Communicating Across Generations

Boomers, Millennials, Gen Xers and Greatest Generation, who is your target audience? When communicating across generations most likely it isn’t just one. Most of us are trying to reach a mix of individuals, but how does each generation like to be reached and how do we combine them.

First, lets define who the generations are, as outlined by The Nielsen Company:

  • Greatest Generation: Born prior to 1946
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964
  • Generation X: Born 1965 – 1976
  • Millennials: Born 1977 – 1994

Next, let’s understand each generation.

Greatest Gen

Also known as the “silent generation” and “traditionalists,” they are the more reserved generation. They grew up in times of crisis and during the greatest financial hardship our country has ever seen. They are a group of people that believe in hard work and saving pennies. Having grown up during times of crisis, many in this generation don’t question authority and when they give you their word, they mean it.

Baby Boomers

Historian Landon Jones said that exactly 9 months after WWII ended, “The cry of the baby was heard across the land.” Between 1946 and 1964, there was 76.4 million births, making the Baby Boomers 40% of the nation’s population. The children of a generation who struggled through the great depression, their parents ensured they wanted to for nothing, but appreciated hard work. They are a very age conscious generation so never call them “old.”

Generation X

Generation X, often not so fondly called the “middle child” generation, is smack dab between the two of the largest, and most distinct generations — Boomers & Millennials. They are a very economically conservative generation due to growing up during double-digit inflation (1979-1981) and the stress their parents faced during times of unemployment. Unlike their parents, they then to not favor relying on institutions of the government for long-term security, which makes their loyalty stay at two-weeks notice. Because of their lack of loyalty, they have had to become flexible to changing times and needs, making them creative and entrepreneurial.

Millennials

The first generation to grow up with high-speed internet, this generation is constantly changing, moving and have high expectations. As a very educated generation, Millennials are an independent group, but prefer to work in teams. They feel enormous pressure to succeed and understand their position as a generation and the uncertain future of institutional support. The most tolerant generation, 89% believe in equal treatment, tattooed (4 in 10), social (75% have smart phones and social profiles), and single (4 in 5). Millennials are tolerant, enterprising and hyphenated, are very much in the emerging “GenDIY.”

Four groups, four very different life experiences. How are the best ways to communicate with each? Let’s break it down.

Greatest Gen

  • Face-to-face: Relationships mean everything
  • Succinct: They don’t like to have their time wasted
  • Cautious: They want to know about your and your business before deciding to act
  • Value: After growing up in the great depression, value is incredibly important

Boomers

  • Engage: Dubbed the “Me” Generation, they want to feel like you are talking directly to them
  • Keep promises: Give them what you say you will and they will be with you forever
  • Clear: Get to the point, but avoid controlling language. You’ll lose them if they have to search for your message.
  • Show flexibility: Boomers appreciate options

Gen X

  • Be informal: Informal communication styles make them feel comfortable
  • Use Tech: Email is the best way to reach them
  • Feedback: Ask them for feedback and they will happily oblige
  • Keep It Short: Gen Xers have short attention spans, so don’t get lengthy in your messages

Millennials

  • Action: Use verbs and action oriented words
  • Go Online: They grew up with the internet, you can always reach them there
  • Don’t Speak Down: They will resent you if you talk to them as if they are stupid
  • Be Funny: Use humor and don’t take yourself too seriously

This is by no means exhaustive, and everyone is different. Not everyone will fit into this analysis, but for the most part, you can generalize each generation’s motivations and expectations. As a communicator, it is crucial to understand how to reach these audiences and this is a great start to create messages to test on your audiences.

Need more advice to take that next step? Getting Smart provides strategy, marketing, and communications services that turn ideas into impact. Contact Jennifer at [email protected] to learn more on how we can support creating a marketing & communications plan for your organization

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