Seth Mattison, keynote speaker for Sonoma, Calif.-based BridgeWorks, explains generational differences during an Oct. 26 workshop at Fresh Summit 2012 in Anaheim, Calif.
Seth Mattison, keynote speaker for Sonoma, Calif.-based BridgeWorks, explains generational differences during an Oct. 26 workshop at Fresh Summit 2012 in Anaheim, Calif.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — With four generations participating in today’s business world, understanding the characteristics, wants and needs of each group is crucial in making connections with clients or consumers, said Seth Mattison, a keynote speaker for Sonoma-based BridgeWorks LLC.

During at Oct. 26 workshop at Fresh Summit 2012 called “Closing the Gap: Engaging Multiple Generations in Today’s Marketplace,” Mattison explained key traits of four generational groups and how those factors influence their decisions and buying habits.

Mattison said traditionalists, those born before 1946, grew up with a strong sense of brand loyalty.

“It’s the generation that grew up with the idea of lifetime employment” and of sticking to a particular brand like Ford vehicles or John Deere tractors, he said, cautioning business against taking that commitment for granted.

“Make sure they know you appreciate their loyalty,” he said.

Baby boomers, born 1946-1964, are “one of the most idealistic and optimistic generations ever,” Mattison said.

Baby Boomers are characterized by a youthful spirit while also being fiercely competitive, he said.

“In order to connect, you have to think about where they are in their lives.”

Many baby boomers are juggling responsibilities to aging parents with Generation Y children moving back home after college as well as work responsibilities, Mattison said, so companies should make it simple for that demographic to work with them.

“Sometimes it’s a simple as ‘Keep your communication simple and easy,’” he said.

In contrast to baby boomers, those in Generation X, born 1965-1981, tend to be skeptical and distrust messages they see as phony or manipulative. The advent of 24-hour entertainment and news television channels such as MTV and CNN saturated Gen-X’ers with marketing messages and news of scandals in every aspect of society, Mattison said.

“There is no generation that hates to be sold to as much as Generation X,” he said. “We’ve got to be willing to work with that skepticism.”

Generation X consumers value transparency, authenticity and candor, Mattison said, and will trust third-party opinions of a company or product rather than the company’s own marketing messages.

He cited Generation X mom bloggers as an example of companies tapping into that demographic trend to reach consumers with information about their products.

Millenials, born 1982-2000, have been most affected by the explosion of technology during their lives and the rate at which change happens, Mattison said.

He said Millenials were raised with a strong sense of their individuality and uniqueness, and this influences the way they interact and communicate at work and in the marketplace. Because of the emphasis on individuality, Mattison said, a customized approach to products and services is important to younger consumers.

“How and where can you customize the experience for this generation?” he asked.

Mattison said Millenials are more likely to trust the opinions and recommendations of strangers in the online community than their friends or family or companies themselves. He said integrity and efficiency are also influencing factors for the demographic.

Communication and flexibility are crucial to understanding and working with any generation, however, Mattison said, and all four need to learn to work together to make businesses successful.