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FPRA 2013 Annual Conference: General Session C, The Generational Imperative: Effective Messaging to Multigenerational America, Chuck Underwood

By Nicole Huie

Chuck Underwood

Over the last century, life in America has changed dramatically. For the first time in history Americans live on average 30 years longer than past generations and currently five generations live side by side. These five generations each have unique core values that guide their consumer, career and lifestyle decisions. Chuck Underwood, founder and principal of The Generational Imperative Inc., an Ohio based generational consultancy, introduced FPRA conference attendees to his Generational PR and Marketplace Strategy. Underwood presented a crash course in understanding each generation’s core values and explained how smart companies build their marketing strategies to target individual generations.

According to Underwood, to understand generational differences you must first know how generations form. An individual’s early years form the core values which influence how they make decisions throughout their life. Shared experiences during these formative years cause different generations to have similar core values. To craft a successful marketing strategy and message, companies must consider the following points:

  1.                     Identify the target generation
  2.                     Identify one or more core values
  3.                     Craft the message to connect with the core value(s)
  4.                     Generational messages cut through the clutter
  5.                     Simple and inexpensive to succeed
  6.                     Works across all media

The five living generations are:

  • G.I. Generation, born 1901 – 1926, 87+ years old. This generation grew up during The Great Depression and fought in WWII. The G.I. Generation has a reputation for being the greatest generation responsible for “saving the world” and being the most fascinating generation on the planet. The G.I. Generation is assertive, energetic, honest, patriotic, humble and are team players.
  • Silent, born 1927 – 1945, 68 – 86 years old. Members of the Silent generation are known as the last “innocent generation” and went through their formative years during an era of extreme conformity from the 1930’s – 1960’s. Many are working past normal retirement age and have enhanced purchasing power. They are close with their grandchildren and spend considerable amounts of money on them. They are catching up on technology and trying to relate to their grandchildren. Members of this generation also have a pent up desire to live life to the fullest and tend to take risks. Marketers, like those at Disney, have been successful at targeting the Silent generation based on the love of their grandchildren and where they spend their money.
  • Baby Boomers, born 1946 – 1964, 49 – 67 years old. The formative years for Baby Boomers were the 1950’s to 1980’s. Almost 80 million people were born in this generation who grew up with strong family values, safe neighborhoods and a secure job market. They formed life-long core values of optimism and idealism as they grew up during the “conscious movement” which included seven major movements in American history. The Civil Rights, feminist, ecology, war protest, sexual, drug, and religious movements lead this generation to believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to and can make the world “right”. Today, this generation is outgoing, enthusiastic, assertive, demanding and natural leaders. America will be a Boomer-led nation into the 2030s as this generation will never fully retire. Marketers must recognize and value their “forever young” mindset.
  • GenX, born 1965 – 1981, 31 – 48 years old. Also known as the “latch-key kids” or first “computer generation.” This group is entrepreneurial, career driven, self-reliant and creative. They grew up street-smart but isolated and often have divorced or time-starved and dual-career parents. They have strong family values and focus on spending time with their children and making their marriage work. Women are more confident and focused, while men are searching to find themselves. GenX members are self-focused and do not trust easily. Marketers need to understand that they must build this generation’s trust to engage them.
  • Millennials, born 1982 – 1995+, 18-31 years old. Known for their optimistic and idealistic way of thinking, Millennials are opposite of the GenXers and live in “extended adolescence” re-defining life in one’s 20s. They have overly involved “helicopter parents” who double as their best friends. They are delaying marriage and children and are very education and career focused due to steep competition in the workforce. They are team players, the first technology generation and socially active. They involve parents in most major decision making.

It is important to know that those under 18 are still forming their core values. It appears that today’s 17 year old is going to be a millennial, but that can still change.

Chuck Underwood, is just one of a tiny handful of pioneers who created and popularized the field of generational study which began more than a quarter century ago. He has been a consultant, researcher and trainer for organizations like: Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Macys, State Farm, Hewlett-Packard, the U. S. Military, American Council on Education and hundreds of others. Author of the most comprehensive book on generational business strategies, The Generational Imperative: Understanding Generational Differences In The Workplace, Marketplace, And Living Room. Host of the first national-television series on the subject, on PBS: America’s Generations With Chuck Underwood. Chuck has spoken on this subject in forty states, Canada and throughout Western Europe.

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