Persuasion Success: How to Appeal to Different Age Groups

“What’s Omaha Beach?”

The twentysomething looked at me expectantly. I frequently tell people that not every persuasion priority should be as difficult as taking Omaha Beach. I’ve said it thousands of times. But this was a first. I realized I had crossed into The Twilight Zone. (Wait, this guy wouldn’t know that reference, either!)

Yes, it seems that a mention of World War II’s D-Day no longer resonates with my audiences. I’ve adjusted my presentations accordingly, which is what you’ll need to do in your persuasion efforts. Whether you are in the cohort known as “Mature” or the one called “Millennial,” it doesn’t matter what your frame of reference is. You need to know your target’s frame of reference.

Although the names and date ranges fluctuate among experts, here are some common generation parameters:

  • Matures were born between 1909 and 1945.
  • Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.
  • Xers were born between 1965 and 1981.
  • Millennials were born between 1982 and 1996 (and later, according to some observers).

Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing summarizes  some of the key differences among age groups exceptionally well.

• Matures often are described as both the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation, as they are defined by the idea of answering a call to duty. They celebrated victory after hard-fought battles (like the one waged on Omaha Beach) and needed to be team players. Education to Matures was a privilege. Living example: Betty White

• For Boomers, individuality reigned supreme. Youth was valued and self-absorption rampant. They were rewarded because they deserved it, and leisure was the primary reason for living.  Education was an entitlement, “now” is more important than “later” and money is meant to be spent. Living examples: Bill Gates, Demi Moore, and Jerry Seinfeld.

• For Xers, success usually means two jobs. And if you really want to get ahead in the world, you must be an entrepreneur. After all, “the man” exists to bring you down. Mention a “program” to Xers, and they’ll wonder if you’re referring to Microsoft Word or Outlook Express. Living examples: Jennifer Aniston and David Beckham.

• Millennials grew up in what some call the “era of the child.” Where in previous generations children were seen and not heard, this generation of kids was put on a pedestal. They typically work well with friends and on teams because they grew up with play dates and other organized social outings. They believe everyone should be rewarded for their efforts and do something not because the boss said so but because it makes sense. Millennials often are called “digital natives” because they are members of the first generation to not know what it’s like to live without the Internet. Living examples: Mark Zuckerberg, LeBron James and Kate Upton.

One generation always seems to like to mock the others. Matures pick on Boomers. Boomers make fun of Xers, and everyone snipes at Millennials. It’s like living in Wisconsin and making fun of people from Illinois. Easy.

Here are the decision-making triggers that drive each generation to act:

  • Matures: It’s the right thing to do.
  • Boomers: It feels good.
  • Xers: You’ll get ahead if you do it.
  • Millennials: It’s just smart to do.

You can learn the age of your targets by asking where and when they went to high school. (I can work that into just about any conversation.) After you receive the answers, tuck that info away for a future generationally appropriate reference. Here are some examples:

  • Class of 1970s: “Man, that idea is going to be the Sony Walkman of your industry.”
  • Class of 1980s: “This project is going to make you look like Tom Cruise in Top Gun.”
  • Class of 1990s: “This idea could be bigger than Nirvana.”
  • Class of 2000s: “It’s important we keep the new product under wraps until the introduction. We don’t want to be accused of spreading fake news.”

Of course, these examples won’t always resonate, but when they do, you’ll see a spark in your target’s eye. Besides, you don’t have to be a 1994 grad to understand the Nirvana reference.

Generational differences matter. One Harley-Davidson dealer I know casually asks customers during their purchase experience for the name of their favorite song in high school. Then when the customer takes delivery of the motorcycle, guess what song is booming through the store’s sound system? The music creates strong, positive feelings about the experience and improves the dealership’s customer satisfaction scores.

Just remember: Every generation has a different frame of reference. For example, to Millennials, a “45” has always been a gun and never a record, and Elton John was never a rock star.

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