business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Every now and again you see news items that suggest big trends, especially for the food industry, which deals with every demographic group’s needs, desires and realities. The Washington Post story about older people staying in the workforce longer, a story Kevin highlighted last week, strikes me as one of those moments.

The reality is that the two largest generational groups ever produced in the United States - the Baby Boom and their echo also known as Gen Y and Millennials - are heading for a collision in the job market, the supermarket and everywhere else. And businesses had better start thinking about how to cope with this situation as both marketers and employers.

As the Post story detailed, Boomers are staying on the job well past usual retirement age for a combination of reasons. Many find themselves reaching age 62 or 65 with limited resources because of diminished value in their homes and 401k accounts thanks to the economy. Minus the pension plans of past generations, many Boomers have no choice but to continue working, while others simply feel too young to retire. One consequences of this is that younger workers are struggling to enter the workplace because of the economy and because aging Boomers aren’t getting out of the way.

But that’s really only part of the story. We Boomers are a special generation, at least in our own estimation. Our massive numbers overwhelmed everything we faced in life from the maternity wings where we arrived through school, housing and more. We were the generation that insisted on attention, that told our parents we didn’t trust anyone over 30 and tried to shatter every societal and historical norm we could find.

So how shocking is it that we won’t age the way other generations did. I’m probably pretty typical of this: I’m old enough to belong to AARP and get special discounts at IHOP. Yet I’m a regular Facebook user, download Lady Gaga songs, watch “Family Guy” and basically reject any notion that I am aging ... even though I can pull a muscle brushing my teeth.

Here’s the thing: most marketing is geared at the younger generation. Whether it’s for movies, cars, beer, clothes or whatever, youth rules. Only now that could be a critical mistake. The reality is that there are a lot of Boomers and Millennials; population estimates are 77 million of the former and 80 million of the latter. Millennials may be coming into their traditional family rearing age and therefore find themselves in need of more goods and services, but Boomers - like the generation before them - have more resources to spend. Essentially, no business will succeed without attracting both. In fact, we might see companies that creatively attract both winning big in years to come. Consider the possibilities...

Marketing will have to find ways to skew both young and old. Sure some products or services will have a perfect niche with one group or the other, but retailers and basic food product manufacturers will have to walk a fine line to appeal to both. This may explain why Ad Age recently reported on a group of 60-something ad executives who are starting their own firm. They could find themselves heavily in demand soon.

Likewise, as employers we might need to find creative ways to deal with aging, and with Boomers who still want to work and Millennials who need jobs to get on with their lives. It may be a time to rethink job sharing or how to best use mentoring to build bonds between the generations so that skills and institutional strengths can pass from one to the other.

One Boomer once sang: The Times They are A Changin’.

And a Millennial wrote: Waiting on the World to Change.

Business thinking had better change with both of them.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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