How Generation Gaps Affect Your Small Business

generation gap

 Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

It seems everywhere you turn online someone is highlighting the differences between the generations. Whether it’s something as innocuous as favorite music festivals and late night talk shows, or as important as retirement planning and access to medical care, the differences between generations can appear to be wider than the Grand Canyon. But for savvy small business owners, the generation gap should be seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

What Is a Generation Gap? 

The concept of generations has existed for centuries, but now more than ever, the differences between them are more distinct and the subject of frequent conversations. The generation gap is a term used to describe those distinct differences as they apply to a variety of subjects, from spending habits to work ethic to problem-solving techniques. As an entrepreneur, generation gaps shouldn’t be viewed as inherently negative, but as an occasion to approach a new customer base from a unique perspective and offer your services in a personalized manner that fulfills their specific needs.

However, businesses must be mindful of how they craft their marketing message if they’re planning to pursue more than one generation as part of their regular customer base. Should the generation gap create a conflict of messaging, some of your customers may view your business as inauthentic and disjointed. Treading that fine line between the generations’ values, politics and perspectives can be precarious, but a thoughtful examination of your customers’ needs and your company’s goals can lead to maintaining a harmonious relationship that only helps your business grow.

Determining If a Generation Gap Affects Your Business

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, the unofficial breakdown for the start and end of each of the six living generations who may be your potential customers are as follows:

generations by year

Now the question becomes, as a small business owner, do you sell a product or service that is intended for only members of one specific generation? For example, does your business offer a service intended for Baby Boomers who are entering retirement in the next five years? Or do you create a product you plan to market only to members of Generation Z who are preparing to attend college in the fall? If the answer is no and you’re not planning to limit your product or service to members of only one generation, then you’ll likely have to address a generation gap in your marketing plan.

Additionally, if you are targeting one specific generation with your business, you also will have to ask yourself, are you a member of that generation? Are you a Baby Boomer marketing to other Boomers? Are you a Millennial marketing to other Millennials? If the answer is yes, your business doesn’t have to address a generation gap issue. But if the answer is no, and you’re not a part of the generation you’re targeting, then a generation gap once again becomes an important element of your company’s marketing plan.

Developing a Multi-Generational Strategy 

Each generation has its own impact on how businesses influence their lives and habits. If your business has no clear limitation in targeting a clientele of a specific generation, then your messaging allows for more inclusivity than competitors who zero in on one age demographic. However, that messaging has to be nuanced so as to not alienate one generation in favor of another. To approach your company’s generation gap, research the details of your industry, design an ideal client description and develop a marketing strategy based on your potential clients’ values and habits.

For example, if you run a rustic B&B, the last thing you want to do is send the message that only members of one age group are welcome, so it’s best to craft a marketing plan that includes advertising amenities that will attract people from across generation gaps. As technological natives, Millennials and young Gen Xers would more likely want to stay at a B&B that has a guaranteed connection to the internet and WiFi access. And as a generation that is less inclined to take their digital devices everywhere they go, proximity to activities like fishing, horseback riding, and canoeing can entice the Baby Boomer set and older Gen Xers who are looking to get away from that feeling of being constantly connected. A marketing brochure that mentions both the WiFi and the outdoor activities would be inclusive of all three generations.

Developing a Strategy for a Generation Other Than Your Own

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that Boomers and members of the Silent Generation are entering retirement and settling into their twilight years. As a result, for those who aren’t on a fixed income, they’re the two generations most likely to splurge on expensive products and services as they see their remaining years as a time to enjoy life to its fullest and to do the things that they never had a chance to do before they retired.

So if your business is targeting an older demographic with an annual income in excess of $75,000 per year, your product or services may be likely to withstand a higher price point and a marketing campaign that features 55+ year-old adults living well-off and enjoying the finer things in life. So even if you aren’t a Baby Boomer yourself, your company can navigate that generation gap with the right market research and shrewd strategic plan.

Finding Common Ground

Remember, each generation is unique in its perspective and values, but there is overlap and room for exceptions, so communication and research are key in finding common ground. While you should use the data outlines here and other generalized statistics about each generation, remember that they are more of a guideline than a rule -- the research you conduct on your target audience in your own business should also be taken into consideration when it comes to developing your marketing strategy.

Regardless of whether you’re creating a marketing plan for a service that benefits multiple generations or you’re delivering a product that’s targeted to an entirely different age demographic than your own, small business owners who learn how to navigate the market generation gaps will likely find their companies succeeding where others fail.