The GI Generation
Each generation is different from the one before. Each develops its own unique set of qualities, characteristics, and values, as well as likes and dislikes. These are greatly influenced by or in response to the political, economic and social times in which they are coming of age. It is also may stem, in part, from some innate desire to be different than one’s parents. Generation Xers are different than the Baby Boomers before them. And Millenials are different from the Gen Xers that preceded them. Certainly, the newest generation now emerging – being referred to by various monikers including iGeneration, Generation Wii, the Plurals or Generation Z – is bound to differ from past generations as they are shaped by technology and the accelerating speed of change.
Some business owners, leaders or managers may want to ignore generational differences and just develop and market a company’s quality products or services to everyone the same way. That, however, is a potential mistake. The more a company is able to understand generational differences and reach those audiences in a way that speaks specifically to them, the more a company’s products or services will resonate… and sell. Thus, understanding the unique characteristics of each generation is essential.
Most sociologists and industrial psychologists believe there are roughly six generations living in the U.S. today. Each spans a period of about 15-20 years, broken down and defined in large part by the key political, social, economic and cultural events of their lives.
Traditionalists & Conformists: The Silent Generation
Born 1927 – 1945
Born 1946 – 1964
Born 1965 – 1980
Generation Y / Millenials
Born 1981 – 2000
iGeneration / Generation Wii / Generation Z
Born 2001 to present
Of course, it is easy to overstate or over-generalize the qualities of a generation. There are certainly some people who will not fit with the generational profile of their age group. That said, the majority of folks of a generation are alike. They have had collective experiences as they aged which shaped them. Therefore, they often have similar ideals. Although a specific person’s birth date may not necessarily reflect their generational characteristics, each generational group tends to share similarities.
GI Generation – Born 1901-1926
The GI generation, comprised of those born at the beginning of the 20th century, was shaped by the major political and economic events of the times. They fought in World War I and World War II, and lived through the harsh economic period of the Great Depression. Shaped by wars and poverty, their core values are sacrifice, savings and hard work.
Having to unite to combat fascism and repair the economy, people of this generation are doers, believing in teamwork to overcome obstacles and make progress. They trust government, big business and each other. Working together, they are credited with saving the world and building a nation, including such projects as the Hoover Dam and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, as well as millions of miles of roads through the country. Indeed, this generation gave rise to labor unions. They are ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
Members of the GI Generation are also champions of frugality and recycling. They saw it all, survived it all, and learned from it all. They know to save for hard times, to live within their means, to buy only when they had enough cash, and to prepare for the worst. They embraced the phrase “Use it up, fix it up, make it do, or do without.” Indeed, they reject debt, preferring to buy with cash. They understand privation, having grown up without such modern conveniences such as refrigerators and air conditioning. Theirs was also the first generation to experience such inventions as radio, airplanes, television and moving pictures.
Their involvement in two World Wars made them community-minded, with a strong sense of personal civic duty. As civic-minded doers, they vote. They also have a very clear sense of morality, with almost no ambiguity about what is right and wrong. In addition to patriotism, they also feel a strong sense of loyalty to jobs, groups, and schools. Most members of this generation also worked at the same company their entire life, and believe that one should work until death. They held their families together, made commitments and kept promises. They value respect and experience.
Selling and Marketing to the GI Generation
The youngest living members of the GI Generation are now in their 90s. For a number of industries — including health care, nursing homes, pharmaceuticals and retirement communities — the GI Generation is a core audience. Attorneys preparing wills and CPAs and Financial Planners doing Estate Planning also see the GI Generation as a key constituency. Understanding the experiences of the GI Generation can help businesses reach them in ways that resonate with their values and beliefs.
For example, professionals providing a service to a member of this generation should address him/her formally, such as “Mrs. Green” or “Mr. Stein”. A pharmaceutical campaign might focus on the company’s commitment to affordable generic medicines which should resonate with the GI Generation’s value of frugality. Similarly, a retirement community might offer accommodations that also include assisted living help for married couples who may have differing care needs but still want to live together.
Of course, giving the advanced age of the GI Generation, many businesses may not see this cohort as key to their sales or marketing efforts. However, it is only by understanding each generation, in relation to the rest, that a business can really begin to focus and tailor its sales and marketing efforts accordingly.
Stay tuned for next week as we take a look at the Silent Generation, those born between 1927 and 1945. The formative years of the Silent Generation came in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasakiduring the height of the Cold War. This generation is now in their 70s and 80s. According to Washington Monthly’s August 2015 article about wealth and the various American generations, “…retired seventysomethings today not only have seen their personal income net worth hold even or even continue to rise, they are also way better off financially than were seventysomethings in the 1990s. Indeed, according to Phillip Longman’s article, Wealth and Generation, “For this birth cohort of Americans, dramatic upward mobility, not stagnation, has been the norm.” Moreover, the Silent Generation has the greatest net worth of any generation in the U.S. today, swapping places with the Baby Boomer generation who held that position before the Great Recession began a decade ago. Indeed, the Silent Generation may be comprised of so-called conformists, but today it is the most affluent generation… one that businesses should be pursuing and cultivating. More about this generation next week!
Quote of the Week
“Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation.”
Past U.S. President Ronald Reagan
© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.