Conventional marketing wisdom has typically held that retailers and product manufacturers should target younger customers in order to create brand loyalty. The rationale is that younger consumers are impressionable and forming opinions and habits that they’ll carry with them for life. Older consumers, by the same reasoning, are set in their ways and attempts to change their habits are futile.
Research presented at the annual Supermarket Industry Convention in Chicago by the Mintel International Group provides a slightly different take on marketing to various generations. They studied consumer attitudes toward environmental issues and found that environmental concerns and the willingness to do something about them increase with age.
So, if you’re basing your farm marketing on the environmental benefits of buying local, or organic, or energy conservation or other best management practices, then you might want to target an older demographic group.
Some experts may also argue that many older consumers have more money to spend and more time to shop. On the other hand, consumers with young families may be looking for fun and educational farm experiences.
It wouldn’t be surprising to find research to support targeting every generational demographic group. It may be tempting to try to reach everyone with your marketing efforts. After all, why would you care how old your customers are, as long as they buy your products? Unless you’ve got an unlimited marketing and advertising budget, however, you’re going to have to choose who you want to reach.
Researchers have come up with the following generational categories and associated characteristics:
Traditionalists (born before 1946)—lived through the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II and the Korean War. This generation values hard work, dedication and sacrifice, respect for rules, duty before pleasure, honor.
Boomers (1947 to 1964)—experienced the civil rights movement, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, space travel and assassinations. Boomers value optimism, team orientation, personal gratification, involvement and personal growth.
Generation X (1965 to 1976)—remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, Watergate, women’s liberation, Desert Storm and the energy crisis. This generation values diversity, technological literacy, fun and informality, self-reliance and pragmatism.
Millennial (1977 to 1989)—grew up during a time of school shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, technology and the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. Millenials value optimism and civic duty, are confident and achievement-oriented and respect diversity.
Armed with that information, you can decide which group you want to target and craft messages that will appeal to them. Then you have to figure out how to reach them. According to the Pew Research Center, each generation gets their news and information in different ways.
Traditionalists spend an average of 79 minutes on news daily. Some 11 percent listen to the radio regularly and 19 percent read blogs.
Boomers spend an average of 76 minutes on news daily. Eighteen percent listen to the radio regularly, 20 percent read blogs and 19 percent use official TV program Web sites.
GenXers spend an average of 65 minutes on news daily. Twenty-one percent listen to the radio regularly, 30 percent read blogs and 27 percent use official TV program Web sites.
The Millennial generation spends an average of 49 minutes on news daily. Fifteen percent listen to the radio regularly, 41 percent read blogs and 33 percent use official TV program Web sites.
Once you understand your target audience, have crafted your message based on audience values, and identified which media channels are most frequented by your target audience, pay attention to who responds to your marketing efforts.
There are plenty of people who don’t fit into these neat categories—particularly those on the cusp of two generations—and there is certain to be cross-over among who uses which media outlet. Your messages might be reaching more than just your intended audience. If someone else responds, you can tailor future messages and efforts to your newfound demographic.
The author, a freelance writer, is public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass.