Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Generational Issues

The latest Acronym post about Generational Issues got me thinking. I thought about writing a comment, but figured this deserved its own post. I am going to take the contrarian route, maybe spark some discussion. Feel free to tell me I am wrong, or maybe agree with me (as everyone should).

Aren't we making too big a deal about the generational differences? Don't things evolve with the times? As staff turns over and new ideas are introduced, don't they inherently reflect the attitudes and ideas of their particular group?

I know that you want to be proactive and you have to have a plan for the future to make sure you are still viable, but will you really need to change your entire business model? I know that there will be some extreme cases where that will be true as certain products become obsolete, but in most cases it won't.

It is nice to generalize and stereotypes exist for a reason. But not every group is going to change how they do business just because Gen X differs from Gen Y in how they deal with authority or their relationship with their parents.

Don't get me wrong. Understanding the differences can help in many ways. I just feel like we are starting to use the Generations issue as the crux of all planning and strategy, and I don't think we should. It is way too broad and simplistic.

Ok - start the rukus!


Greg said...

Ok Matt, I will bite.

Yes, it is simplistic, but the research and thinking indicates that the difference between how the generations view the world and consume information does have a profound impact. This is certainly the case in marketing.

I believe this goes hand-in-hand with the transition to the Experience Economy. In the past, all generations had the same experience (albeit impacted by their age and personal experience). That is not the case today. Beginning with GenX, consumers are now provided unique experiences and often these experiences are created based on broad common experiences and expectations identified as unique to a specific generation. One question to ask...Is this customization a result of generationalization, or is generationalization a result of customization? They are both a result of technology that allows marketers and researchers to identify and target specific groups of consumers. But I digress.

The fact of the matter is that the generational issue is real. If for no other reason than lots of really smart people are talking about and marketers are spending billions of dollars to make sure that each generation feels unique and special. If you talk about something long enough, it becomes real. But I think it is real. My own experience in both my personal and professional lives has made me a believer.

I believe that there are a collective set of experiences and expectations that are unique to each specific generation and that these unique qualities can be utilized to provide a valuable and worthwhile experience. Whether that is in a workplace, social network, entertainment experience, or association membership.

Yet, you raise a good point. The differences between the generations should not be a crutch. Generational differences are not an excuse, they are a tool!

Matt Baehr said...

Thanks Greg. I think you said it best with:

"The differences between the generations should not be a crutch. Generational differences are not an excuse, they are a tool!"

I just think I am seeing too many excuses and crutches these days.

On another note, don't we risk alienating folks by stereotyping them into their generational mold? Just like what has happened with race and gender generalizations?

Greg said...

Good Point Matt! There is a risk there. I think that is already starting to happen as the generational issue is used as an excuse. If you agree with someting, say..."GenX wants work life balance." Then you probably won't offend. On the other hand, if you say "GenXers are lazy and not committed because they put their family life ahead of their work committments." More likely to offend.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

I think assn execs will get some clarity around these issues with the release of ASAE's new research study, The Decision to Join. I had a chance to read the manuscript yesterday, and I'll be posting a podcast this evening with a few thoughts over on ma blawg.

amk said...

As a gen Xer who is a mid-level staffer in association management, I get offended by the sweeping generalizations made. I am a gen Xer and I still joined ASAE - what is the big deal?

However, I do believe generational changes are a real issue. But all the baby boomers aren't going to retire tomorrow. This will be a gradual process.

Tony Rossell said...

Matt -- I have to agree with you. I have some concerns with the heavey focus on generational issues. Is it really the best way to segment members or customers?

From my experieance, behavior is typically a better predictor of buying than age or for that matter any other demographic characteristic.

So given the choice, I would rather segment my members and customers by what they buy and what they actually do rather than what age they are. Interestingly, very few associations are doing real data mining on their member behavior patterns. Tony