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Generational theory: how brands could get through to Generations X, Y, Z. Extensive guidance on four generations for marketing experts

For completeness of the study, I started with homework and analyzed who had grouped people into generations and under what principle.


The foundations were laid by American researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss, who presented to the world in 1991 the so called generational theory in their book Generations. According to the theory, representatives of each generation possess certain features conditioned by the environment in which they were raised and grew up.


Psychologists claim that a person's values are shaped by the time the person is 10 to 12 years of age. It stands to reason that in this period the future personality is most influenced by the school with its training program and reading list, as well as by friends, society, level of its technological effectiveness and, of course, parents, who act as a role model when instilling rules of behavior and world perception.


Here are the generations I have known in my life:


  • Greatest Generation (1900 – 1923)
  • Silent Generation (1923 – 1943)
  • Baby Boom Generation (1943 – 1963)
  • Generation Х (1963 – 1983)
  • Generation Y (1983 – 2003)
  • Generation Z (from 2003)


However, in this article I have paid all my attention to the last four generations. Now let's get started.


Baby Boom Generation: people who are young at heart and mind


The generation got its name due to the noticeable increase in the birth rate after World War II. Today, this generation is less active online than the others: according to the studies TNS MMI 2/2017, Gemius 01-07 / 2017, Mediaanalyzer (Factum Group) 07/2017, 37.7% of them use the worldwide web. Many marketing experts ignore this category because they believe it is too aged to give any attention to. At the same time, you can find numerous studies about the young Generation Z, although its representatives do not even have their own financial resource yet.


Time of birth: according to Strauss and Howe, baby boomers were born in the period from 1943 to 1963, so they will be 55 to 75 years old now.


Links to other generations: Baby boomers are the parents of late Gen Xers, and grandparents of Millennials. Consequently, it was boomers who shaped the foundation for the development of Generation X.


Values: Boomers' adolescence coincides with savoring the victory of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War, space flights and the Soviet "thaw period". Baby boomers believe in the state and power. Their future has always been clear, so it is important for them to maintain this state of certainty.


Buying habits: Most baby boomers visit markets or small stores.


Moreover, they often make their purchases online: 11.9% of all Internet users of this age do online shopping. Yet, it is important for baby boomers to communicate with real people – being retired, they do miss such communication. By visiting stores/ markets, boomers compensate their need for communication. And we wonder sometimes where all those old men and women hurry in the morning.


Packaging is not important for baby boomers; what’s important for them is how a particular product will help them personally. But once they take fancy to a brand or product, they are ready to go to the other end of the city and stand in queues to buy it. They tell their relatives and friends with pleasure about all interesting findings.


It is also noteworthy that the category of boomer buyers is mainly represented by women. This is primarily caused by the demographic situation: women live longer than men. Besides, when a woman is left alone, she keeps buying goods for herself and her children. When a man is left alone, he only goes to a store to buy what is most urgently needed.


Favorite brands: A characteristic feature of the audience made up of representatives of this generation is product loyalty. When talking about boomers, it would not be quite correct to use the notion of brand, since goods of well-known trademarks were simply unavailable for them. Indeed, they would buy a product they have known for many years rather than start experimenting. And if they have become your clients, they will most likely remain same for the entire life.


A characteristic feature of the audience made up of representatives of this generation is product loyalty.


Profile: Youth is incredibly important for them. For boomers, this is not just the happiest period of their life but also the time when they have momentum, when they are capable of building the future – their own and that of society. That's the way they want to feel – young at heart and mind.


Family values are hugely important for representatives of this generation. A large nuclear family is a sign of success. In their opinion, it is impossible to build happiness alone. Baby boomers strive to help the junior members of the family – both financially and about the house. This is also because they want to feel their own importance.


Generation X: Autonomous and permanently busy


They are also called "unknown generation." Gen Xers are characterized by their readiness for change, and great individualism.


Time of birth: According to the above theory, this category is made up of people born in the period from 1961 to 1981, i.e., they are 35 to 55 years of age now.


Links to other generations: Despite the fact that Gen Xers are baby boomers' children, there is disagreement between these generations. Boomers accuse Gen Xers of lack of ambition. While representatives of the older generation are used to working hard, planning everything and openly telling about it, their children are less optimistic about their happiness in the future. They are more concerned about the present and do not tend to share their plans at all.


Values: Formation of Gen Xers' values was affected by the war in Afghanistan, emergence of drugs and worldwide concerns about a new disease called AIDS.


Buying habits: Gen Xers prefer "physical" stores but are actively tapping into online shopping. They choose places where they can buy everything at once and save precious time.


It is important for Generation X buyers to feel they are unique. Raised in the conditions where everyone wore the same kind of clothes, they try to stand out in their adult life. So, any opportunity to buy goods that will make them special will always be perceived as an advantage.


What is absolutely essential for Gen Xers is the possibility to choose. Born at the time when super- and hypermarkets started to appear, they have become discerning consumers and visit stores only if they need essential goods and, when doing so, compare the sellers' offers. For them, it is important to understand WHAT they are buying (they attentively read the ingredients on the packaging) and how well this particular product suits them.


It is important for Generation X buyers to feel they are unique.


How to get through to Gen Xers: The world's richest people, namely the founders of Google, Tesla, Amazon, Space X are representatives of this particular generation. And this is not just a coincidence.


Gen Xers were born before the Internet and this has an impact on their behavior and preferences on the net. They do not use Millennials' and Zoomers' slang and do not always understand the website mechanics. They need clear instructions, direct hyperlinks and user-friendly interface.


According to the Citypost mail study, the "unknown generation" spends more time in the social media than Millennials – viewing Facebook takes them on average 6 hours 58 minutes a week. They mainly visit the social media at the time between 20:00 and 00:00 and use PCs more often than smartphones.


Until recently, this age category was more active on Odnoklassniki but today they are joining Facebook en masse. 58% of them actively visit YouTube – mostly to find useful information. Only 8% are active users of Instagram.


In order to draw the attention of a typical Gen Xer, you should appeal to their nostalgia and the need for comfort. It would be better to avoid surveys and guessing games; instead, it would be useful to offer the audience exciting and informative video content. A joint study by Google, Ipsos Connect and Flamingo has singled out 3 types of content that would prompt Gen Xers to visit YouTube: something which evokes nostalgia, something that provides information, and the "how to do" content.


Generation Y: Act here and now!


They are also called Millennials. This generation is building the present and it is they who are in the gun sights of all marketing experts of the world. Every Millennial believes he or she is special but there is one catch: all other representatives of this generation think the same.


That's why Millennials often suffer – their expectations do not match the reality. Millennials have to live in a competitive environment: they can see success stories such as "He earned a million at 22, and what have you achieved?". A frenzied combination of inflated self-esteem, unrealistic expectations and vulnerability require special attitude.


Links to other generations: Millennials are Gen Xers' children and baby boomers' grandchildren. Their parents tried to give them freedom of choice, watched them carefully as well as made them believe that they were special.


Buying habits: The purchasing power of representatives of Gen Y is tremendous. They don't visit stores so often but prefer online shopping more and more. However, hypermarkets and supermarkets are still their favorite places of offline shopping and entertainment.


According to the studies conducted by Markswebb Rank & Report think tank, 53% of all online purchases are made by Millennials. They do it most often via their smartphones – 73% of representatives of the generation visit online stores using a cell phone (data provided by Internet Marketing Inc. for 2017).


Before they buy goods on the Internet, representatives of the generation read comments, look at photos, visit companies' websites on the social media, compare prices and search for discounts.


Millennials make their purchases "along the way", listening to music, talking to friends and using transport at the same time. Therefore, it is important for them that a website interface should be convenient and user-friendly.


53% of all online purchases are made by Millennials.


Favourite brands: When choosing a brand, representatives of Gen Y are primarily concerned with the experience of those who have already used the company's products. An exception is made for luxury brands – their prestige and status do not raise red flags. Faulty service is the only thing that could be disappointing.


Among Millennials' favourite brands are Nike, Adidas, Apple, Samsung, Victoria's Secret, Dior, Tesla and others.


Values: Millennials are a generation pursuing a dream; instead of a prestigious and well-paid job they choose an occupation that gives pleasure. Millennials do not care a lot about stability and career – they prefer horizontal career advancement. Nevertheless, it is crucial for them to get an instant reward.


Millennials do not think in terms of the future, they just don't attempt to predict what will happen to them in ten years or so. There is an explanation to this: their predecessors experienced no changes for decades, while at the time Millennials grew up, there were significant events taking place almost every year.


As far as family values are concerned, representatives of Gen Y raise them to a new level contrary to the stereotypes. Yet, Millennials have a special opinion about marriages – one should not be in a rush to get married. Moreover, representatives of this generation openly accept and often support same-sex romance.


Another characteristic feature is a desire to be fashionable. They choose a career because this is fashionable. They do a sport that is fashionable and not useful. They become vegetarians because this is a trend that was initiated by their predecessors, Gen Xers.


Millennials are a generation pursuing a dream; instead of a prestigious and well-paid job they choose an occupation that gives pleasure.


How to get through to Millennials: Millennials saw the collapse of the USSR, were brought up in the period of scarcity, have gone through quite a few difficult economic changes. They want to have a chance to do everything and do it right away, and they use every spare hour to learn something useful. Therefore, it is important for them to understand how much time they will spend on an activity: how long an event you have invited them to attend will last, how long it will take them to read an article. It is not interesting for them to delve into any problem – they want to stay in the loop but superficial knowledge will be quite enough.


Many researchers share the opinion that Gen Y is the first generation that has stopped trusting so called "direct advertising": traditional marketing methods get on their nerves. Years-long history of a brand or celebrities advertising a product will not be able to talk them into buying a product or service. Recommendations given by friends, acquaintances or online users – that's what influences their choice. Advertising should target someone like them.


Representatives of Gen Y receive information mostly from the social media and not from TV (newspapers are out of the question for them). Millennials do not recognize traditional mass media; yet, the older part of this category at least finds political news interesting. They acquire information mostly from smartphones, so all leading companies create self-adaptive versions.


This generation has high requirements for service – they want to receive immaculate service 24/7. Moreover, they are inclined to publicly discuss on their Facebook page or other social media their negative impressions of using this or that product.


It is important for Millennials to feel self-confident, so you should talk to them in a supportive manner, assuring them that they can do everything. They perceive such formats as infographics, information-intensive presentations, and comics best of all.


Generation Z: technology savvy and fastidious


Born with a telephone in their hand, these children could outmatch all of their predecessors in how quickly they absorb information. Yet, holding the attention of a typical representative of Gen Z, or zoomer, is a big challenge for marketing experts because zoomers only pay attention to something unique and impressive.


Time of birth: According to Google, everyone who was born after 1993 is a zoomer. Jeremy Finch and Tessa Wegert believe that Generation Z comprises people who were born between 1998 and 2008. William Strauss and Neil Howe use the early 2000s as starting birth years of Generation Z. According to Sarah Gibb, zoomers are all those who were born in the second half of the 1990s.


Links to other generations: Traditionally, Gen Z is children born to Generation X. All that was future technology for Gen Xers is a reality for zoomers. Millennials are often zoomers' older siblings but the difference in the way they absorb information is quite significant.


Buying habits: According to a joint study conducted by Google and Ipsos, zoomers are mobile buyers. Two out of three teenagers do online shopping, and, while doing so, most of them use smartphones. They buy video games, ordinary products, clothes and accessories online. Interestingly, representatives of the generation adore footwear and believe it to be a sign of coolness. Ukrainian teenagers actively support the domestic manufacturer.


Sharing economy is another distinct feature of zoomers: for instance, sharing things with other family members is much more cost-effective. However, representatives of the generation do not mind paying extra for comfort and authenticity. And, of course, coolness.


Favourite brands: For a typical representative of Gen Z, brand is not a product or its quality. It is the opportunities it offers: to be stylish, striking, modern and cool. Zoomers are less inclined to prefer classic brands. A famed name means nothing because there are young companies offering goods and services at a modern level.


In 2016, Google conducted a study in which it defined zoomers' favourite brands:


  • YouTube
  • Netflix
  • Google
  • Xbox
  • Oreo
  • GoPro
  • PlayStation
  • Doritos
  • Nike
  • Chrome 



Representatives of Generation Z adore footwear and believe it to be a sign of coolness.


Values: Money for zoomers is an opportunity, a key to freedom of action and implementation of ideas. For them, no rich person will be an authority. The richest, most authoritative and coolest person is someone who has millions of followers on Instagram. This is cool, and being cool is what a typical representative of the generation wants.


In fact, zoomers are concerned about more global issues. Proactive position is what makes them different. Interestingly, one of the principal motives for this is a desire to be in the loop and avoid friends' disapproval.


The young generation cares about the environmental problems. For example, according to a study by Google, 80% know about environmental problems in the world, and 76% of them are concerned about those problems. However, zoomers are not in the least interested in political news and find newscasts totally negative. To be in the picture, they read bloggers and learn about important events through popular memes (for instance, Mikhail Saakashvili, who is running on the roofs, or a sudden success of Russia's football team at the World Cup).


Their preferences and values change rather quickly though.


How to get through to Gen Z: One would think that a typical zoomer and all his or her life in a gadget is a boon to online marketing experts. Yet, it is difficult to target this audience. First, they don't like being watched. Some of them disable geolocation, others delete their social media accounts altogether. Your entire advertising campaign may be reduced to nothing after your first attempt to get through to a typical representative of Gen Z: they have a negative attitude towards obtrusive advertising. They buy a product in three cases: if their friends like it, if they often see an advertisement of this product, or if it is made especially for them, with their needs taken into account.


For zoomers, visual content outperforms text-based content, and they mostly go online for entertainment purposes. They like to receive new information and learn, but it is more convenient for them when they can use video, infographics or brief notes. This generation does not need long-term contact – you should not constantly remind them of yourself. They have a lot to do online, so zoomers are used to getting information quickly, screening it thoroughly.


As to favorite social media, Google has found out that zoomers most often use Snapchat and Instagram. They visit Facebook every day just to know the news – zoomers almost never make their own comments here.


Representatives of Generation Z buy a product in three cases: if their friends like it, if they often see an advertisement of this product, or if it is made especially for them, with their needs taken into account.


None of the generations poses a threat because it was created by the previous generation and is a result of their activity. Every marketing expert knows that the biggest challenge is to alter the behaviour of their audience in terms of decision making, purchases, and consumption. Few are capable of doing this; yet, such visionaries never thought that they would drastically change the next generation with their new phone, fast food restaurant, shoes or video. Yet, would they have created their product if, in their turn, they hadn't been influenced by the previous generations, community events and other factors that existed as they grew up? I am sure that they wouldn't.


Each generation is a whole era starting with "finish your meal to the last crumb" and ending with "why is the Internet not working again" or "why should I call if I can write an SMS." There are 40 years and 2 generations between these words. Every next generation will go through its development and formative stages. Today, we can analyze the generations which are already known and predict what the next generations will be like. I bet it is interesting.