July 17, 2021

I don’t know about you, but whenever people talk about the “alphabet soup of generations” (X, Y, Z…with Boomers and Silent right behind them), I get confused…and I also get annoyed with all the stereotypes associated with each one.

And then this appeared in my In Box last week:

Gen Z: The New Entrepreneurs

According to a study by the Center for Generational Kinetics for WP Engine, 62% of Gen Zers—those born between 1996 and 2015 (or so, depending on which definition you use)—have started or intend to start their own businesses. They are optimistic and have a high level of digital literacy, choosing “technology first” as their type of business.

Does an “optimistic” lemonade stand (e.g., one that uses positive and hopeful lemons) …with high level of “digital literacy” (e.g., accepts PayPal AND Venmo for payments) … count as a Gen Z startup?

Not that the “kids” who are part of Gen Z (ages 7 to 24 in 2021) can’t be “entrepreneurial” …but that almost two-thirds of this group “have started or intend to start their own businesses” sounded like a bit of a stretch. 

At 24 years old (max) for current Gen Z’ers, doesn’t it feel like we might be jumping the gun a bit? Certainly for the 7 year olds.

After reading about these latest and greatest entrepreneurs, I went to The Google and found this chart to get further clarification on defining the various generations:

The first thing I learned from this is that Millennials are the same as Generation Y…which I’m sure all of you knew but I forgot…and not that it matters.

And the “Silent” generation–often called “The Greatest Generation” (because they saved the world from tyranny and made it through The Great Depression), reminded me that there has also been a lot of great since then…with more diversification as each subsequent generation has emerged.

My observation after finding this chart is that it’s just too easy to classify people based on their birthdates…and while it can be instructional, that doesn’t mean that a “defined generation” (people born during a 15–20-year period) is homogenous either.

More importantly for us, what does this have to do with direct marketing? 🙂

I went back in my archives to find a post I wrote three years ago titled, “Your smart phone won’t reverse aging” which talked about marketing to Gen Y.

I will copy and paste some of that here (with specific updates now that I know that Gen Y is the same as Millennials and that everyone in every generation contains humans who buy stuff). 🙂

I spent much of my marketing career targeting a “mature” demographic (55+ would be on the young side, 65+ more the norm, and 75+ not out of the ordinary).

Now I know how to label them—The Silent and The Boomers.

And hardly a week went by during all of those years without someone lecturing me about the dangers of having an audience that is “too old.”

Some even went morbid reminding me that my best customers were close to the grave—meaning that we better go after a younger audience or die a painful death ourselves.

However, I always addressed this worry in a different way (and I still do):

“We don’t have to go younger…we just need to be ready for the new 50 and 60-year-olds when they are ready for the kind of information we provide.” 

And now that I know Gen Z are the “New Entrepreneurs” we need to be ready for them in new and different ways just as we have been ready for Gen X and Gen Y. 

But not necessarily with new content and products but more in terms of updated content and innovations on previous products…always with an eye towards new delivery systems.

Also: When anyone warns the marketers I work with today about their vulnerability because they are targeting seniors, I don’t dismiss them…I just remind them that this audience has, in abundance, more of what we all want our potential customers to have:

Time and money.

That goes for today’s Silents and Boomers…and tomorrow’s Gen X, Y and Z.

With the average lifespan of most Americans only getting longer, there are many more “young 75-year-olds” than ever before. 

The reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated…and the longevity of these folks going forward will make 75 the new 55. It already has to a large extent.

However, I am not naïve.

Many seniors are on fixed incomes and many are not as “spunky” as they get older…which could make them less active buyers. 

But then again, not everyone under 50 is super rich…and many people under 50 are less spunky in terms of their attention span.

Not to mention the (lack of) attention spans on the horizon with Gen Z. 

Making sure your audience can afford what you are selling needs to be handled in list segmenting at any age; and grabbing their attention is still about great story and copy at any age too.

Despite being loyal to my senior audience (and respecting my elders), my defensiveness led to curiosity (and some research) into the other end of the demographic spectrum, specifically Millennials/Gen Y.

It’s still too soon to begin to attack Gen Z… but I’m watching those lemonade stands very closely.

I became fascinated with “marketing to Millennials” since I knew so little about it.

With so many people telling me that I was missing the boat by not exploring this market further, I needed more info.

Both of my kids are part of this generation and I define it like this:

“I will never hear from my kids unless I text them.” 

E-mail is so 1999. 

I learned that, in general, Millennials (which have some similarities to “Generation X”) have less time to be engaged with long copy…and less money to buy stuff too. 

Nothing too revolutionary there.

And I don’t have to give you any numbers regarding the ownership and use of smart phones by this generation. It’s no joke that Siri is considered an intimate partner for many.

The best marketers (especially those targeting a younger audience) always focus on how their online promotions and designs will appear on mobile which is legitimate and important.

They will need more advanced mobile displays for sure…but not at the expense of appropriate content.

My direct marketing sensibilities always go to three basic questions:

1) Who is buying?

2) How are they buying?

3) What do we need to know going forward to be as effective as possible with our marketing messages so they continue to buy in the future?”

My kids (and young adults like them) are buying something.

In my case they are mostly using MY credit cards.

And technology plays a huge part in all of this.

And it might be the case that if marketers are not selling to them through a text message (or something equally short and sweet), good luck getting their attention.

The explosion of SMS marketing and succinct messaging on Facebook are solutions to this issue (among many other media choices and formats).

But I will go out on a limb and repeat that there are some counter trends we should pay attention to as well.

Multi-channel marketing (i.e., looking at all media, online and offline) and multi-platform selling (i.e., the precise way we communicate with prospects) need to be looked at more closely going forward…as does the future messaging for this up-and-coming audience.

Simply put, a 30-year-old today will be a 60-year old thirty years from now. 

Trust me. I did the math.

They will have more technological dexterity than the 60-year-olds of today when they get there but I believe they will still have similar needs and emotions (i.e., some things do not change from generation to generation).

I am not anti-technology…but I am in favor of meeting the Millennials (and all future generations) where they will need to be met once they are all buying stuff with their own money.

Dare I say too that the “stuff” that we buy now… and “stuff” (maybe in a different form) that our parents and grandparents buy/bought as well…is also “stuff” that 20-year-olds of today will eventually need too.

Believe it or not, every Gen X, Y or Z in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s today will someday (sooner than they think) need to think about things like estate planning, saving for retirement,  life insurance, college funding for their kids…and yes, even their clogged arteries.

And if they look like us when they are 60, many will also be pre-diabetic and facing all of the aches and pains of aging. But of course gluten-free. 🙂

Also (believe it or not), their mortality rate will be 100% just like every generation who came before them.

A smart phone does not reverse the aging process. 

Simply put, financial and health issues are only two universal subject areas that will have as much relevance in the future as they do today. There are many more.

The challenge for us as marketers will be to deliver information in a form that they are most comfortable receiving it.

It could be on the I-Phone of 2045…but I would suggest that we should keep an open mind on format and design…and still focus on the message and the content being the most compelling (and relevant) we can deliver (i.e., make content your highest priority).

The words and the information will still need to make our audience vibrate through personalization and relevance.

The words and the information must be useful, practical, and applicable and in language that is understandable by everyone in the cohort.

How we deliver information in the most powerful way to a generation that is totally distracted is the ongoing adventure and inquiry.

A very successful entrepreneur and marketer I know shared with me a key insight after studying Millennials as a marketing target.

He changed his focus to be more about design over copy so his company is prepared for this generation going forward. 

I think that’s smart…but a little dangerous too.

Another respected marketer who has a younger audience talked about moving from 70% of his creative staff being copywriters and 30% being designers to the other way around—also forward thinking but I hope this drastic shift doesn’t compromise the quality of the creative and copy.

When today’s Millennials come looking for the same, critically important information their parents needed when THEY reached 50 or 60, it will need to be packaged differently (“design”) …but it is still critical information they need…and it will NOT be delivered on just “one thing” or “one format” or “one smart phone” or “one funnel.”

In addition, every channel will also create diversification when you figure it out with your audience.

We all cringe way too often these days as lazy marketers go for the quick buck and replace proper list selection, well-crafted offers and innovative messaging with technological wizardry.

To that point, I read an article from someone who even went so far as to say that the “40/40/20 rule” (redefined as the “41/39/20 rule” in Chapter 4 of Overdeliver) is now a “25/25/25/25 rule.”

That is, instead of the success of any direct response marketing campaign, online or offline, depending 40% on the quality and relevance of the list, 40% on the offer being made to that list, and 20% on creative/copy, this marketer said those three things were 25% each to make room for “25% technology.”

I don’t want to diminish the importance of technology in this equation (since it’s also so critical for Gen Z’ers as they become “The New Entrepreneurs”), but I will quote advertising pioneer Bill Bernbach here (as I did in both of my books):

“Adapt your techniques to an idea, not an idea to your techniques.” 

(More about the 40/40/20 rule in the P.S. below if you have not heard me on it before).

I know I probably sound like a Luddite (and a broken record) but my gut tells me it’s still all about the right message going to the right audience with the right offer. 

And that applies to every generation, from The Silent (Greatest) to Gen Z (who will also be another version of The Greatest).



P.S. One of the most important voices to Millennials is my buddy Ramit Sethi…he’s teaching life skills to his audience that they never learned in school, about finance, running a business, marketing and even copywriting.

I was interviewed some time ago for his “Growth Lab” which advises his tribe about building an online business; and frankly, my message would have been the same if I was talking to an older audience rather than Ramit’s.

During the interview I was reminded about some “basics” myself…it’s a pretty quick read. 

I repeated some of my greatest hits including “40/40/20.”

You can read it here.

I also have a short video (it’s around 5 minutes) titled “When 41% is a majority.”

Click here to watch it.

P.P.S. A friend who heard I was writing a post about marketing to Millennials, sent me this wonderful video (it’s short and fun…and catchy)!

I thought you would enjoy it too.

Click here to watch it. Feel free to sing along.

And when the video comes out about Gen Z, I will be sure to share that with you as well…I will title that post:

“From coffee shop entrepreneur to lemonade stand entrepreneur” 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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