Generational marketing and the arrogance of youth

Some things stick in your mind. At the interview for my first marketing job, they asked me what I thought the difference was between marketing to older and younger people. I replied “I suppose you’d want to excite younger people and reassure older ones.” It got me the job, and it changed my life.

Looking back, I wince at the arrogance of youth. I clearly had no idea that most of us don’t feel older, we just get older. I’ve felt 42 for years. My 85 year old mum says she still feels 18.

We can only really understand our own generation. While I’d be classed as properly old by my young self, I’d still rather be excited than reassured. I am not interested staying safe or – horror of horrors – being looked after. I am not slowing down. I am taking off, finally getting good at life. OK, I might qualify for Saga membership. But that doesn’t mean I want to sail off into the sunset on a fucking cruise wearing an acrylic cardigan and comfortable shoes 😉

At the same time I don’t have the faintest clue what preoccupies, motivates and delights people who were born this century. Can a generational outsider like me empathise with how it feels to be 23 when our experiences and inner landscapes are so radically different? I don’t think so. The longer I live the more convinced I am that whatever age you are, other generations might be able to peer through the window – but they can’t join the party.

What does this mean to marketers? If I was still in marketing I’d be more humble than my young self. I’d run generational marketing campaigns past people in my target generation before going ahead. In retrospect it’s arrogant not to, as well as missing a marketing trick.

Does your audience’s age always matter? Only when the product or service is aimed at a specific age group. Otherwise just communicate honestly in an interesting way, giving people useful content to answer their questions, meet their needs, and inspire them. That’ll do the job.

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