Are You Talkin’ to My Generation?

Are You Talkin’ to My Generation?

Reader Comments (73)

  1. As a baby boomer writing copy, this is very enlightening. I would think these theories are applicable for all internet communication that is targeted…web site, email blast, blog posts, etc.

    It is simply wise to pay attention to my copy and not be talking to myself entirely.

  2. Awesome article dude.

    It really opened up my eyes to the importance of Generational Targeting something I never really took into consideration with any of my projects.

  3. Heh – never heard of the “Silent Generation” before. Thanks for the heads up.

    If I hadn’t hired you to do my blog redesign already, I guess I’d have to mull this over … 🙂

  4. @ Dave – And you thought we were just aiming for pretty pictures…

    @ Orange – Backatcha, bro!

    @ WordUp – Generational targeting is one of the best ways to get even more results from your content, and it should always play a part in what you write. Good luck!

    @ Judy – You bet. This method can be used in anything you write, and it tailors your words to reach exactly who you want to in the way they want to be reached.

    And I don’t recommend talking to yourself. People may look at you strangely 😉

  5. So … as most of our clients fall in the generation Y age group, I need to think how to sell wedding films focusing on ‘confidence and achievement; sociability and collective action; diversity and morality; street-smart; optimistic and savvy.’

    … just had a re-read and I might just focus on the ‘cool and trendy’ bit. (Is ‘cool’ a cool word anymore?!)

    It may take me the whole Bank Holiday weekend to understand what is I’m sure a valid interpretation.

  6. @ Janice – That question is much the same as this situation:

    “Who is your target audience?”


    No, no, no. Your ideal customer profile falls down to one person with one type of need. While that need may be one that spans many different types of people, the majority of the group of people with that need will always fall into one main category.

    You can try to target everyone – you will never achieve good sales. Fishermen don’t cast a wide net. They focus on one school alone and bring home the mother of catches.

  7. Looks like the Baby Boomers are my audience. Maybe I should change my style of writing a bit, so it’s more suitable for them..

    Though it’s still too early to tell I guess, since the blog has only been around for a month or so.

    Anyway, great info. Cheers

  8. Very interesting post. Knowing your target is key to the success of any marketing endeavor.

    I typically find that clients are targeting a specific industry or field of interest. They are not looking at the generational aspect to their marketing efforts, i.e. just everyone in the “travel’ industry.

  9. This is a fantastic, simple breakdown of generational differences. Thanks for posting such nutritious food for thought.

  10. James, do you think it’s easier for a person from Gen X or Y to write copy that appeals to the older generations, than the other way around? Or do you think that an astute person of any generation can write copy aimed at another? Love to hear your thoughts on this.

  11. This article really got me thinking about our own brand and use of language. When we reviewed some of our own copy it became evident that we are not always hitting the mark in appealing to who the real decision makers are.

    Some questions for us to ask ourselves are: Who are the deicision makers in our industry (meeting planners? corporate executives? executive assistants?) For instance, we are currently developing a site for managing generation y employees. Our first thought is to make a young trendy site reflecting the essence of generation Y and yet our real target audience is not the younger generation themselves but the people who manage them.

    We are now going to take a different approach. Thanks for your article.

  12. Damn. That’s an interesting question, Michael.

    I think anyone who takes the time to observe writing, who picks up magazines for different audiences and who scrutinizes the word selection or who reads multiple styles of websites, can most likely learn how to write effective copy for specific generations.

    I don’t think that you are able to write generational copy for your own generation simply because you’re part of it. In fact, I find that many good writers struggle to capture the right words and tone to reach their target audience in this way.

    I also think that Gen X and Y have a difficult time writing for older audiences because they simply have trouble understanding the mentality. And the same for older writers trying to reach youths. Each generation struggles to understand the experiences and attitude that other generations maintain.

    For example, my senior-aged mother never asks a doctor questions. She shows her problem, takes the prescription and does not know what she has, what the treatment is, how it should work or what alternatives there are.

    I’m the opposite. By the time I leave a doctor’s office, I can write a research paper on whatever I went in for.

    I cannot say I fully understand how difficult it may be for my mother to ask questions of people in authority positions. Likewise, she’s horrified that I would dare to grill a doctor, lawyer, etc.

    It’s taken me a few years of in-depth observation to grasp the generational differences properly and to be able to write for all generations as if I was one of their own.

    In short… I’ve given you my thoughts but I believe I can’t answer your question. I think Gen Y and X writers can reach either group. I think Baby Boomers may be able to reach the Silent Generation more easily. But I don’t think that the older generations can reach the younger generations easily or vice versa.

  13. Hmmm, took a look at my ideal client profiles again as opposed to my total client strata…Fly fishing for a few good boomer males…what’s that number, 1000, is all it takes? Outfit me with waders Pen Man. 🙂

  14. James, gotta say this is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time and is the first Copyblogger article I’ve saved to

    I think you are dead on with your evals of each generation. I’m generation X and yes, that pretty much describes me and the way I’ve designed my website around. Then there’s my gen Y nephew, you hit him dead on.

    It’s sorta like you’re reading a person’s astrological sign.

    However, in the comment section while replying to Michael, you said:

    I don’t think that you are able to write generational copy for your own generation simply because you’re part of it.

    Then you follow it up with:

    I also think that Gen X and Y have a difficult time writing for older audiences because they simply have trouble understanding the mentality. And the same for older writers trying to reach youths. Each generation struggles to understand the experiences and attitude that other generations maintain.

    Umm . . . huh? Sounds like no one can write for anyone?

    Sorry, just trying to understand.

    Personally, I think you can write well for your generation because it’s you. Therefore, you should be writing in the language and thought process your generation is accustom to.


  15. It seems like a lot of these overlap each other to some respect… Is this just because of the simplification in what you’re saying, or is it a sign that there’s a way to appeal to multiple groups in there?

  16. @James and Michael- before the storm hit, one of the hottest new markets for Tulane undergrad techies was introducing the “seniors” to technology and virtual communication. Fee by the hour home visits to set up computers, show them how to use email, give them a tour around the www, just like a masseuse or gardener or a tutor…seriously, My senior friend Abby,” Oh I have to go, my tech tutor is here.” Generations are integrated there. Communication did not seem to be a problem in either direction because the intersection of interest is there.
    I think fluency is fluency…look at Memoirs of a Geisha for example. Good writers use the ability to immerse themselves in whatever context, metaphor, analogy and skillfully create persuasion.
    You all are making me think again…stop it, stop it right now 🙂

  17. @ Janice – But we’re not discussing integration of technology with generations or getting back to our roots. We’re discussing the values that each generation upholds and why the choice of words you use, the tone of voice and the style of your writing affect the generation you will reach the most.

    Anyone can learn some of another person’s generation.

    But it’s difficult to apply the values that were driven home in a person to someone who lived a different experience – the senior does not understand nor value street-savvy self-taught people as much as he does a university-educated professional. The events that shape our lives ingrain themselves deeply into our values and beliefs and are psychologically not easy to change.

    That is not about communication – that is about perception of value. Huge difference.

    @ Rachel – They overlap because they transition through time. You will note that the two extremes of Silent Generation and Gen Y are nothing alike, though Gen X and Gen Y resemble each other slightly in certain areas, and Gen X and Baby Boomers resemble each other in different areas.

    @ John – You misapply your logic 🙂

    Because you are Gen X does not mean that you will instantly capture all the nuances of speaking to your generation. You are more apt to do so, yes. It is easier, yes. But not a given. Writing never is.

    Michael asked about ease of communication involving generations – so yes, it is easier for Gen X to communicate to Gen X than to the SG or BBs.

    And no, I did not say that people cannot write to each other’s generation. I said they will have difficulty and struggle to reach other generations.

    Is that more clear or is the mud getting thicker?

  18. 😉 gotcha. So you’re saying writing for the generation you’re in gives you a bit of an edge but it really boils down to learning your trade and learning to communicate what you have to say.

    Was I able to wipe the mud away?

  19. @ James- “But we’re not discussing integration of technology with generations or getting back to our roots.”
    Values. I get that. Not an idiot. Michael asked opinion on if it was easier to write copy in one direction or the another. I meant fluency to include understanding sets of values as well because that is the context of his question.

  20. No. My friend Abby who was chronologically an SG also fits the Gen Y profile of values. She liked street savvy as much as the learned professor view and values. And the techs knew the extreme importance they brought to the seniors that valued friendships and keeping in contact,( high values to them) especially if these seniors were unable to “roam the streets” as they used to do.

  21. @ Janice – That’s very coo, but that is not the majority of the group or the behavior of most of that generation. Psychology is what it is, and there will always be exceptions to the rule, but in online marketing, you’re not selling to the exceptions.

    Hm. That’d be a nightmare to have to deal with, come to think of it.

  22. In my experience, I would add that Gen Y (millenials) are highly skeptical, always assuming there is an unspoken agenda which they have to scope out. Also, Gen Y needs to be attracted to what you have to offer, drawn in. Don’t try to push your way in to a Gen Y’s world.

    If they suspect you have some ulterior motive you will be shunner. This is why poking fun at yourself (or your mission)…has become a highly effective advertising theme and ironically, the honesty of this diffuses any tensions between the buyer and seller because at least you are laying your agenda out there.

  23. Great article. I was recently reading about how Karl Lagerfeld (artistic designer at Chanel and aged 70+) designs so successfully for Gen Y. He picks Gen Y muses and is inspired by, and learns from, them. I think finding a real muse of the target generation is the way to make this work.

  24. Hmm, Yes I want to agree with you. That is correct. But ( you knew there was a but), huge niche market. (I am just using Abby as one example of her generational niche ) We’re still talking about being about to understand and speak value cross generational (I blame Michael asking his question).
    Yes, mass marketing is generality, rules not exceptions, but online marketing is targeting with specificity. Say you are tech savvy trustworthy kid with a car and a computer, who has a few people skills too, and a need for cash. (AND understands the NEEDS and VALUES of this niche) You might have to start with a card or a flyer, or your Nana telling her friends, but once you get them online and hooked up, for a slight monthly fee in addition to house calls you’ve got a membership coaching site. Which you could sell to a freshman when you graduate. See you’re kid with ambitions and some fluency.
    My point is that these lists are very helpful. Especially if you have an idea for something out of your generation that supports the needs of another. My point with Michael is a self limiting belief is just that. That , “Is it easier in one direction than the other?” Someone who wants to communicate and persuade with resonance does. Finds the way. Especially if you are trying to open new markets.
    That’s what I meant.

  25. @ Janice – The kid has to target like anyone else. And if he’s targeting to two different groups, he will have to alter his text to be accepted by two groups or create two different sets of text.

    Keep in mind that no one can sell to everyone. There is always an ideal profile of the consumer you target, and that is who you aim for. You don’t restrict yourself so tightly that you shut others out, but you can’t market to all people using the same content and communication.

    Look at this blog – 37,000 people, you think. Brian hits up everyone!

    Wrong. Brian’s blog only has a very small portion of the people online. He would like to have everyone as a subscriber, but he can’t. So he targets his market while trying – at the same time – to be appealing to a wider group.

    If he wanted to target senior citizens as well as online entrepreneurs, Brian would seriously have to change his site look, design, content and appearance or simply open a new site.

  26. Yes. I hear you on the targeting. We agree there. I am not advocating being all things to all people. Not at all. My mere suggestion is that there are also studies and experience that show people relate cross generational. And that the lists like above are guidelines. That means you’re hooking them, not only on a chronology designation, but on something else too. Like having an entrepreneurial creative mindset and the values that entails. Which generation owns that? See what I mean? We may be differing in semantics …it has happened before. 🙂

  27. Invoking The Who is a surefire way to get the attention of (some) Baby Boomers — this one especially. Got me thinking about the guitar-slinging Pete Townsend, who wrote ‘My Generation’ back in 1965 supposedly for rebel Brit youths called mods, saying in affect “Older people just don’t get it.” Could this have been justification for the the lyric; “Hope I die before I get old” …?… Well I don’t know, he’s still kickin’. And guess what James; he blogs on The Who site — giving us ‘the right words’ to get exactly what The Who want; more online sales at The Who Sell Out Store.

  28. James, great advice. It’s funny how many of my customers don’t understand that the more specific you are in your targeting the greater your success. To catch more fish you don’t cast a wider net but a smaller one. Targeting a generation does not mean other generations will not buy from you but it does mean your messaging will be finely tuned and effective. Awesome post..but then that is what you do. 🙂

  29. There’s a lot of talk about generational divides within real estate (agents and consumers) and this hits the nail on the head.

    I will definitely pass this post on to fellow agents and Realtor associations so they hear it from someone other than me. Maybe then, they’ll believe it.

    (Gen X/Gen Y cusp)

  30. LOL, Wendi.

    I have a firmly GenX voice (despite the fact that I find my generation to be a gigantic PITA–but then that fits, doesn’t it?). Guess I’d better find some GenX clients to talk to!

  31. That was such a thought-provoking article — yeah I’m a baby boomer! And my target group is also made up of baby boomers… I’ve noticed that much younger people sign up for things and then soon go away whereas the baby boomers tend to stick around… they don’t want to miss out on what could happen next!

  32. This is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. Basic common sense, and something many of us do without realising it. But it takes an article like this to make you hit yourself on the forehead and say “why on earth didn’t I think of this?”

  33. Thanks for making people aware of generational marketing, but do be careful. Generations can’t easily be summed up with a few strokes of the pen. Baby Boomers ,for instance, cover 1945 to 1963….they are way diverse. In addition, demographers and marketers are constantly redefining generational groups or creating new ones. Generation Jones is one and recently, the U-Boomers. Good marketing is good marketing and, and at its best, actually transcends age.

  34. Great article.
    Often times, generational target is the key to generating business. Take Facebook, they have a great platform but the audience in terms of age and generation is very broad. Bloggers are now the new authentic authority.

    Keep writing. One of the best information one I have read thus far.

    As a food blogger, I take this into account. Keeping key advertisers in mind, it would be a waste of time trying to grab the “caviar” consumers and “fast food” consumers.
    Targeting brings more value to advertisers as well.

  35. Thanks for teaching us all a bit about generational marketing!

    But I think you’ve oversimplified the process of defining a target market.

    While “generation” is definitely a factor, it is one of many…

    -demographics: age, gender, income, marital status, career, education, religion, political views, etc.
    -geographics: country, state/province, urban/suburban, etc.

    In fact, it’s only one factor of many under “demographics.” Each generation has it’s key defining features, but you also shouldn’t assume everybody (or even the majority) fit them.

    For example, saying Generation X individuals are technologically literate complete ignores the HUGE percentage of Gen Xers that can hardly feel their way around the internet (just think of all those 40 year olds who don’t quite get Facebook, Blogs, RSS Feeds, eBooks, buying things online, installing their own software, etc).

  36. @ Chad – I have never said that everybody fits every profile. But the majority of people do fit generational profiles – I didn’t make these up. These traits are pretty common knowledge, so that does mean that most people do fit a specific profile for generational value set.

    As I’ve mentioned in this comment thread, there will always be exeptions to the rule. But the majorities are there, and that’s what focus should be on.

    By the way, Gen Xers are under 43. I’m not sure what huge majority of technologically illiterate group of people you’re referring to, because most people under 43 are pretty adept with computers.

    And remember that just because a group of people does not prefer a certain application (like Facebook) or don’t like to buy online doesn’t mean they are technologically illiterate. Those are preferences, not a reflection on skill or savvy.

  37. I find it always difficult to deal with such structures when I speak about people. My favorite is, being and giving always esteem to whom ever. It doesn’t matter what generation, what kind of thinker, everybody deserves to get esteem!

  38. Generation targeting, a great idea. That gives entirely different niches for each generation. And if you hit the right people with the info they would like to see, you have a winner. Thanks for sharing.

  39. Relevant points indeed. It’s important not only to see them as a guide to our writing as of today, but also as a guide to how quickly things are evolving. Thanks. Great post.

  40. As a consumer, these sort of lists make me feel a bit pigeon-holed. I mean, I’m Gen Y, but give me personal gratification over diversity and morality any day.

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