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Big boom theory.



Three distinct generations are now active in the work force. Your membership, staff, and members' marketplace are more complex than they've ever been. You probably are aware of the increasing influence of the "senior" generation; the power of the "baby boomer" and that generation's aging; and the new generation entering the work force: the "baby buster."

Because of the different major life experiences each generation has had, each tends to have a different set of values, preferences, and attitudes. Each has expectations and desires, and all three simultaneously make demands on you and your association.

Let's examine these generations and how their differences confront and sometimes combine with each other to create a particularly challenging dynamic for professionals serving large populations.

The groups we will examine are the World War II or Depression generation, the baby boom generation, and the baby bust generation.


You probably know that demographics describe the physical attributes of a population group: how old they are, their gender, their educational level, how much they earn, where they live, and so on. The term psychographics refers to demographics of the mind. They describe values, attitudes, and preferences that result from experiences that have shaped a person's view of the world and of his or her position in it. Psychographics can help us understand what promotes differences in behavior within demographic groups.

Remember when you were in high school? There were probably different groups of kids, and you had labels for them. Some called them cliques, others called them clubs. But they really were psychographics subsets.

While the notion of psychographic segmentation is not new, our understanding of its implications is. We need to target programs to segments of our membership that have a natural tendency to be interested in them and to create messages about our programs that match the values of each segment. It no longer may be possible for any association program to try to do a little bit for everybody. That's like spreading peanut butter so thin across a loaf of bread that no matter where you bite you can't taste the peanut butter. The successful association in the 21st century will be one that tries to do less but do it better. The content of and message about what we offer must be matched to individuals, their self-perception, and the values that guide their behavior.

The preboomer

The World War II or Depression generation includes individuals now 55 years of age and older. They are the preboomers. Their formative environment was war and economic depression; their primary focus was on making do without and preparing for a better future.

It's a generation that learned that hard work over time is what ultimately brings reward. It's a generation that feels strongly that you work hard, pay your dues, and then are entitled to a position of leadership and authority.

It's a generation that always had its eye on the future because the present was not a particularly good place to be. It's a group of hard workers with values that we might call traditional: attention to family, attention to country. And it's a generation attracted to institutions that guarantee a modicum of security and stability. The absence of comfort and security is a powerful memory.

Within the World War II or Depression generation there are specific subpopulations, each with different attitudes, preferences, and behavior patterns.

One view identifies three psychographic subgroups. The first we may call the "vitally active." These are individuals who created an identify for themselves by the time they were 40 and will continue to view themselves well into their 80s just as they did at 40. The vitally active are individuals with whom you will continue to have contact. They will be represented in your active membership, in the clientele served by your membership, and in your senior staff.

We call the second psychographic subsegment of the World War II generation the "adapters." These folks are making it--but not easily. They get along with a lot of hard work and a little bit of help from their friends but are still fiercely independent. The primary distinction between the vitally active and the adapter is economic, but there are also significant differences in behavior. You probably will not have a great deal of contact with adapters as members (except to the extent that you and your membership are involved in the provision of health care policies). Do look for more of them in responsible staff positions traditionally filled by younger entry level workers as retirees bring their skills to a new market.

The third subgroup of this generation is the "overwhelmed." As you can surmise, these folks aren't making it. You probably will not encounter this subgroup, but increasingly your association and the industry and professionals that it represents may be called on to assist them.

The baby boomer

Next came the baby boom generation, composed of individuals born between 1946 and 1964. The massive proportions of the largest generation in the history of the United States gave it two primary characteristics.

First, from the experience of a responsive environment, the baby boom generation is quite used to having its own way. Second, this demographic group is even more diverse than the previous generation. These characteristics have engendered a special set of values in this generation.

First, let's examine the impact of that responsive environment. The baby boomer has been served since birth by the marketplace and public policy. Do you remember diaper services that picked up and delivered cloth diapers? These services had a place in the market because of the size of the baby boom in infancy. When the boom generation got a bit older, the cereal industry grew to feed it. The toy industry grew to amuse it. And later, the record industry developed to give teenage baby boomers the ammunition to demonstrate independence from their parents.

As the generation aged, public policy also responded. First, it invested increasing amounts in elementary and secondary education; then, as boomers got older, it shifted those dollars to higher education. As the middle of the boom reached driving age, Detroit responded with the Mustang, the Camaro, and the Z-28. As the boom generation began graduating, dollars flowing to higher education were redirected to economic development so there would be jobs for those graduates. Those dollars were reinvested in health care when the boomers reached middle age and grew concerned. And now those dollars are again being reallocated--this time for long-term and chronic care as boomers face not only their own aging but the aging of their parents.

The boom generation has always had its way in public policy and in a marketplace of job and personal opportunity characterized by prosperity. Boomers are shoppers because they always had choices. They tend to exhibit certain values in the workplace, the marketplace, and the trade associations and professional societies in which they choose to participate.

Baby boomers are a bit schizophrenic. They have a high social conscience and at the same time a strong need to pursue what contributes to their personal development and status. Boomers want to participate in organizations that give them access to activities that are socially worthwhile and contribute to a satisfactory bottom line. They will shop until they find an association that provides both.

Boomers also want to be actively involved in shaping the policies, procedures, and programs of any organization to which they commit. They want to be consulted. They want their contributions recognized and appreciated. This group insists on participatory management and will look for organizations that provide that opportunity. If they don't "own" a decision, they tend not to support programs to implement it.

Notice how different that is from the values of the previous generation, which was more apt to accept judgments made by groups in which it had invested authority. The boomers' self-identity is so tied to their view of themselves as professionals that they are unwilling to give up involvement in making determinations that affect them as professionals. They believe this would dramatically affect their own view of themselves. This is very unlike both the baby buster who follows (who does not see work as the means to a known end) and the preboomer (who sees work as the means to a clearly known end).

But what really distinguishes this generation from those before and after is that it insists on satisfying all of these desires at once. This generation will probably constitute the majority of your membership for at least the next 7-12 years. Let's look at the implications for you as a leader of an association.

Boomer subgroups

N.W. Ayer, a New York City advertising firm, developed a psychographic model that segments the baby boom generation into four groups. Ayer considered two variables that seem to distinguish their behavior: the degree to which they are secure or insecure and the extent to which they are open or closed to new things.

* Achievers. These "satisfied selves" are very secure and open to new things. They have the hot cars, the new computer systems and software, and the latest fashion. They are the risk takers, investors, and strivers. They see themselves on the leading edge of every curve--they're the innovative activists.

Programs appealing to this subgroup will have to do with artificial intelligence or competitive advantage in the marketplace. They will be attracted to committees that create opportunities for them to advance their understanding of effective business practice or their visibility within the business arena. * Contented traditionalists. People in this subgroup are also very secure, but paradoxically, because they are so secure, they tend to be traditional and closed to new things. Contented traditionalists like things the way they are; they're heavily invested in family, actively affiliated with religion, and loyal to traditional values. This psychographic subsegment is most like the previous World War II generation.

Which words will attract this subgroup to an association program or issue? "Preserve, protect, tried and true, guaranteed." What color should the brochure be? Red, white, and blue. Where should the convention be? A family resort that doesn't require the contented traditionalist to choose between the family and the association. * Discontented traditionalists. This group is very much like the contented traditionalists in that it shares a commitment to traditional values. But discontented traditionalists differ in that their behavior tends to be motivated by significant insecurity. They worry about everything. They worry about whether their checkbook is balancing and about environmental disaster. They worry about burglary; they are the single largest purchasers of home security systems in America and a primary market for liability insurance. Members of this group worry so deeply and broadly that they even worry whether they are worrying about the right things.

For that reason, they tend not to be risk takers. They worry about whether there's something they are missing, but they almost always wait for somebody else to go out front and do it first. Now, who would you guess they wait for? Often the satisfied selves. So this group is usually a bit "behind the curve."

To characterize a program or to position the organization on an issue in a way attractive to this subsegment, what kinds of words and phrases would you use? "Reexamine, tried and true, guaranteed." Or, "If you worry about this happening to you, come to this program and learn how to prevent it." Acknowledge and address the anxiety, but don't manipulate. We should reflect the fact that as association leaders we are responsive to the needs and values of the members that we serve. We're reflecting what the population believes is important, not what we tell them they should believe is important. We're creating an opportunity for them to benefit from their active participation in our organization.

The last subgroup is very insecure and closed to new things. Folks who held onto the values of the 1960s, or "neo-hippies" who in the 1980s wanted to return to a '60s-flavor lifestyle, this group has few resources and is unlikely to be active in your association.

Psychographics in real life

Boomer psychographics are already employed by sophisticated product development, merchandising, and marketing groups. A recent series of car ads in some of America's largest news magazines uses glossy pictures of different models of the same car. Consider what's in each ad and which psychographic subsegment the ad targets.

The first pictures a two-seater, silver with a red racing stripe. Two tall, slender blonde adults are driving down a street with a sign off in the distance that says, "mountain cabins--100 miles." Copy on the page touts high-tech instrumentation, computerized braking system, and Italian design. Which psychographic segment of the boom generation have they targeted? Satisfied selves or achievers.

Immediately behind that ad in the same magazine is a slightly different model of the same car. This is a maroon four-door. In the front seat are two brunette adults: one male and one female. In the back are two brunette kids and a floppy blonde pooch. They're driving down a suburban street and a sign says, "Disneyland--12 miles." The copy surrounding this car asks, "Remember when Dad used to take you for drives in the country?" Hitched to the back of the car is a trailer. Which psychographic subsegment are they going for? Contented traditionalists.

In the third ad, the car is a station wagon, maroon with a brown stripe. We see the same set of five heads: two adults, two children, and one cocker spaniel. This time the suburban street is rainy and foggy. In the distance you notice the shape of a woman with an umbrella. She's pushing a baby carriage and stepping off the curb while the traffic light glare is red. "Computerized braking system, passive restraint seat belts, air bag, and a lifetime guarantee on all moving parts of the car," assures the copy. Which boomer market segment are they going after? Discontented traditionalists.

The baby buster

Following the baby boom is a generation we call the baby bust: individuals in their 20s now entering the marketplace, the work force, and your association. Born between 1965 and 1975, this generation had two primary environmental influences: an established market catering to every need and exploding technology.

Because the bust is so much smaller than the boom generation, it is less competitive. All of the positions and opportunities created for the boomers were still there for the busters. In many instances, there were more opportunities available than there were busters to fill them. When members of this group were ready to attend college, schools struggling for enrollment sent postcards notifying them they had already been accepted.

For this generation, work is a means to a yet unknown end. Busters have seldom had to think about where they were going or plan how to get there. The typical baby buster has a well-developed, aggressive sense of entitlement and an expectation that respect and privilege are automatic rather than earned.

Inward-looking but not reflective, busters claim as heroes and heroines not John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, or Golda Meir, but Spuds MacKenzie and Madonna. Their theme song is "Don't Worry, Be Happy." This generation likes to party.

It's difficult to involve this group in social issues. Busters tend to distance themselves from hard work and commitment, and they grew up in an environment of technological miracles. "Don't worry about AIDS; we're only a few years from a vaccine." "Why be concerned about oil spilling on an Alaskan coastline? Somebody will invent an enzyme to eat it up." Busters agree that social causes and crises need resolution but distance themselves from involvement and expect technology or someone else to provide the solution.

On the flip side, this generation matured with a degree of comfort and interaction with technology unlike anything previously experienced. It grew up with a joy stick.

For most busters, the inconceivable--space travel, walking on the moon--is mundane reality. Television has brought the globe to their living rooms, kitchens, dorm rooms, and now their hands. Busters take global interdependency for granted, as events around the globe have occurred routinely 24 inches from their eyes.

Learning and technology

Remember when you learned to use a hammer? You found that a hammer could be more effective than your hand alone. Driving a nail, you learned that the hammer is an extension of your physical strength. You also learned that you controlled it; when the hammer hit the nail, you made it happen.

The baby bust generation has that same understanding about computers, information, and interactive communication technology. As we see the hammer as an extension of our physical strength, this generation sees the computer as an extension of its intellectual capacity. This generation understands that it is responsible for what technology does or does not do.

Like the satisfied selves or achievers in the boom generation, busters like opportunities to interact with knowledge--at their own pace and at times they choose. The experience they are having is often more important than what they are doing.

Learning preferences of the three generations tend to be distinct. The baby boomers like a touch of technology to make a program "sexy" but are just as happy to learn interactively with a group of colleagues and an "expert." Preboomers tend to be most comfortable in learing situations that involve their peers. They are committed to the social network as a source of information because when they were growing up intellectually, they didn't interact with computer-driven video disks.

The baby bust generation challenges association executives who are citizens of another generation. Their expectations and preferences differ widely from those of the generations that designed most associations' programs, products, and services. Successful messages about the benefits of active participation in our organizations are tough messages to construct, but Marshall McLuhan must have had this generation in mind when he declared, "The medium is the message." The baby buster is more attracted by how content is presented than by the content itself.

Busters' double-dare

Perhaps the greatest challenge for all generations is the baby bust generation's divergence into two polarized segments. This generation is emerging with no middle ground. Haves and have-nots are divided by extraordinary differences in the quality of their education. The haves develop the critical thinking skills that will enable them to make decisions and approach any number of tasks. The have-nots are unable to read on a functional level, to add or subtract numbers. They don't know where to find information when they need it, let alone what to do with it. Many believe that every directive on the job is an assault upon what is already a challenged, demeaned, and damaged self-esteem.

The implications of this polarization for all of us as association leaders, aside from the specific impact on our members' industry or profession, are immense. We are challenged to target our services and products to three generations and each psychographic subgroup--all at once.

It's a good thing we have a chance to practice, because some of us believe that the best is yet to come. The baby boomers and busters are having babies. The "baby boomlet" is a generation growing up in an environment much like that of the baby bust, but with parents whose preferences are very diverse and active grandparents whose values and attitudes are also rubbing off. The baby boomlet has extraordinary potential to be almost anything it chooses to be.

These characteristics, attitudes, goals, and desires co-exist in our organizations. They have to be recognized, targeted, and managed to avoid fragmentation of association membership and preserve your association's ability to continue to advance America.

Irving J. Tecker is executive director of the New Jersey Podiatric Medical Society, Moorestown. He has been an association executive since 1955. Glenn H. Tecker is president and CEO of Glenn H. Tecker Consultants, Trenton, New Jersey, and Irv's son. He is the instructor for ASAE's Symposium for Chief Elected Officers and Chief Staff Executives and frequently speaks to associations on the topic of this article.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; the senior, present and new generations of employees and management and marketing
Author:Tecker, Glenn H.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:But I can't even type.
Next Article:CEO salaries in 1991.

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