Beware Rising Differences In Outlook

While recognizing that individual variations by dint of personality and circumstance occur in any study of larger groups, the ubiquity and voracity one hears in the differences among how Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers express sentiments about the future, about the meaning of success, about personal growth, about hope and possibility, and about the present moment is striking.

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.

MD Commentary-3 Generations

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."

7 comments about "Beware Rising Differences In Outlook ".
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  1. Maryanne Conlin from RedRopes Digital/4GreenPs, September 11, 2009 at 7:10 a.m.

    Excellent article - I agree that in this booming economy where a rising tide floated all boats, we marketers haven't had to work that hard - now we need marketers who understand target market psychographics and how to apply them!

  2. John Ribbler from Media Pro, Inc., September 11, 2009 at 10:41 a.m.

    Mr. Deutsch is contending that one big general assumption about people is less valuable than three general assumptions based on the assumption that age is the primary factor that determines attitude. When he lived with pre-literate tribes, he might have noticed that 13-year-olds on one side of a mountain were vastly different from their contemporaries on the other side.

    In his chart, he asserts that all three groups either "celebrate," "accept," or "assume" diversity. Based on the article, the only diversity the author recognizes is age.

    If he is suggesting how to create valid messages top target buying groups, he needs to dig deeper.

  3. GR Hansen, September 11, 2009 at 11:13 a.m.

    I have always read with great skepticism anything that lumps together groups like this. I am one of the late Baby Boomers, and I know too many people who fit in the age range and have radically different opinions, perceptions and attitudes about the world. I agree with Mr. Ribbler's comment, that the author needs to dig deeper. And I am sure he has as a cognitive anthropologist. He may very well have more data to back up his claims in this short piece. But in its brevity, it makes far too many assumptions, and that can be dangerous.

  4. Kevin Horne from Verizon, September 11, 2009 at 11:19 a.m.

    a) what is the source of these "general notions" ?

    b) calling millenials "Nurtured Kids" might be the most understated label this year,,,

  5. Amy Fanter from Odds On Promotions, September 11, 2009 at 12:45 p.m.

    As a marketer in an era when "personalization" (i.e. Purls, digital printing, emails, choice etc) is not only possible, but what customers by and large are craving, where is the value of lumping people together like this? (And personally, I am sick and tired of "Boomers" having the audacity to say that X-ers are "self-involved". Hello Pot, this is Kettle)

  6. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, September 11, 2009 at 1:24 p.m.

    Bob, it's always tough to generalize when comparing and contrasting generations, but I think your main point is spot on.

    If Gen Xers are more anxious about the future, it is likely due to the fact that until now, all they've known (as a generation) was unbridled growth. They grew up in an era when escalating real estate values, surging stock prices and an employment market that has more jobs than skilled people to fill them was as predictable as the sun rising in the east. Boomers, on the other hand, have seen inflation, stagnation, recession and 9% unemployment before, and for the most part, have come out on the other side of it in pretty good shape. This generation's attitude could be summed up as "This, too, shall pass."

    When some boomers see the house down the block that once sold for $750,000 on the market for $450,000, they see a huge opportunity. Xers who see that same scenarios could perceive it as "the sky is falling."

    That said, it is likely that GenX is going to be more conservative with their purchases than ever before until they see improvements in their own lives. Proving value to this generation is going to require some heavy lifting by marketers who've taken the loose purse strings of this market for granted.

  7. David Ricketts from N-A, September 15, 2009 at 8:28 a.m.

    @ Mickey Lonchar: Very different sitautions determine the views.

    The reason why Boomers would see an opportunity in a 40% decline in property values and Gen-X's don't is very simply one of equity: Boomers have 20 years on their mortgage and have a massive % of equity in their property, allowing them to easily refinance, despite a depreciation in property values.

    Gen-X's have less equity and are more likely to be back to square one, unable to refinance, unable to move, or even underwater. Whilst Millenials haven't even gotten onto the property ladder and are just browsing the realtors windows as they pass on their way to Starbucks.

    Generalizations are no substitute for taking a look at the lay of the land.

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