< back to full list of articles
Selling to the Generations

or Article Tags

Each of us are products of the world in which we’ve lived. Most of us can be associated with one of four generational categories: Mature citizens born between 1909 and 1945; Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964; Baby Busters or Generation X-ers born between 1965 and 1980; and Millennials or Generation 2001-ers, born after 1980. Each generation has its own characteristics, and although there are exceptions, one can usually place a prospective customer in a generation by how they speak and act as well as what they believe. New methods are evolving for selling to these generations — methods that are only now being recognized by product developers and marketers. We’ve always written and published for a specific market. This article focuses on selling to that market, where each buyer is unique.
The new methodology involves selling to the individual — selling to a targeted customer rather than selling to the masses. Since each generation responds differently, we now know that we must adjust our ads, our signage, and our direct mailings to focus on generational selling. This means that we design and implement an advertising campaign focused strictly on Matures, strictly on Baby Boomers, strictly on Baby Busters, or strictly on Millennials. This implies four campaigns if you want to reach each generational segment. The idea is to design messages and communications that speak to generational idiosyncrasies. Mail smarter, advertise smarter, and be where the generations look for products and services.
What types of promotions attract each individual generation? Here are some hot buttons that will prompt each generation to buy the books that you produce.

The Matures

We know that seniors grew up in tough times and learned to appreciate discipline, hard work, and self-denial. We know that they are typically social and financially conservative. This group is slow to accept change, slow to embrace new technology. When they spend their money, they buy products and services that satisfy their basic conservative values. So produce and sell books that emphasize rewards for discipline, hard work, self-denial, and conservatism. Send messages that imply further rewards in their leisure time and retirement.

The Baby Boomers

This generation enjoyed profitable times and respond to “feel good” scenarios. This group feels entitled to the “good life” and want to be treated as individuals. They take good things for granted and expect to live well. And they look for those things that make them feel better. Women in the Boomer generation have made a huge market for fine cars, Rolex watches, and power suits. Boomers believe in working hard to gain the success they enjoy. Often you’ll find both spouses working long hours to have the big house, the three-car garage, and the vacation cottage on Maui. To them, time is valuable, and they seek things that give instant gratification and deep personal fulfillment. Being typically liberal and idealistic, this generation will buy from companies who return part of their revenue to support social programs. They are the ones who push recycling and who are willing to pay a little more for socially and ecologically positioned products and services. To reach this generation, promote products and services that appear to enhance the status of the buyer. Sell products and services that make political, social, or environmental statements. Send messages that motivate their desire for sophistication and impertinence.

Generation X-ers

Gen X-ers, also known as Baby Busters, feel they are being penalized for the excesses of their parents. To them, everything is relative — nothing is permanent. This group is reactive and find fault with Baby Boomers for their uncertain lifestyles. Typically introverts, Busters relate primarily to their own generation. With low expectations of a good future, they tend to live for today. They don’t believe in starting at the bottom of the job chain and push for high pay and a fast payoff on everything. They tend to trust no one, especially those older than them. This group is repulsed by hype and insincerity, and they can spot it quickly. However, once they perceive that your message is true, they can enthusiastically adopt your product or service. They side emotionally with the common person and will buy things that help elevate the ordinary. They are “cause sensitive” and often galvanize to support common problems. Cause-related marketing appeals to this group. And keep in mind that members of this generation are often the designated decision makers for their parents or other relatives.
Since this group often thinks and decides communally, send messages that encourage and foster this behavior. Sell them products and services that give them results now — things that are useful today. Sell things that fill a perceived and genuine need. Develop and sell products and services that help this generation stay in touch and in control — things that recognize their different or special needs. Tiered products and services sell well to this group. They have a sense of information overload, so make messages clear, brief, and concise. Develop marketing messages that appear as entertainment. To them, advertising is a pop culture. They respond to sharp, focused images, humor, music, and a dose of irreverence. Try ads that admit they’re ads because this generation has been saturated with media and advertising all their life. So be sincere. Emphasize a balance and perspective with products and services that give more leisure and family time while also providing sound economical and functional solutions. Busters have a good work history, high aspirations, and consumer savvy. They can make good long-term customers.


Members of this group are usually optimistic about the future. They are also willing to accept responsibility for correcting the improprieties of their predecessor generations. Goal- and marriage-oriented, this group focuses on their own plan for their future. And they seek solutions. Showing mutual respect, this group is open to a wide range of marketing options. They are technologically astute and will go on-line for product information before they will look in a printed directory or catalog. To them the American Dream is a house, a spouse, some kids, and a couple of cars. To reach this generation, advertise where they look for answers — on-line. Develop a colorful and useful presence with a Web site that they can find easily. Send a clear message that you have solutions. Do it with color, with graphics, sound, audio, and with a guarantee. Help them solve real problems quickly and completely. Show them how your products and services free time and save money.

Other Important Markets

Women are another group with tremendous buying power. They have really come into their own since the end of WWII. This group has a growing self-identity and independence. They’re shattering glass ceilings and seeking ways to balance career and family. As customers, women do their homework and can usually decide quickly whether to buy or pass on an offer. They are price-sensitive and are usually good savers. Time, work effectiveness, self-improvement, and fitness are important to women. These elements are prime candidates for focused marketing.
Twenty-two million people strong, the Hispanic market continues to grow rapidly. This group is family-oriented with multiple generations often sharing the same home. They typically exhibit strong religious beliefs and traditional family values. To them, birthdays, weddings, graduations, and births are special events with great importance. They respond to family messages and to advertising that speaks to their lifestyle.
Selling to Asians is different. To them, relationships and relationship-building are the important issues in business. They are more likely to refer friends and associates to you and your products than other cultural groups. To sell to Asians, conduct relationship marketing and expect long contact-to-sale cycles.
African-Americans are the most selective of all your prospective customers. As a group, they value reputation when selecting a business for their products and services. They also value extended families and revere their grandparents. To sell to this group, focus on building a strong reputation for honesty, integrity, and good service.
Of course, you will find exceptions, but according to demographers and social and business psychologists, the previous descriptions generally apply.

A Final Note

Keep people in the proper generation. As a Boomer ages past 50, this person does not become a member of the Mature generation, adopting the values of that group. They keep their same values throughout their lives. Thus Busters today will be Busters in the year 2010. The best way to apply generational marketing is to categorize prospective customers according to the year in which they were born and the range of years assigned to their generation. Thus Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, will always be members of this generation, regardless of their age. They will always possess values based on the eras through which they lived. Their attitudes may skew slightly, but their collective experiences will always make them behave and react as I’ve described.


The key is that each generation responds to its own type of advertising. To market to each segment, use laserlike focus, and target your messages to a specific group of prospects. Vary the design, distribution, and promotion of your products and services according to generation. Then focus on the prospects that you wish to convert into long-term customers. Reach out and touch each prospect with a message uniquely designed for them. Target marketing works.©1999 Brenner Information Group

Robert Brenner is an author, publisher, speaker, and consultant on pricing strategy and tactics. He can be reached at Brenner Information Group, PO Box 721000, San Diego, CA 92172-1000; phone 619/538-0093; fax 619/484-2599; e-mail brenner@brennerbooks.com; Web site www.brennerbooks.com.




This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor April, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

Connect With Us

1020 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Suite 204 Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
P: 310-546-1818 F: 310-546-3939 E: info@IBPA-online.org
© Independent Book Publishers Association