A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
Straight Talk about Diversity and
What works for one group may hurt
sales with another.
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (May 18,
Why are diversity and demographics so important
Our country is so generationally diverse, and this diversity is
defiantly having an impact on businesses. Today we work with five
very distinct generations: Generation Z, the Zeds, kids who think
being connected to one another is a birthright; the Millennials, the
oldest of whom are out of college and are raising families of their
own; Generation Xers, who began to hit the big 40 in 2005; Baby
Boomers, the oldest are now 63; and LOMLOTs™ (our term for those
of us of retirement age and better; it stands for Lots Of Money,
Lots Of Time).
Oh! We almost forgot the latest generational marketing term: the
50 + Zoomers. Zoomers are Americans aged 50 plus; they are a
combination of Baby Boomers and LOMLOTs™. There's a lot to keep
track of because each unique group has a very different point of
What are the two most significant developments you see coming in
diversity and demographics that will directly impact businesses and
We are a country of opposites. There are 73 million Millennials
and 140 million Americans aged 50 plus. This has a huge affect on
everything we do going forward. Customization will have a new
meaning because each customer group has very diverse needs.
In our speaking business, for example, Millennials want one kind
of meeting: they're on top of technology and they expect to find
technology in use at school, at work, and at the conferences they
attend. They have a huge ability to multi-task and they tend to get
bored easily. The oldest Millennials are already changing the way we
At KIZER & BENDER Speaking!, we do our own research; we
conduct a number of consumer focus groups each year, and the
Millennials never cease to amaze us. We like to do live focus groups
at trade shows, the Millennial panels are our favorite. At a recent
show the audience was made up of retailers and vendors both
attending and exhibiting at the show. The things the panel shared
knocked us "older folks" right out of our comfort zones.
One vendor had just introduced a new line of goods by Martha
Stewart. A retailer, not sure if she should buy the line for her
store, asked the panel which celebrity icons they pay attention to.
"Not Martha Stewart," the panelists said, almost in
unison. "Well, then who?" the retailer asked. The answer:
A Millennial's life goes 24/7. They have never known a world
without computers or the Internet. Georganne has two Millennial
children. Watching them do homework is a dizzying experience. The TV
and iPod are running in the background. The computer is screen is
popping with IMs, their cell phones are bursting with text messages,
and the house phone is ringing off the hook. Toss in an Xbox Live
game in progress, MySpace, Facebook, a couple of other open blogs,
and a whole bunch of Tweets and you'll begin to get the picture. Can
you see why a class or crop or training session that Baby Boomers
are used to can put a Millennial to sleep?
Gen Xers and Zoomers use email to communicate; Millennials think
email is for parents and teachers; they prefer text messaging. But
you'd better not even think about sending a Millennial a text unless
you have their permission: they make it perfectly clear that texting
is for friends and family only.
We met a college administrator after one of our keynotes who told
us she sent an email to all students alerting them that school would
be closed for the day. Still, students came to class. Then they
demanded to know why the school could not communicate with them they
way they want to communicate – via a text message.
Growing up with these advantages has caused some big changes in
how Millennials process information. In fact, the experts say that
instead of linear thinking – A to B to C – a Millennial's
thought process "moves randomly among a series of points before
integrating into a conclusion."
This all-over-the-place thinking allows them to process
information faster, and allows for greater absorption of
information. It is also likely to drive the rest of us crazy. You
ask a Millennial a question, expecting a simple answer, only to find
yourself worn out trying to follow his/her logic. They may have MTV
attention spans, but they're brilliant kids. And The Zeds will be
Millennials have also grown up making big decisions for the
family ("What color mini-van would you like, honey?") and
they have been taught to question everything. This will be something
we will all have to dance to more and more as the Millennials begin
to join our ranks as workers and shoppers.
Gen Xers can go in either direction. They want technology, too
but they also want the cushy creature comforts Zoomers want as well.
A Wall Street Journal article a few years ago reported
that Generation Xers are getting tired of trendy and are moving
toward more comfort, better service, and less attitude. Here's an
excerpt from that article by Darren Everson:
"The W Chicago City Center has a stylish lobby and chic
guest rooms, with 350-thread count sheets and marble bathrooms. But
it doesn't have a bar Frank Bynum feels comfortable in, or even a
phone he can understand.
"When traveling, the University of Southern California law
student usually likes to grab a drink in the hotel bar before bed.
But when he stayed at the W in December, he skipped it. The hotel's
Whiskey Blue bar, with its mirrored walls and clubby scene, was so
trendy, he says, he felt he would've had to dress up.
"Then there was the phone. Instead of typical buttons for
the fitness center or the valet, it had 'Sweat' and 'Wheels.'
"'I couldn't figure it out for a couple of minutes,' Mr.
Bynum says. 'I was like, I just want my car.' Next time, he says, he
just wants a Westin.
There's a backlash brewing against boutique hotels. While brands
like Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.'s W are still
thriving, they are finding that some customers – even once loyal
ones – are getting tired of their tragically hip ways. Generation
X consumers, the traditional target market, are aging and their
priorities are changing. Once smitten with trendy furnishings and
achingly cool bars – and unfazed by inferior amenities, tiny rooms
and snooty hotel staff – boutique customers increasingly say
they're just as interested in good service and a good room as they
are in style."
This trend makes us wonder if 40 is the magic number. Gen Xers
began to hit the big 4-0 in 2005. Maybe once we reach that ripe, old
age words like "comfy" and "exceptional customer
service" become more appealing? And maybe in the end, we'll
find that the Baby Boomers and the Generation Xers aren't so
different after all.
The second challenge is accommodating the Zoomers.
We speak a lot in Las Vegas; in fact, we joke that it's our
second home. One day we were walking through the Paris Hotel and
Casino when we stopped to watch a group of 50-something female
conference attendees trying to navigate their way down the
cobblestone streets. They weren't intoxicated, they were merely
trying their best not to catch a heel and lose their balance on the
uneven stone flooring. Maneuvering the flooring is just one
challenge for the Zoomers.
We first began preparing our audiences for the aging of America
back in 1992, yet we're still not seeing many businesses making
dramatic changes to accommodate these important consumers.
Zoomers aren't old, they're in the prime of their lives. They are
healthy and happy, and far richer than any other generation; in
fact, Zoomers control more than 70% of the wealth in the United
Here's the thing: Zoomers don't look old and we (we're Zoomers,
too) don't act old, but we have special needs that we won't ever
tell you about. We are slowly seeing retailers make changes in their
stores to accommodate older customers. Larger parking spaces, larger
price labels, wider aisles, floors that are non-skid even when wet,
plenty of places to sit down, shopping carts with built-in seats so
shoppers can relax whenever and wherever they like, and brakes to
keep them steady while loading the car.
These changes make sense for all generations. Parents juggling
children while trying to shop, arms loaded with product, will
appreciate these extra conveniences as well. The question is not
will businesses need to make these changes, but when.
Can you offer a couple of "real life" examples of how
these developments are, or will, play out? How should
people/associations/businesses will respond to these developments?
For the Millennials we are going to have to get hipper. Fast.
Read their magazines, watch their TV shows, and listen to their
music. You don't have to be the same age to connect with them, but
you can't fake it either. And it's dangerous to do so.
McDonalds ran an ad campaign a couple of years ago that read,
"Double cheeseburger? I'd Hit It" as part of the "i'm
lovin' it" campaign. The problem was that "I'd hit
it" is slang the copywriter obviously didn't understand. To
"hit it" with someone means to have sex with that person.
As soon as that ad hit the streets the blogs went crazy. It was an
So, those of us who are not Millennials have a lot of homework to
do – daily – to keep up. Every company and organization needs a
VP of Pop Culture. Each month, Georganne buys every
pop-culture-driven magazine and reads them from cover to cover. She
can tell you more stupid stuff about celebrities than you'd ever
want to know. And she's all over the blogosphere. We can't begin to
tell you the number of times this has helped us connect with our
audiences. It's a commitment, but today it's a necessary one.
For Zoomers, the path is a little clearer. Here's a checklist of
things to think about:
Place items you want Zoomers to reach at easily reachable
heights. One third of the adults in the U.S. have some degree of
osteoarthritis in the foot, knee, hip, or hand. By age 65, this
percent increases to 75%. We all have to be on the lookout for
customers trying to get at something they can't reach, and help them
accordingly. And vendors, can aging hands easily open your
Presbyopia, a disease that affects our ability to see clearly up
close, kicks in at around age 40. Those Zoomers (and Gen Xers)
wandering your store or perusing your brochure may be missing key
information. Know what people lose or forget the most? Their reading
glasses. We recommend businesses place baskets of reading glasses in
various magnifications at service counters and other key areas. We
travel with a bunch of reading glasses for attendees to use on the
honor system in our presentations. Add your company name to the
template and fun reading glasses could be a cool promotional
If large numbers of customers need reading glasses, then it's
safe to say that large numbers also wear bifocal glasses. When you
wear bi-focals, you have to choose which part of the lenses to look
through.The top part helps you see far away, and the bottom helps
you see close up. This means that at any given time, signing or
product displayed below eye level is invisible to these customers.
Do you have important product or information housed near the floor
that needs to be moved to a higher location on the fixture so
customers can actually see it?
Pump up the type size currently used on signing, brochures,
newsletters, and other point-of-purchase (POP) materials. These
materials are designed to help customers make good purchasing
decisions when there is no one around to help out. If they can't
read the materials, no one wins. Take a hard look at your own
signing and POP materials: can older eyes easily read what's
important? Size 10 type font is commonly used in publications, but
most people can't read it without out their glasses. Some cannot
read it even with their glasses. Size 14 type font makes more sense
for most applications.
When it comes to signing, the bigger the better. Store planners
recommend you take the average age of your oldest customers and
divide it in half; that's the smallest size you can use in signing.
As we age, it gets harder to adapt to different lighting. We've
been in too many hotels, restaurants, classrooms, and stores that
are unbelievably dark. This makes it tough for anyone to see, and
tougher still for aging eyes that need two to three times more light
to see as clearly as younger eyes. Yet, places that are too bright
can also cause problems for Zoomers. The lightening in convention
center and hotel meeting rooms, for example, is usually not as
accommodating as it needs to be; this is having a huge impact on our
presentations. We need more flexibility.
Look for spots on your sales floor to add a bench or two. Zoomers
appreciate a place to just sit and relax awhile. Younger customers
will enjoy these rest stops; Zoomers will depend on them.
Retailers love shiny floors, but shiny floors scream trouble for
older people who do not want to risk a fall on what appears to be a
slippery surface. Look down the next time you visit the mall and
count the sneakers. We're seeing more and more. When it comes to
flooring, one made from non-slip material is a sure bet.
Closet-sized restrooms might be standard on airplanes, but they
are not acceptable anywhere else. Restrooms should be large enough
to be comfortable, and large enough to be safe. A retailer told us
about a woman who slipped in her restroom and became wedged between
the wall and the toilet. There was not enough maneuvering room for
the customer to easily free herself. She was lodged in there alone
for 20 minutes before someone found her and helped her out.
And in his book, Age Wave, Dr. Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D,
founder and president of Age Wave, a company that studies population
aging and its implications on our culture, points out that our world
had been built to the form and fit of a 20-something body. Think
Zoomers are comfortable sitting for hours in those hard little
chairs found almost everywhere?
How are organizations using customer research to define and adapt
to demographic changes?
Research only works when it is actually used. We've seen the home
building industry grab this demographic information and run with it.
Builders of all kinds (not just so-called "senior"
communities) are doing things to make Zoomers more comfortable in
their own homes. Gold Violin has introduced a line of products to
help aging consumers help themselves – QVC does entire shows on
this product to sell-out success. The automotive industry is moving
forward as well. Disney even offers a program to help Zoomers plan
all kinds of reunions at their theme parks and hotels.
What training should organizations be implementing to anticipate
changes in the workforce?
You cannot afford to be arrogant and think that you know what's
best for your customers without asking them. One size does not fit
all. Men cannot make decisions about what's right for a woman; a
Millennial cannot not make decisions about what's right for a Gen
Xer or a Zoomer, and visa versa. But they can be close if they do
their homework. Advisory boards that are made up of your ultimate
consumer are a good idea for every business. If you want to get it
right, you have to go to the source.
Generational diversity training is also necessary so we can all
understand each other and be able to communicate clearly. There's no
wiggle room here: what works for one generation is Kryptonite to
another. For example, if you say to a Zoomer, "We need to think
about completing this project." the Zoomer will complete the
project. Say the same thing to a Millennial and he or she will think
about it; after all that's what you said. Millennials are more
literal, so you need to communicate that way. Zoomers do not like
casualness; they expect to be treated with respect.
We have a client who has us come and do our "Generation
Speak" program each year. We share what formed each generation,
what they like and what drives them nuts. It's fun and it's
eye-opening. Every generation is represented and the interaction as
they question on another – "Why do you DO that?!" – is
Zoomers tend to are define themselves by what they do – we live
to work. Millennials and Gen Xers see it a little differently –
they work to live. Ask them to define themselves and they are just
as likely to talk about their family or favorite hobby. We can all
get along famously if we just take a little time to explore what our
customers want and give it to them just that way!
1. TNNA Show, Indianapolis. "Creating Connections:
Straight Forward Solutions for Uncertain Times," Sun., June 14,
6:45 pm. (Open to all needlearts groups.) Visit www.tnna.org.
2. CHA Summer Show, Orlando.
A."4th Quarter Calendar: EVERYTHING You Need to Run
In-Store Events that Build Sales!" Mon., July 27, 2:00-3:00 pm.
Business Seminar S103
B. "Retail Rescue: How to Find Opportunity in Tough
Economic Times," Tues., July 28, 12:00-1:00 pm. Business
C. "Stories of Triumph & Success: Meet Successful
Independent Retailers and Learn What They Do Right!" Wed., July
29: 12:00-1:00 pm. Business Seminar S112. Visit www.chashow.org.
(Note: Professional speakers, authors, and consultants,
Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender are nationally recognized experts
on customer diversity, marketing & promotion, and everything
that affects and interacts with consumers in the retail environment.
Each year Kizer & Bender speak to thousands through their
"Retail Adventures in the REAL World™" keynotes and
seminars. Their unique consumer insights are widely featured in the
media, including the ABC National News special report, "How
Stores Hook You." Their book, Champagne Strategies on a Beer
Budget!, has helped thousands of retailers improve their bottom
line, and their "Retail Adventures™" Blog is
visited by tens of thousands of readers each month. In 2004 they
were named two of the "Most Influential People in Retail
Today," and their popular magazine column, "Georganne
& Rich on the Road," won the American Society of Business
Publication Editors (ASBPE) Award of Excellence in 2004 and again in
You'll find thousands of strategies, tactics, tips. and
techniques to help you grow your business on their Retail Adventures™
They mean it when they say to call if you want to talk about your
store. They know how tough it is right now, and they're happy to
brainstorm ideas with you – they want you to succeed! To read
previous articles by Rich and Georganne, click on the titles in the
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