Three general notions stand out:
1. Gen X perceives themselves as in real trouble and they're angry about that. They have lost hope in the ties that bind hard work and success. They see the future as "closing."
As such, they live in a hunkered-down mentality wherein their vision about themselves, others, and the world is foreshortened. Their orientation -- about everything -- is defensive.
"Money makes the world go around. Now I have less money. Now I have less hope."
"I feel better when I see someone worse off than me."
"I gotta fight for everything, and I don't have a lot."
"What's the point?"
2. On the other hand, Baby Boomers are much more realistic and optimistic. They still seek and assume growth, all the while acknowledging new limitations in resources. Their stance in response to the economic downturn is more mature:
"We now have more responsibility and less irresponsibility."
"Anger, in the long run, just hurts you."
"Hey, maybe 'now' is an opportunity. It forces you to re-evaluate who you are and where you are going."
3. Millennials are still optimistic, confident and demanding.
They have an expectation that challenges can be met and the best is possible. Millennials are also more self-assured -- and therefore, less combative -- than Baby Boomers, and less cynical than Gen X.
4. Baby Boomers and Millennials are similar in their resilience and motivation, although for somewhat different reasons. Gen X seems to be the odd generation out. Perhaps the Thirtysomething crowd, latchkey kids who are now mid-career with no ready-made buoy, perceive themselves as having few openings to a wider world of choice and opportunity.
In the past years of easy financial growth and seemingly endless consumer demand, many marketers have gotten away with more general mass-market strategies or sloppy hyper-CRM targeting. Now, in times of fewer goodies and more unpredictability, basic temperamental, generational differences will surface that advertising dollars and ROI will have to take into account.
Now, more than ever before, knowing the authenticity of your audience and having deep insights into their self-perceptions and their primal meanings (not garnered by typical market research methods) will parse the corporate success stories from the ones that muddle through.
Furthermore, such insights can help manufacturers of luxury goods design offerings that -- especially now -- fall under the rubric of "necessary luxury."