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Understanding the generations drives marketing

April, 2024

Much is made about Generation Z – but, asks Maxim's Managing Director Andrew Metcalf, are they really any different from those generations they’ve followed? We’ve all experienced change, may be the pace of it has been different, but understanding each generation, what motivates them and their lived experience makes for better marketing. 

I was at the first Medway Business & Skills Showcase where there was a panel discussion about how to help Gen Zs thrive in business; it was all about flexibility, communication and understanding the pace of change, and the world we all live in.

As a baby boomer, a product of the 60s (no, I know I don’t look it) the event got me thinking – are we really that different? We’ve all seen change as we’ve moved from analogue to digital. I left university a vegetarian eager to set up a wholefood shop – in today’s world I’d be called a tofu-eating leftie member of the wokerati. I’d marched in support of the miners and CND, so nobody could accuse me of not thinking about the world I lived in, and displayed many of today’s Gen Zs traits.

We had the highs of “One giant step…”, the lows of the Cold War and an uncertain future with the threat of nuclear annihilation, only to come out the other side with the collapse of the USSR and the Berlin Wall; 70 years of peace in Europe, and eventually peace in Northern Ireland.

It’s shocking to think that I’ve lived in seven different decades, two different centuries and two separate millennia. Once analogue, my life is now fully digital, and that brings with it other pressures.

I’ve gone from making calls using a rotary dial telephone while sat on a stool in the hall of the house or kiosk, or even reversing the charges via the operator, to now being able to speak via video call from anywhere in the world, with unlimited texts, calls and data.

My family’s slide projector and holiday snaps from Prontaprint have been replaced with camera phones and Instagram. We’ve gone from vinyl to streaming music, and in some cases back to vinyl. Handwritten postcards and letters have been replaced with email and WhatsApp – and to a large extent most of us have coped with that change.

I’ve gone from black and white TV and three stations, to colour TV, briefly to 3D, and now on to UHD television. VHS beat Betamax, and the once iconic Blockbuster store succumbed to streaming platforms, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple, Disney+, etc.

Andrew Metcalf pictured with his dad in 1964.

My Dad did his best to teach me coding on a ZX Spectrum, but I was thankfully saved by Apple with my first office computer, a 1mb RAM Macintosh Plus. Floppy disks are a thing of the past, as are memory sticks, with all our gigabytes and megabytes of data now swirling around our metaphorical heads in the cloud, accessed from our laptops, smartphones, or even our watches. 

We grew up in a world where, unlike our parents and grandparents, we’d dodged the likes of measles, meningitis, polio, tuberculosis and whooping cough, thanks to our once open-minded approach to vaccination. Unfortunately, that’s all changed, and we’ve had to face down COVID-19 despite the best efforts of the anti-vaxxers (my personal opinion before anyone hits the keyboard).

Our once carefree lives of jumpers for goals and playing football on the streets, roller skating, skateboarding and bicycles all without helmets is, for me, a distant but happy memory. The older we got, the more risk averse we’ve become as a nation – and that’s not a good thing.

While we mustn’t look back through rose-tinted nostalgic glasses, we also need to recognise that every generation experiences societal change. The labelling of each generation by the period of birth is a good place to start to start the conversation. However, when it comes to marketing, rather than pigeonhole us all, wouldn’t it be sensible to also look at the emotional traits we share across the generations, as many marketers do, in order to learn from each other’s experiences and what motivates us? 

Andrew Metcalf - Director

Andrew Metcalf

Maxim / Managing Director

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