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Emotional Branding for the Generations
By: Christine Slomski
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The latest literature on my desk is Marc Gobe’s Emotional Branding. An amazing read chock-full of acute insight, expertise, creativity, and just plain great branding wisdom, I recommend it to everyone. Just finishing the first chapter, I even feel satiated by the robust information Gobe presents his readers with regard to knowing your audience. Right off the bat, there's an in-depth description of Baby Boomers (1946-64) and Generations X (1964-80) & Y (1981-89). Most importantly, Gobe discusses how to brand for these separate segments—and he’s right on the money.
Having worked in public relations prior to branding, I know well the cliché “know your audience” line. But Gobe, from a branding perspective, takes it so much further by delving into the generational segments to find what makes each segment tick emotionally. The perspective has piqued my interest and captivated my attention, which has stirred me to share what I’ve learned.
Baby Boomers: Described as the “Defining Generation,” Boomers experience the world as “Us”, versus “I” (Gen X) or “All” (Gen Y). Composing 30% of the population, Boomers experienced the revolutions of rock and roll, war, sex, protests, hippies, and racial divides. They ‘re a population that wants to keep their youthfulness intact, which is evidenced through the rise of the anti-aging industry, active adult communities (nay on dull retirement communities), and mature men and women on runways.
With a “hard work pays off” mentality, this segment is far less emotional than generations that follow. Campaigns that play on emotional comfort, status, heroism and “I’ve earned it” luxury will reach—and touch deeply—this audience. Tactics embracing the cold reality for Boomers that the economy has disrupted their spending/retirement aspirations will also go far. This group is all about comfort, reassurance and solutions (and remember, they’re afraid of technology).
A brilliant example of branding for this segment is Dove’s campaign, “Real Beauty”, which featured the talents of beautiful and mature women showcasing the Dove cosmetics products. You may recall one print ad that showed a woman in her seventies with the headline, “Wrinkled? Wonderful?” This was a winning approach as it created brand/product reassurance for Boomers who desired to stay young but whose now-depleted savings deterred them from indulgent surgical enhancements (and who also don’t want to see youthful women in anti-aging ads).
Gen X: Clocking in at 17% of the population, this “generation of individuals” knows well an era of heightened pop culture, divorce, gangs/violence/crack, and an age of information explosion. They feel the drive to be independents, influencers, or rebels. Campaigns targeting X’s usually win when they employ nontraditional approaches, fierce sarcasm, style, imagination, and money-driven themes. According to Gobe, if you understand Gen X’s drive to change their world, you’ll understand this generation; they’re a hotbed for transparency, creativity, and flexibility. Above all, they demand respect and equality.
Urban Outfitters has been especially successful in appealing to the likes and tastes of Gen X-ers. From its clothing to its furniture and accessories, nothing really matches, nor is it meant to. Its eclectic, funky pieces and oft times rebellious attitude inspire individuality and stir the imagination. Customers can put together their own collection from a hodge-podge of creative brilliance, thus filling the Gen X desire to be unconventional. And as a population that regards marriage and family with caution, Urban Outfitters’ concept of taking traditional, American appeal and mixing it with a rebellious, underground attitude provides Gen X with a satisfying sense of identity—to be related to but very unlike their parents.
Gen Y: At 28% of the population, the “Warp Speed Generation” is most akin to integration, optimism, unity, and progression. Gen X-ers are also technology indoctrinated, globally minded, marketing savvy, and are most interested in people and the connections they share. To succeed with this crowd, brands have to be able to engage within seconds, as this segment doesn’t stand still.
Generation Y has defined the necessary behavior for brands, which must be highly experiential in order to be engaging. They tell brands what they want and that they want it at 110%! I was recently at a Health & Fitness Expo where a vendor offered visitors a “brand experience tour,” which took me into a well-designed mobile room that featured stunning photos, cooled temperatures, fresh foliage, and an overall feeling of optimum health. I was impressed. I know that when I see this brand’s name in the vitamin/supplement isle at GNC, I’ll be more apt to purchase it over anything else in its category. The experience was over the top for selling health supplements, but it made an unforgettable impact.
A favorite quote of mine, “People won’t remember what you said to them, but how you made them feel,” rings true for everything in the branding world. The more I delve into generational studies and consumerism, the more excited I get about the possibility for one brand to be many things to multi-generations, and I believe it can do this successfully. What’s got my head spinning now is where to go with the newest generation, Generation Z. Predictions, anyone??

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About the Author
Christine Slomski is the brains and beauty of brand strategy at True Perception, a branding agency in Phoenix, Arizona. Follow Christine on Twitter.
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