The “generation gap” and the “reinvention of aging” aren’t news any more. We all understand that the “older” generations aren’t acting the way people of the same age acted in the past, and that the “younger” generations — particularly, the Millennials (in their 20s and young 30s) are experiencing extreme delays in hitting the same demographic and lifestyle benchmarks that previous generations hit at that same age.
This has profound implications for marketing. I’ve written a couple of books on this, with some material dealing with the marketing implications, and it’s the focus of what I write about on this blog. But so far, I haven’t seen anyone in the marketing community take the subject and really run with it. I think it yields an entirely new marketing model.
So far, though, most of the discussion and debate has been about why marketers overspend against the younger segments and underspend against the wealthier older cohorts. There are hundreds of articles complaining that Madison Avenue doesn’t “get it,” that they are still over-reliant on the 18-34, or 24-54, age groups and discount the older Boomers and seniors. There are numerous ad agencies and consultancies whose mission is to the prove that the Millennials are a highly valuable market, and that they (th
e ad agency or consultancy) have unique knowledge about that age group and a unique ability to help marketers reach them.
All well and good.
But I think there’s a lot of room to take the topic much further — and that’s what I propose to do in the next series of posts.
My premise is simple:
Everything is shifting older. Therefore, the classical marketing model is obsolete.
The classical model tied lifestyle to age:
- Brand influence began in the teens (although the spending power was still with the parents)
- The young to mid-20’s saw the formation of new families and the all-important determination of initial brand choices
- Spending rose steadily through the 30’s and 40’s and maybe early 50’s
- Retirement followed, meaning that spending dropped and, since brand choices were hardened into place anyway, there was little or no reason to spend marketing dollars against that cohort.
Marketing strategies are still largely based on this model. And there’s no question that life stage component of it is still logical: you go from a being a child with no purchasing power to a first-time and early-stage shopper in the marketplace, to a full-on consumer, to a cut-back stage and, eventually, the end.
What’s different, of course, is the absolute and total uncoupling of age from life-stage — at least, the ages that were previously assigned to the various stages. This uncoupling is so radical that it makes the entire model nonsense.
- Family formation has increasingly been shifting into the 30’s, instead of the 20’s
- First home purchase is increasingly in the 30s
- Retirement is no longer automatic at 65
- The fastest-growing age group, in percentage terms, is the centenarian segment
For marketers, the urgent issue ought to be: how do we align our strategies and messaging to these new realities? What do we say to 20-somethings, while waiting for them to have money? What do we say to 60- or even 70-somethings, realizing that they might well be still in the workforce and might have 20 or 30 years of spending power ahead of them? In fact, what does a 30-year spending trajectory look like, for a 60-something, and how do we, as marketers, play into it?
I don’t think marketers are spending nearly enough time figuring this out. To too large an extent, they’re still aligning dollars and age brackets based on the old model that no longer exists. In the next two posts, I’ll suggest some new ways of coming at it.