While sales of baby diapers are down, sales of adult diapers are up, explains generational researcher Matt Thornhill of the Boomer Project.
Of course that’s good news for some diaper companies and bad news for others.
It’s also an image for the aging of the huge Baby Boomer generation. And an image of changing trends among the younger generations who are having fewer kids than previous generations and becoming parents later in life than their parents or grandparents did.
Finally, the diaper image suggests that, in the future, America will have more older people and fewer younger people. According to Thornhill, this will make the traditional age pyramid of lots of young people at the bottom with a few old people at the top into more of a skyscraper. The future will have a more even distribution of population across generations.
Recently, I had the chance to hear Thornhill, who also works for the Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond, speak to officials of city and town governments attending the conference of the Virginia Municipal League. I’ve gone to the annual event each year since I was elected to the city council of Staunton (population 24,000) in 2012.
In this talk, Thornhill’s points were not specifically directed at marketers. But I believe Thornhill’s insights apply well to anyone doing business communications.
Human resources departments should also take note of how the three different generations represented in today’s workforce like to interact with others, for example:
- Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) believe that you have to pay your dues to get ahead. They like to work in groups with others and are more comfortable with hierarchy and authority, despite growing up during the revolutionary 1960s.
- Generation X (born 1965-1980) grew up as latch-key kids responsible for much of their own childrearing and so they prefer to work independently. Surprisingly, they’re more tech savvy than younger people because Gen Xers can still remember a time before the Internet and mobile devices and so are able to function without the latest tech if necessary.
- Millennials (born 1981-2000), like their Boomer parents and grandparents, enjoy working in groups. But they resist hierarchy and authority and put their faith in the wisdom of the crowd. Even if they’re junior employees, they want to have a say in decision making, which they think should be done by consensus.
Let’s talk about Millennials
While there will be more retirees in the future than there were in the past, there will also still be young people too. Among other challenges including paying off their student loans, as they enter the workforce, those young people will have to support increasing numbers of retirees.
But as Millennials start to overtake Gen X in the next decade as the biggest generation of workers, voters and citizens, the unique values and style of today’s young people will start to matter more to the rest of us.
Just take one example: the can-do attitude of many young people, who don’t let lack of experience stop them from teaching themselves to be an “expert” at something new.
Since their helicopter parents told them early and often how special they were, Millennials believe they can do anything if they only dare to try. This can have unintentionally humorous results, as in the clip from the Saturday Night Live sketch “You Can Do Anything!” that Thornhill showed us.
In “The Six Living Generations” MarketingTeacher.com provides more info on these three generations as well as the three other living cohorts that are either no longer, or not yet, in the workforce.
Wearing my local government hat, I was concerned that, while Millennials account for 26% of the overall workforce, young people are only 10% of government employees.
Does this mean that Millennials aren’t interested in government or politics? Or does it just show that young people today are not attracted to government jobs?
It may be that positions in government offices, known for offering job security but not much opportunity for creativity, don’t appeal to Millennials who say they value making a difference more than making a living.
And while young people also have famously low voter turnout rates — only 21% in the last midterm elections and even lower in state and local races — my experience in local government is that Millennials still want to get involved in their communities. They just want to engage in a way that they feel is relevant and authentic.
If you want Millennials, serve beer
For example, I’ve had good results getting young people out to “Brews and Views” public forums, freewheeling discussions on everything from jobs to education held at local craft breweries.
Also, in Staunton, few young people apply to join the retirees who overwhelmingly volunteer for the city’s established citizen boards and commissions such as the Economic Development Authority or the Cable Television Commission. But when Staunton recently started a Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, City Hall was swamped with applications from young people.
And it apparently didn’t matter that, as an advisory group, the bike committee has neither any budget nor any authority to make policy. Young people on the group told me that they just wanted a chance for their voices to be heard.
Business communicators can apply this lesson to their online content marketing. If you’re trying to reach young people, don’t treat the Internet as a broadcast medium, with your company sending out one-way messages to an audience of eager listeners and readers.
Instead, tailor your messages to the interests of your audiences. Share those messages online in places where those different audiences spend time, whether it’s LinkedIn (for a business audience) or Twitter (for consumers) or Vine (for young people who like very short videos).
And then be prepared to interact with your readers, viewers or listeners. Retweet their stuff and they’ll retweet yours — if it interests them, of course.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group