The Age of The Baby Boomer ended in 2003. The torch has been handed to a new generation with new ideas and values. Sure, we Boomers still hold the power at the top, but the prevailing worldview that drives our nation is completely other than the one we grew up with. Businesses that don't get in step with the new world order are going to find it increasingly difficult to succeed.
Being a Baby Boomer isn't about when you were born. It's about how you see the world.
Baby Boomers were idealists who worshipped heroes, perfect icons of beauty and success. Today these icons are seen as phony, posed and laughable. Our cool as ice, suave lady's man James Bond has become the comic poser Austin Powers or the tragically flawed and vulnerable Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity. That's the essence of the new worldview; the rejection of delusion, a quiet demand for gritty truth. We're seeing it reflected in our movies, our television shows and our music.
Baby Boomers believed in big dreams, reaching for the stars, personal freedom, "be all that you can be." Today's generation believes in small actions, getting your head out of the clouds, social obligation, "do your part."
A Baby Boomer anchored his or her identity in their career. The emerging generation sees his or her job only as a job.
Baby Boomers were diplomatic and sought the approval of others. The emerging generation feels it's more honest to be blunt, and they really don't care if you approve or not.
Boomers were driven, self-reliant and impressed by authority. Emergents are laid back, believe in working as a team, and have less confidence in "the boss."
Idealistic Boomers had an abundance mentality, believed in a better world, and were opulent in their spending. Emergents see scarcity, believe in doing what it takes to survive, and are more fiscally conservative.
Based solely on the core values of the emerging generation, here's what I believe we can expect to see beginning to happen during the next 3 to 4 years:
1. A decline among prestige brands such as Rolex, Harley-Davidson and Gucci.
2. The end of "upwardly mobile" as a slang expression.
3. A decline in the effectiveness of traditional advertising.
4. Comparison-shopping to be done increasingly online, though purchasing will remain in brick-and-mortar stores in many product categories.
5. An increase in volunteerism and donor support to socially responsible organizations.
6. An increase in the popularity of labor unions.
7. A decrease in the divorce rate as couples become increasingly committed to family unity and fall less under the spell of idealistic "true love." In other words, we're learning not to have unrealistic expectations of our mates. (Really? Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella were fairy tales…?)
Here's what these things mean to the business owner:
1. Don't count on prestige brands to be the strength of your identity in the future as they have been in the past. Craft your own identity that doesn't depend on the vendor lines you carry.
2. Investigate the values of the new "upscale" customer of tomorrow and get in step with those new values.
3. Focus less on instant-response, promotional advertising and become the store customers think of immediately when they need what you sell. The new trend in advertising is away from hype and romanticism and more toward facts and truth. Moreover, the continuing fragmentation of mass media means your ability to access public awareness will continue to diminish. In the future, customer referrals – word of mouth – will become more important than it has ever been.
4. Have an informative, user-friendly website that allows customers to learn all the details of your product or service they would have traditionally learned from a salesperson. Don't expect tomorrow's customer to call you or come by your store "for more information."
5. Pick a charitable cause you believe in and support it openly.
6. Speak less often to self-image and prestige as a motivating force in your customer. Believe it or not, people are becoming concerned about a world outside themselves.
These are the things that are coming, but remember: Changing too much too soon is almost as dangerous as changing too little too late. The adoption curve of the new values by the mainstream of society began in 2003 and will be complete by mid-2008 or early 2009. You have plenty of time to get in step with tomorrow. But you need to get started today.
Roy H. Williams