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Straight Talk about Diversity and Demographics

What works for one group may hurt sales with another.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (May 18, 2009)

Why are diversity and demographics so important today?

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 view.

What are the two most significant developments you see coming in diversity and demographics that will directly impact businesses and individuals?

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 do business.

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: Rachael Ray.

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 even smarter.

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 States.

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 expensive mistake.

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 packaging?

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 give-a-way.

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 priceless.

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!

Upcoming Seminars.

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 Seminar S106

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 2006.

You'll find thousands of strategies, tactics, tips. and techniques to help you grow your business on their Retail Adventures™ blog: http://www.kizerandbender.blogspot.com. 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 right-hand column.).




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