Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sensuality and Sensibility: Marketing to Generations

On one of my writer loops, I came across an interesting discussion about preferences for sensuality in historical romances. As I read the posts, one aspect jumped out at me. Writers from earlier generations sometimes find it objectionable when early 19th century heroines engage too readily in premarital sex . They made the point that prior to the Sexual Revolution, ignorance about sex wasn't at all unusual, even into the late teens.

This got me to thinking that preferences and attitudes towards sensuality in romances, particularly historical romances, may be highly influenced by the reader's generation. That thought reminded me of Generational Marketing. So what is Generational Marketing and what does that mean to writers of romance?

GEN Marketing targets consumers based on the era in which they were born and grew up. Messages are crafted to appeal to particular generations based upon shared values, attitudes, and beliefs. These values, attitudes, and beliefs are thought to derive from the collective experiences of a particular era (e.g., 9/11 is a collective experience). Below are brief descriptions of the modern generations. What generation do you belong to? Do you think that it influences your preferences and expectations for sensuality in a romance novel? Is my analysis spot on or am I missing something?
  1. Mature or Silent Generation - born prior to 1946. Formative influences include the Great Depression and WWII. Values: Believe in established institutions, hard work, and self-discipline. Buying behavior: Conservative, frugal , and brand loyal. Self-sacrifice is a hallmark of this generation. Slow to adopt new products because they grew up in a time of economic hardship. Many, however, are rewarding themselves in retirement for their years of hard work. They prefer tradition in their entertainment and are turned off by controversy. My Analysis: Readers of the Mature Generation are more likely to identify with heroines who are virtuous and embrace traditional values.
  2. Boomers - born between 1946-1964. Formative influences: Early boomers (1st decade) - Vietnam War, the Pill, Free Love. Later boomers (2nd decade) - Watergate, the Women's Movement, Disco, More Free Love. Values: Self-expression not self-sacrifice, Personal Identity - the Me Generation. Think L'Oreal's original slogan: "I'm worth it." Sense of entitlement comes from growing up during prosperous times. They question the "establishment." Buying behavior: Prefer products and services that appeal to their individuality and need for self-fulfillment. Unlike the Mature Generation, they are nontraditional and are probably more likely to embrace new products or product categories. My Analysis: Boomer readers are more likely to think the heroine is entitled to sexual experimentation and think she should question established mores, particularly if it leads to greater self-fulfillment.
  3. GEN X - born between 1965 - 1978. Formative influences: Cold War (Reagan Era), divorce (latch-key kids), AIDs, tumultuous economic times. The PC Generation. Values: Savvy Entrepreneurs. Hard workers. Seek balance not stability. Close-knit family is a high priority (as a result of divorced parents). Technology is a given. Buying behavior: They are skeptical and cynical towards slick marketing pitches (the savvy thing). Prefer marketing messages that are frank, fun, and practical. Their preference is for interactive entertainment. My Analysis: GEN X readers' pragmatism, perhaps even their cynicism (e.g, sex sells), might lead them to expect sensuality in the books. However, focus on family and marriage is likely to have great appeal to them.
  4. GEN Y (Echo Boomers) - born between 1979 and 1991. Formative influences: Electronic everything - iPOD, Blackberry, Cell Phone, Instant Messaging, Text Messaging -- these are all hallmarks of the multi-tasking Millennium Generation. Other influences include presidential scandals, 9/11, and school shootings. There are an estimated 70 million of them, of which 34% are minorities. They are the creation of their boomer parents. Pampered, Over-scheduled with activities, gregarious, high-maintenance, and have a high degree of self-worth. They value creativity and independent thinking, and they search for meaningfulness. Buying behavior: To reach them, you must go where they go (e.g., My Space/Facebook). They are thought to like promotions and contests with free prizes. They are concerned with social issues. In a survey conducted in 2000, Cone/Roper found that 91% of GEN Y youth are attracted to companies and products that support "good causes." Viral marketing (a fancy term for word of mouth recommendations, primarily via the web) appeals to them. Conclusion: Hmmm ... It must be odd for this generation to envision a world without electronics, but as a 2nd decade Boomer teen , I adored Victoria Holt along with TV, my Mustang, and my pink princess phone (no, I'm not joking!). Since GEN Y has been exposed to far more sexuality than other generations, they probably wouldn't object to the proverbial romp in the hay. But it might have more impact if it was a) recommended by a friend, b) all for a good cause, and/or c) meaningful. ;-)

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you.

J. Walker Smith/Ann S. Clurman, "Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing," 1997
Nadira A. Hira, "GEN Y at Work: Attracting the Twentysomething Worker," Fortune, May 2007
Zell Center for Risk Research, "The Risk of Misreading Generation Y: The Need for New Marketing Strategies," 2002
Joanna L. Krotz, "Tough Customers: How to Reach GEN Y," Microsoft Small Business Center online (No date published)
Stephanie Armour, "Generation Y: They've arrived at work with a new attitude," USA Today, 2005


TJ Bennett said...

Vicky, what a fascinating and useful analysis. I've never seen the different generations explained so clearly. Thanks!


Lynn Raye Harris said...

This is fascinating stuff, Vicky! I'm just taking it all in. :) I'm Gen X, and those things were right on the money for me. Interesting...

Kimberly Frost said...


Wow! As expected, you're a wealth of interesting information. Thanks for being The Marketing Diva and for sharing your knowledge with the masses. :)