How to understand and communicate with different generations

How to understand and communicate with different generations

understanding-generationsWhile many organizations target a particular demographic or psychographic audience for their products and services, some cast a wide net that reaches both targeted and mass markets. Think of healthcare, financial services, and nonprofits, to name just a few.

For the first time in history, our country is blessed to have six living generations that not only have unique needs and desires, but also varied ways of communicating. The generations most frequently identified through popular media, and the birth years frequently associated with them, are:

  • Greatest/Depression/GI (1901-1926)
  • Silent (1927-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • X or Latchkey Kids (1965-1980)
  • Y or Millennials (1981-2000)
  • Z or Boomlets (2001+)

Organizations are paying attention as to how to successfully create work environments where diverse generations function well and produce, while the upcoming 2016 election is already starting to generate buzz about the generational differences/needs and how that will impact the outcome.

It is also important to understand how to get information from the different generations so you can best position and market your brand, products, and services.

Getting information and conducting research among the bookend generations – those who are among the oldest (Greatest) and youngest (Z/Boomlets) – can often involve surrogates, such as caregivers for the oldest and parents for the youngest.

The four middle generations, spanning over six decades, literally and figuratively, can and do speak a different language. If you want to acquire information from them, one size does not fit all and different strategies are required.

Silent Generation

The Silent generation consists of predominantly retirees who are on both Medicare and Social Security and are among the last generation to enjoy having access to a pension. Many are somewhat more financially comfortable than younger generations because they have saved money, are cautious and disciplined, often times based upon their upbringing and decades of hard work – many times at the same company! Many are also hell bent on insuring that they leave an inheritance to their children. Our work has found that if you want to reach them, they tend to actively use traditional media such as newspapers, TV, radio, and print marketing. While many are active users of the Internet and access Facebook, when we need to do quantitative research among them, the best option is via a landline call. This method works well once we can get beyond their cautiousness of knowing the interview really is research as opposed to a scam or sales pitch. When options call for qualitative, such as focus groups, they love participating in in-person groups in the afternoon following a light lunch.

Baby Boomers

The so-called pig in the python generation, with about 77 million, is still going strong, although likely a bit slower since they are now all eligible for AARP membership, even though many will not admit it. The generation that said “you can’t trust anyone over 30,” now ranges in age between 52 and 69 with the Woodstock, rock and roll and yuppie parts of their past replaced with a “sandwich generation” that is mostly still working and often providing both financial and emotional support to their children and elderly parents. Unlike many of the silent generation, our research has found that many in this cohort are struggling to save for a retirement that used to seem like light years away, but is now at their doorstep. The younger part of this generation also does not yet have access to safety nets called Social Security and Medicare. This generation appears to pay attention to traditional media like TV and cable, but also rely on the Internet as a source of information for many aspects of their life. They are also inclined to embrace Facebook as a way of communicating and sharing information, as well as LinkedIn. When we are doing quantitative research among this group, we find a combination of landline interviews supplemented by opt in web-based panels works best. Focus groups work well for this segment, held in the evening after their work day is over.

Generation X/Latchkey Kids

This is the first generation to be the prodigy of older Baby Boomers and have been frequently referred to as “Latchkey Kids.” This generation was the first to be strongly introduced to the computer as an educational and informational tool. Unlike the Silent Generation who stayed with one company for most of their career, this generation is motivated to explore what will best contribute to their future and are open to changing jobs and careers. Many in this generation are in the midst of working full-time, while also attempting to balance the needs of their children. As a group, they do not read a traditional newspaper and get most of their news and information online through the Internet and various social media sources. Our research has also found out that word of mouth is very important to this group. This generation is somewhat resistant to participating in research since they do not have the time and they can be cynical or suspicious of organizations interested in collecting data. To reach this generation for quantitative projects, various methods must be employed, with landline being one of the least effective methods. Rather, this audience can be better accessed through cell phone only households, web-based surveys, and mobile surveys via smartphone. For qualitative research, this generation can be best accessed using web-based focus groups since they can easily and effectively communicate their thoughts and needs electronically.

Generation Y/ Millennials

This generation has never known a time without computers and, perhaps due to their strong digital capabilities, new terms have been coined that reflect the changes that have occurred. One such example is Nomophobia or no-mobile-phone-phobia which is anxiety if a person cannot be connected 24/7 to their smartphone. This is not to say that only Generation Y/Millennials are affected, but they certainly are a target for this so-called disease coined by a U.K. researcher in 2010. This generation is helping to recreate how we work in this country with the old 9-5 routine not fitting well with their aspirations and lifestyle needs. They get their information from social media and the Internet, which also appear to be main venues for socializing with their peers and friends. This generation, which currently estimated to exceed the number of existing Baby Boomers, has grown up feeling they are special. This is insight SRA has gained from extensive research among potential and existing employers who are attempting to hire them. This is a very mobile generation that is difficult to connect with using any traditional research sources. They have short attention spans and are multi-taskers. To conduct quantitative research among this generation, one of the best methods is to conduct surveys that have been optimized for use on a smartphone. These surveys need to be short, very focused, visually appealing, and entertaining. To interact qualitatively with them, one method is to engage them where they are which means the venue is on their terms.


Bearing in mind that it has been frequently published that the first person to live to be 150 has already been born, those of us engaged in conducting research are constantly becoming more innovative in our approach to interacting with audiences. Hang on for an exciting future adventure.

SRA Research Group is a solution-based consultancy with the vision for our clients based upon the fundamentals we continue to deliver – Strategy, Results and Achievement – since our founding 30 years ago. Our firm provides exemplary research services and support to organizations geared toward understanding and measuring how to best keep their customers and clients satisfied. We are a trusted partner that helps frame issues, develop solutions, and refine opportunities.

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