How to Sell and Market to Different Generations
by Steven L. Kleber
Marketing will never be an exact science. Understanding who is buying and how they want to buy can make a huge difference in being successful at the marketing game. To successfully accomplish this, you need to ask yourself these questions:
• Which demographics are buying your products and services?
• What are they buying, how are they buying and what is motivating them? and
• What characteristics define them as a group?
Taking a critical look at what you think you should do and balancing that against the influencers that affect the marketplace and your customer will enable you to be more effective in meeting your marketing and sales goals.
Who is Your Target Audience?
To be sure we understand the different groups making up the population pool, take a look at the box on page 45 that summarizes some of the key differences between generations of consumers.
Although there are many different demographic groups involved in the buying market, the children born in the late 1950s through the 1960s and the group termed Generation X are two of the strongest and most important consumer audiences to consider in product development and marketing strategies.
Keeping up with the Joanses
The children of the late 1950s and the 1960s are too young to be Baby Boomers but too old to be part of the emerging Generation X. Today, they have, at last, been given a name by sociologist Jonathan Pontell, Generation Jones.
This generation, originally explored extensively by Pontell, is widely recognized as one of the two groups with today’s most economic buying power. The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” has taken on a whole new meaning.
However, in the home design and products channel, women hold much of the buying power. For the home and building channel, we like to think of this attitudinal group as Generation Joans, women, generally ages 35 - 50. But, more important than their age is their attitude, as it’s how these women live that will help glass companies understand how to pursue and woo them.
Pontell’s Generation Jones is the core group of 39- to 50- year-olds that make up the largest segment of what was previously called the Baby Boomer generation. They were raised on television and turmoil, quite different from the older boomer crowd that is not as technologically savvy and is heading for or is already in retirement. Generation Jones is active, working, shopping the Web and desiring cutting-edge technology and design. Members of this generation are always in the process of enhancing their homes and their lives.
The Key Decision Maker
Generation Joans, the women of this age group, have literally worked themselves to the bone juggling motherhood and work pressures and never feeling that they have done well enough. As they enter middle age, they are revisiting their idealist roots and getting involved in their home, family and community. They hold the sweet spot of prime earning and spending power, estimated at an annual $1.4 trillion. No matter what your product, this is the key audience to attract. The overall goal is to provide them with time to make the emotional connection with their home and family. This is where you, the glass shop, come in.
But How Do We Reach Them?
What it really comes down to is understanding your audience and speaking directly to customers and their emotional needs. Images, music, color and messages that get them in their comfort zone all play an important role in motivating this group to consider your product.
With the busy Joansers, reaching them also requires a no-nonsense, concise approach that appeals to their pragmatic side.
Capture them with nostalgia. Music, icons from their television youth and colors of the 1970s speak to them. Take them back beyond the days of their youth to an earlier time they perceive as comfortable and safe.
Promote convenience and time saving attributes. If it makes their life easier, they will want it. This is a generation of women in perpetual motion. Easy-to-clean, easy-to-use, no-hassle enjoyment are some of the things that our Joans are looking for in a product. When evaluating product attributes and marketing, ask yourself if you are rewarding the consumer’s time via product performance, packaging, ease of instructions, etc.
Empower their “control freak” natures. Direct messaging and value-added options are what they respond to. They want to make the decisions about what they will buy, when and for how much. Companies playing into this recognize the customer’s desire to be informed, yet that she is a controlled decision maker.
Help them “seize the day.” They want to have the things they did not splurge on earlier in life. Manufacturers, retailers and marketers are expected to perform on that basis or this customer will go elsewhere. Companies that offer both the product and service rolled into one package will be appealing to this group.
They like “green.” This generation responds to green products, ecology, green building, environmental benefits and health and safety for their families. Eco-friendly innovations for the home will appeal to this audience.
Remember price. Here, perception is everything, not the actual price tag. If you can deliver in the emotion and function categories, what is “fair” in terms of price becomes relative. They may have money, but they are a price-conscious crowd.
Be memorable. Be distinct with your products and marketing messages or be extinct. Advertising needs to be memorable—no matter what form it takes.
Where to Market?
It has to be on the Internet. They get almost all of their daily information and also research their buying and lifestyle choices there. Another new marketing trend that is proving very successful is called the “brand contact experience.” Here, the goal is to provide opportunities for the customer to try the product (see it, feel it and experience it in their lives before they buy it). This could be, for example, the restroom décor (i.e glass sinks) in high-end restaurants, hotels or art museum restrooms. Put it where they live and in places they are emotional about and “sell” them without them ever knowing it is happening.
Capture their Interest
What does all of this mean to you as you look to develop products and tap into this vast audience? To be successful with this group, your products need to hit a nerve and serve a purpose. Distinctive design is based on attitude. Marketing distinctive design is also based on the attitude of the audience.
Remember, selling is not about products; it’s about creating a feeling. If all you can sell is a product, then all you are offering is manufacturing. If all you are offering is manufacturing then you’re fighting China, and that’s a battle you probably can’t win.
Above all else, you need to think about your customer in a new way. Think about what her attitude is toward what you are offering. Invest in building your brand. Make it important and distinctive to the audience. Promote the emotional connection between the product and the customer. If you do, it will be attractive to those you want to buy it.
Generation X: A Buying Force to be Recognized
Gen Jones and even the aging Baby Boomers are key groups for consideration, but it is the next generation that is the real emerging consumer force in this country—and they are very different than their predecessors!
This generation is nomadic, pragmatic, active and non-traditional. A group of individuals, ages 25 - 34, who value personal time and expect ready access to the things they want. They represent 14 percent of the total population, and they are on the move.
These qualities may fool some into believing that Xers are not yet a viable market for the home products, building, design, décor and remodeling industries to pursue, but this is not the case. Xers wield considerable economic power. This force of 40 million emerging consumers and homeowners is positioned for ascension, yet they have been virtually untapped.
They are buying homes and building new ones; they are furnishing them, renovating them and modernizing them, all with a focus on individuality and personal style that will drive the trends in design and style, not follow them, for the next 20 years.
Who is Generation X?
So, who are these young up and comers and how, as an industry, do you respond to their expectations of “home” and life? I’d like to take some time to tell you what we found out about them and then to talk about what all of this means to you.
At my agency we felt so sure that the 25 - 34 age group held great promise for our existing and future clients, that we initiated a series of research studies with our research partner nQuery specifically on this demographic.
What We Learned
The 25 - 34 age group is particular about design, has ready access to money and views their home as an investment. Their “free agent” mentality causes them to accept relocation and change in their careers, and they don’t wait until marriage to purchase a home. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2002 Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX) found that 49 percent of people in the Xer age group own homes. Another recent study puts the number even higher at 68 percent. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median age of first-time homebuyers is 31. This is nearly five years younger than it was in 1993 and makes up 40 percent of the overall home sales in 2003.
Xers describe themselves as quick thinkers—sensible and capable of objectively assessing life. In comparison to Boomers, who thrive on education and discipline, Xers resist dependence and place emphasis on practical experience. Through their objectivity they are “more at ease than their elders with change and complexity, and with people who are different from themselves.”1
We also learned that Xers get married later, but they are not waiting until then to purchase their first home and furnish it the way they want. According to a tracking study conducted by the National Association of Realtors, the percentage of homebuyers who are married couples has been on a slow decline since the mid 1990s. Conversely, the number of single females, single males and other unmarried couples buying homes has been on the rise (see chart, this page).
As a group, the home ownership rate for young adults (ages 25 - 34) is around 48 percent. According to Census data, an additional 6.8 million adults will buy a home by the age of 40.
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in the first 12 months after purchasing a newly built home, owners spend an average of $8,905 to furnish, decorate and improve their homes (see chart on page 47). For young adults, this represents as much as a $71 billion market opportunity in the first year alone.
The Home Living Environment
Whether they have purchased a new home or are renovating one, they will furnish their homes with products that they consider “new” and innovative, performance driven and current in color and design.
Design is more important to them than it has been to past generations and they move quickly to create a living environment that is comfortable and fresh. According to the 2002 CEX data, the 25 - 34 age group accounts for 16.5 percent of the home furnishing market and 19.9 percent of furniture purchases. When it comes to getting home improvement projects done, this age group may be more commonly associated with the term “do it yourself;” however, the more affluent portion of this group will pay for professional service and expertise to increase the value of their homes, always with resale in mind.
Improvements that will enhance resale value are extremely important to them because they are not focused on staying put for long. This creates a vast opportunity for glass shops to help them design and decorate homes over and over again. Unlike older generations, they do not always approach careers, homes or even relationships with permanence. As a result, participants in our focus groups unanimously agreed that they would be in their first home for five years or fewer. When asked what would prompt a change, only a third cited a growing family. For the rest, career changes were the most likely catalyst.
This Is All Great, But How Do They Buy?
Key product attributes are quality, longevity, value and reliability. They are also interested in companies and products that provide the latest in technology and offer ready access to help or assistance via toll-free telephone lines or a user-friendly website.
They make their decision on major home improvements based on how the change will impact the value of their home (resale potential). And, they want what’s new (such as a heavy glass frameless shower enclosure). They shun products that are common or considered traditional and look for the latest in performance, a variety of options and contemporary design.
To attract this consumer, manufacturers and marketers need to take a dynamic approach by offering high-performance products, high style and information-based marketing programs.
They Want What’s Hot
The challenge is to find a way to effectively address this group of more financially responsible (13 percent did household shopping as a child); more experienced (74 percent worked part-time during high school); and more savvy (they are the generation to use computers in school) consumers2, 3. They are competent at processing and comparing information from different sources and can access, evaluate and interpret information more efficiently than other generations. Therefore message delivery is vital.
Gen Xers Love to Shop!
When these young homeowners shop, they extensively research their purchases on the Web, and then shop in-store. When shopping in-store, they rely heavily on point-of-sale information to help them make the correct product selection. Consistent and detailed messaging and instructions on packaging, in the mass media, on the Web and through technical assistance telephone lines are essential components to marketing to this audience.
Remember that this group is on information overload. Advertising Age reports that younger generations are increasingly exposed to TV, video, CD-ROMs and online computer services. According to PC Week, they are logging on to the Internet for information and shopping resources. To succeed in the over-congested online environment, marketing campaigns need to be carefully tailored to fit the psyche of the individual.
Xers want simple access to “all” the information they are looking for. Companies can take advantage of this either by having a presence online, or steering sites that act as informational gateways.
The Internet is an invaluable tool in marketing to these consumers. They see technology as essential, a shortcut to better communication and entertainment. If a company is attempting to directly sell to these consumers, they must approach them with the intention of adding value.
How Does all this Relate to the Home?
Getting back to the home, as they emerge with force into the home-buying and home-improvement marketplace, it is clear that the high expectations of this demographic will be a catalyst for a range of new products, fresh design ideas and a focus on convenience and options. This is where you come in. Many in this industry agree, there is no doubt that the 25 - 34 group of emerging consumers will be an important force in shaping home design and the development of home products over the course of the next ten to 25 years.
One of the biggest surprises coming from this research is the extent to which young homeowners believe their home to be their best investment. This attitude is being driven by several important factors. For instance, annual home values have been appreciating above historical levels. Some homebuilders, seeing the trend of personalization, now offer numerous design and product upgrades often at substantial costs to the homeowner and profit to the builder.
This group also has a desire for contemporary design. More than anything, young homeowners want their homes to reflect their individuality and personal style. Some of the personal touches young homeowners in our focus groups desired included “jazzing up” the bathroom and having a fireplace installed in the bathroom.
Certain themes emerge when this group is asked to compare their home improvement preferences and skills to their Baby Boomer and Post-War generation parents. Here are some of the key differences:
• Contemporary styling; they do not want homes, furnishings and landscapes that look like other peoples’;
• A willingness to be more whimsical in design by using vibrant color, unusual artwork and other eclectic decorating items;
• They are far less motivated to complete home improvement projects, as they would rather spend discretionary time on eating out, socializing with friends and traveling;
• They are much more confident in admitting what they don’t know, and do not try to complete complex projects without some help;
• They are much more likely to hire professionals to do complex projects around the house. They were not as willing to learn from their mistakes if it meant that the home improvement project did not meet their standards. Interestingly, basic decorating and updating were frequently cited as essential improvements.
So, you’re probably saying to yourself, this is all fine and good to know, but what does it mean for me? It means that those glass companies that take steps now to embrace this emerging spender and to understand what they will be looking for, will rise to the top, particularly if you are in product design and development.
Looking forward, those who will be successful in designing, creating and marketing products to the Xers and Joanses will create dynamic, cutting-edge products that offer style, function and personalized marketing messages.
Now that you understand what drives them, focus on your products and messages, as these groups will continue to be powerful buying forces in the future.
Steven L. Kleber is the founder and president of Atlanta-based Kleber & Associates, Marketing and Communications, which specializes in the home marketplace.
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