to have someone in their 30’s or early 40’s. As you know, most of our administrative staff are in the latter stages of their careers. I’d like to have someone on the team that is driven to help me make improvements and comfortable with the technology. I’m seeing a few candidates that have the skill sets for the position but I haven’t been pursuing phone interviews because they appear to be a bit older than I’d like.

Do you think I should be interviewing anyone who’s qualified, regardless of age? I know this is probably a touchy subject for legal reasons but communications to the candidate would all fall within legal guidelines.

What are your thoughts?”

My first question to the contractor was “What is ‘old’ in your mind? Just curious.” Being of an age myself that I have been educated to think of as “old” I was just wondering!

Here is what I think is important to look for when interviewing:

  • Attitude, because you can’t teach it. The right candidate will impress you with her or his drive, the grounded-ness and confidence that comes with knowing one’s self. You sort of “feel” this when interviewing a candidate. The absence of a good attitude in a new employee simply sets up all involved to be very frustrated, with the new employee being let go sooner than later.
  • Aptitude, or the ability to learn. You want to hire someone who will have some knowledge but not be hidebound by it. Asking a candidate about what he/she has learned in his/her life can give you good insights into how he will approach embracing your company’s systems and new ways of doing things, in general.
  • Drive, as that is another thing that cannot be taught. Working with an employee who projects a solid base of energy, a spark, is very inspiring compared to working with one who sucks the energy out of the room.
  • Familiarity with technology, because a good estimator needs to already be up-to-speed regarding this. The degree of familiarity that a position requires is something that you and your company need to determine. Just be sure to not engage in magical thinking, which can result in hiring a “really good candidate” except for the fact that the company will need to teach him computer skills, starting with how to type.
  • Prior experience, even though it will likely not be a fit for what you want from a candidate. There are simply not that many estimator candidates out there. Some companies take an “aging” lead carpenter who is very analytical and computer-savvy and teach her how to be an estimator. The lead carpenter’s experience managing her projects so they came in on time and on budget are a plus in an estimator.

Regarding age, I understand your perspective. My thinking these days is that if one hires an employee and the employee works for the company for 5-10 years that would be a very long time. Many young people are working a year or two or three at a given job, followed by several other similar stints, to build a resume.

So age is less relevant in mind than it would have been a while ago.

I am curious to learn how old the estimator is that my contractor friend hires. An older person can bring a different perspective to a company, one that balances that of the younger folks who work there. Just don’t let age get in the way of hiring someone who turns out to be a great employee!

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Please share in the comments below!