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Generational Targeting: Clever Marketing or Foolish Profiling?

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As a financial advisor, there is pressure to market to generations that are “poised” to be the next driver in the industry. There’s this article, for example, that says the Millennials and Gen Xers will inherit a huge transfer of wealth in the coming years so we need to appeal to a younger crowd. Then there’s this one, that claims Baby Boomers are going to live longer and spend more, so we have to market to them using more conventional methods. And many more like them.

The point is, this marketing philosophy—known as generational marketing—is a popular option for many advisors because it helps them focus their efforts and hit their target markets with little additional research. But for every nine proponents of this practice, there is one detractor arguing loudly against it. Why? Because not everyone fits neatly into a broadly defined category.  When considering if it’s the right approach for your business, it’s important to realize that generational marketing has a great deal of value, but it’s not the always best to cast the widest-net, in every circumstance.  Here’s why the critics agree.

What’s in a Generation…

There are a great deal of studies, articles, and other sources arguing that marketing to someone based solely on their age range is a foolish enterprise, and they often point to the actual generational classifications themselves as one of its main problems. Whether it’s Gen X, Baby Boomers, Millennials, or some other new term a marketer is trying to coin at this very moment, a generation is just an arbitrary span of birth dates that seem to go together. And often times the words used to describe generations feel like they belong in a Zodiac rather than a marketing plan. Millennials are self-centered (but then again so is Pisces under a full moon), Baby-boomers appreciate a hard worker (I’m pretty sure everyone appreciates a hard worker), and Gen Xers are experts at getting things done (just kidding … I took that one from a fortune cookie). So the big question remains:

Should You Implement A Generational Marketing Strategy in Your Business?

And the answer is yes you should, for the most part.  While some of the arguments against generational marketing are valid, generational marketing is an effective way to target people with shared interests, needs, and values, especially when you have little to no additional information about them. Though it requires that we as marketers make broad assumptions about people (see—I’m making a broad assumption that you recognize yourself as a marketer, in addition to an advisor, because you’re still reading this post), more often than not these assumptions are accurate, or close to accurate, if only because they’re so broad.

For example, many baby boomers are just about ready (or think they are ready) for retirement and yes, most of them actually are less technologically literate than younger generations. If you meet a Millennial, it’s quite safe to assume they did grow up with technology and that at some point in the near future, they may be interested in buying their first home or getting married. Obviously, these things aren’t true of every member of the generation, but it is true of a large majority of them, and for that reason, it makes a generational approach to identifying your target market, as good as any other common marketing philosophy also based on demographics.

How to Use Generational Marketing Effectively in Your Business

Generational marketing can be used to tailor your marketing campaign or sales pitch and is even useful when profiling prospects, but it shouldn’t be used as a crutch for every gap in your target market and it shouldn’t be the only aspect of your marketing plan. Speak to any person of any generation for any length of time and you’ll quickly find they are much more than the sum of the shared experiences of their peers because, no matter their age, people are unique.

As you get to know prospects better and hopefully begin to transition them into clients, you can abandon your initial generational assumptions about them in favor of more personal details. But until you get to know a person or group of people on an individual basis, assuming things about them based on their generation can help bridge the gap between total strangers and trusted clients.


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