Ask an Expert: Avoid hard sell when marketing to younger generations

ByABC News
June 2, 2008, 4:54 AM

— -- Q: I get that I have to market to a new customer, i.e., Gen X and Gen Y. I'm not really tapped in to what works with them. Is there something that works with them better than other things? Dave

A: I agree, there is a new consumer out there these days. I'm part of the end of the Baby Boom generation, and when we're talking 'bout my generation, yes my generation, many of the elders are getting ready for retirement; we are no longer the much-coveted 18-54 year old demographic.

That distinction goes to those folks at the other end of the spectrum the alphabetical generations: X, Y, and Z:

Generation X makes up just under 20% of the U.S. population. Born between 1965 and 1979, they are now starting families and buying the houses that we aging boomers are selling.

Generation Y (also known as the Millennials), born between 1980 and 1994, is more populous than Gen X, making up fully one-quarter of the U.S. population.

Generation Z (also sometimes referred to as Generation V, for Virtual), is less important to most small businesses, as they are younger and not yet independent consumers.

Growing up after Watergate and coming of age during the two Iraq Wars, both Gen X and Gen Y are generally suspicious of big institutions, big business, the government and the media.

Independent, self-directed, and technologically savvy, reaching them is a challenge because they take everything with a grain of salt.

They are different in other significant ways as well:

Unlike earlier generations, equality of the sexes at work and at home is a given for them.

They tend to delay marriage until their late 20s.

They have little brand loyalty.

They consider themselves entrepreneurs. Even if they don't start their own business, they have entrepreneurial careers.

Even more than Baby Boomers, Gen X and Y parents dote on their children excessively and spend accordingly.

So how do you sell to a group that is intrinsically distrustful and cynical? The secret is to use those qualities to your advantage.