San Diego Business Journal Researcher: Market Products to Specific Generations

Advertisers and businesses need to target the mindset of a generation or risk losing revenue and consumers, according to Phil Goodman, president of Generation Transitional Marketing, a local market research firm.

For the last 14 years, Goodman has researched generations, particularly focusing on the baby boomers, ages 37 to 55, and found that in order to sell to the consumer, you have to sell to the mindset of their generation and not their age group.

Advertisers and marketers are using old methods to draw in consumers and Goodman said this is a turn-off.

He uses an example from 1987 to help make his point.

In 1987, General Motors came out with the slogan, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." This was also the year, according to Goodman, the baby boomers surfaced as the largest spending consumer group in the United States.

The Oldsmobile campaign peaked and then dwindled rapidly resulting in serious revenue loss, Goodman said.

"The impending demise of Oldsmobile is kind of a classic case," said Paul Harris, co-author with Goodman on their book, "The Generation Myth," due out next year.

"GM (General Motors) was trying to sell to a segment of society a uniqueness that was not appealing and it backfired," he said. "It reminded the boomers that they were not independent, as they had been raised to be, but were a group that was going to drive something that was like their father's Oldsmobile, but they didn't want to be driving their father's Oldsmobile."

- Generation May Be A Follower

Goodman said industries assuming that a generation will take on the same ideologies and ways of thinking as the previous generation is an overstatement. Ultimately the assumption creates error in the ways industries market themselves and a decline in interest of their services, he said.

According to Goodman, 90 percent of all advertising, no matter what industry, misses the mark most of the time because it has a tendency to group generations together.

Relying on demographics supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau, marketers target five specific age groups , seniors, ages 66 and older; the Forgotten Generation, ages 56-65; the boomers, ages 37-55; Generation X, ages 25-36 and the echo boomers, ages 8-24.

"What would be the advantage of a boomer taking on the mindset of the senior market when they get that age? For what reason would they do that? They wouldn't," he said.

- Lifestyle Data On The Mark

Instead, Goodman offers his services of using psychographic research to find out what the consumer wants.

"Psychographics, unlike demographics, will tell a business why people do what they do and how do you get them to do it for you," he said.

This type of research is 10 times more accurate than demographic research because it tells more than just income and age, but also gives information about their lifestyle, he added.

Using on-site surveys at shopping malls, airlines and hotels, Goodman and his staff ask consumers questions that apply to their likes and dislikes, such as, "Are you brand loyal" or "How much has your taste in music changed since you've gotten older?"

The answers are measured and then compared with answers from a previous generation, to see the affect a particular product or service had on other generations.

"The more they (businesses) understand about a generation, they can work to apply this knowledge in a successful way," he said.

But in order to be successful, Goodman said industries are going to have to spend more time and money on research. Clients are often being too broad in approach and need to figure out what group they are planning to focus on.

"They (industries) have to separate all their advertising and marketing between each generation, particularly the senior market and the boomer generation," he said.

The boomer generation is going to be one of the biggest challenges for tourism industries and retirement communities, according to Goodman.

- Baby Boomers A Unique Generation

The boomers are the largest generation and have the biggest generation gap between any parent and children's group in the United States.

"Boomers changed the mold for the aging process, boomers are the adult teen-agers of the '60s and '70s they never left the ship and a lot of industries haven't accepted this," he said, adding that the generation affects more industries than other generations.

Goodman offers that businesses should look at several factors when marketing a service or product, including the medium used and understanding how to present it creatively to each generation.

"If you're catering to the senior market stay with them as long as they're spending money with you and your business, but don't expect another generation to pick up the same product or same service and embrace it in the same way based upon the age they're reaching," he said. "That's what it's all about."