A guide to inter-generation communications

As people choose to work for longer and the next generation joins the workforce, the age range that makes up any given business is going to be wider than ever before. What does this mean for the B2B communicator?

In 2020, all British workers will be required to work until 66 before qualifying for a state pension. As a millennial (otherwise known as Generation Y), this might seem perfectly normal. But, to the baby boomers this affects, born between 1946 and 1964, the shift is seismic, especially when you consider that in 1960, the life expectancy was only 71, a full 10 years less than today’s average of 81.

This post-World War II generation of mass production was the wealthiest and healthiest generation ever. Influenced by The Beatles and Jack Kerouac, and growing up with early television, the baby boomers were also the first to experience the phenomenon of mass media; think Top of the Pops, the Magic Roundabout and Happy Days. 

To the Traditionalists born before 1946, when the Baby Boomers joined the workforce they may well have been viewed as overly entitled. With recent memories of rationing and sparsely laid out store shelves, the mass consumerism would have been a massive contrast. And so we have our first example of inter-generational conflict, which has continued down the line.

So what of Generation X, the Baby Boomers’ children? Born between 1965 and 1980, television was a fully fledged part of the family for these kids. And so was modern day advertising and marketing. Gen X knows when it is being sold to, and resents the frequency and scale with which it happens. As a consequence, this is a generation of individualists, who resent being told what to do; a generation of cliquish punk rockers or rock ‘n’ rollers, and never the twain shall meet. To the baby boomer, this laid back bunch were lazy and, well, entitled.

And from Generation X we get to Generation Y, born between 1980 and 1999. Also known as the millennials, this generation grew up with even more television, more music, more radio, and, well, more of everything. Like Gen X, they know when they’re being marketed at, but unlike their parents they have made peace with that. So, they choose what they want to listen to, the more obscure the better. The age of mass media, one might say, died with the last millennium.

And finally, Generation Z, the oldest of whom are now 15 and preparing to take their first set of exams. In 2020, many of them will be a part of the workforce, as with the rising costs of university study, work-based training and career progression thereafter will be an increasingly popular option for school leavers.

Viewed by the older generation as having the attention span of a gnat, Generation Z hasn’t yet been given a nickname, but something along the lines of the Internet Bunch would be apt. They have never known a time without the internet, and this means they have never known a time without access to knowledge. These are people who know they can be, do, achieve anything. The possibilities are endless, but their time is not. The brands they choose, the places they work and the people they listen to will be chosen with care, and the rest ignored.

For those of us who work in business-to-business communications, this landscape of change means we have our work cut out. Our job is to get to know people, and then to tell them what they need to know in an engaging and meaningful way. With so many generations in the workplace, and so many routes to knowledge, as communicators we have to become ever more adept at adapting and crafting content to ensure our messages resonate with our target audience.

And therein lies the crux of the next battle faced by communicators and marketeers. Our future is in targeting the who, where and why of an issue, and with the volume of content out there, it’s vital that every message hits its target first time; there are no second chances. To do that successfully you need to know your audience, all five generations of them.