Search
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Schewe: Market to Your Market's Defining Moments

by Shel Horowitz

What are the defining influences on a person born around 1915? If you answered the Great Depression and Word War II, you're right. Of that generation, you will be cautiously conservative, because you've seen the bottom drop out of your world. You'll know the value of hard work and dedication, because you saw your generation rebuild America and save the world. And you'll be a saver, not a spender - because if economic collapse happens again, you want to be prepared.

Now - suppose you're that person's grandchild, born in 1955? It's a world that has always revolved around you, because as a boomer, you've represented the biggest market block since you've been old enough to carry your own wallet. You know the power of your generation, because you stopped a war in Vietnam, saw the impact of the environmental and feminist movements as they reached critical mass - and because you lived happily through a 27-year period of growth, you're not afraid to indulge your tastes, even if they're expensive, You don't save much, because you expect to earn or inherit what you need. Fun, even hedonism, has been a part of your makeup since you rejected your high school dress code.

Would you market the same way to both these groups?

Of course not, says Professor Charles Schewe of the UMass School of Management, who addressed the Family Business Center's June gathering. The formative influences of every generation - personal and world events that happened about the ages of 17-23 - create and inform every person's perspective. Those whose formative years spanned the JFK assassination, Vietnam, and Watergate are going to be a lot less trusting in government than those whose first experiences were the New Deal and the battle against Hitler. They'll also be a lot more willing to experiment with alternative foods, new technologies, and anything that helps maintain the illusion - or the lifestyle - of youth. Each generational "cohort," be they Depression, Boomer, or Gen Xers, will have their own sets of defining moments.

Schewe, who advises such companies as Coke, Procter & Gamble, and Kodak, helps companies determine appropriate market strategies to resonate with the different target groups. So, for instance, when marketing to meat-and-potatoes Depression-scarred elders, the California Prune Council could focus on the laxative effects - but when targeting Boomers, the council will stress high boron content, which naturally enhances testosterone and estrogen.

And the Boomer blip continues to make ripples. Noting that People Magazine's choices for the sexiest man alive have included Harrison Ford at 57 and Sean Connery at 61, and that Farah Fawcett was on Playboy cover at 50, Schewe notes, "Boomer values - individualism, participation, questioning, informality/unconventionality, sensuality, work for self-fulfillment, change/experiment - will push older people to be more attractive, vibrant, fun-loving. We have a different set of cohort values driving behavior and marketplace.

Back to Top