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VOL. 127 | NO. 41 | Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lori Turner

Lori Turner-Wilson

Generational Marketing Gaffs, Wins


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Fundamental experiences shape a collective generation – wars, political changes, scientific advancements, entertainment and pop culture trends. These experiences, especially those encountered during one’s formative years, have great influence over a generation’s values and core beliefs, preferred methods of communication, product needs and buying decisions. Understanding these shared beliefs is at the heart of generational marketing.

Big brands appreciate the need to understand a target market including generational nuances. That’s why we’re surprised when they make devastating generational marketing blunders, like focusing marketing on current customers with little more than a nod to the future generation of customers.

The customer buying from you today is one thing, but your next generation of customer – that’s the next big thing. Ignore them and risk brand irrelevancy.

If big brands with their resources can make this misstep, smaller companies should take heed to avoid following suit.

For decades, Levi’s was the jean of choice for baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964). Comfortable with their leading market share, Levi’s became complacent. In the 1990s, however, baby boomers were no longer responsible for the lion’s share of jean sales, and Generations X and Y saw Levis as “their parents’ jeans,” an undesirable position in the fashion category. Jean sales plummeted. Reclaiming that market share would prove a long, arduous process.

Levi’s isn’t the only brand to face significant generational marketing challenges. When is the last time you’ve heard a reference to a “girdle”? Prior to the late 1960s, Playtex owned the girdle market.

Boomer women, however, who were beginning to control a decent percentage of undergarment purchases, didn’t value confining undergarments. They also had great influence over purchases made by their parents, ultimately influencing their mothers to opt for more comfortable alternatives to the girdle.

Playtex wasn’t in touch with the needs of their next generation of customer – asking about their product needs and targeting their marketing to them accordingly – and they paid for it dearly.

Eastman Kodak is a more recent casualty of the generational marketing war. Despite inventing the first digital camera, Kodak was fearful to stray too far from its roots – in film and film-based cameras – and was slow to fully embrace digital technology and commercialize it. The brand wasn’t listening to its next generation of customer – Gen X – which, if asked, would have shouted “no more film.”

By the time they turned their sights fully toward the digital world, the brand had become irrelevant to Generations X and Y. The financial investment to convince them otherwise, combined with competitive pressure, was insurmountable. Kodak declared bankruptcy.

The lessons learned are serious. Don’t lose sight of your next generation. Seek their feedback on product and service developments often. And never forget to target your marketing so it resonates with that generation. For more, visit www.redrovercompany.wordpress.com.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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