Marketing by Design: Who Is Your Customer?

Are you marketing to Gen X and Gen Y?
By Dick Wolfe
February 23, 2011

Those of you in the Kitchen & Bath Industry Marketing group on LinkedIn may have seen the query from Jim Wulfkuhle, of the International Woodworking Fair, about how people are marketing to Gen X and Gen Y. His query inspired the topic of this particular column because (in my experience) a whole lot of people in the k & b business are either not marketing to these audiences at all, or doing so sporadically and ineffectively. As a refresher, Gen X is the generation born after 1964 and Gen Y mostly consists of the children of Baby Boomers born since 1980.


The Boomers have been around for a long time. They have been researched to the point of exhaustion on purchase attitudes and other behaviors. There are between 75 and 80 million of them, making them the largest buying demographic right now. A lot of them have money. And there are still a plenty of “experts” advocating marketing them heavily. Most significantly: They are us. Probably most of the people who read this publication are Boomers. I am. We know these people. They are our friends, neighbors and colleagues. They are comfortable for us to deal with.

TIME TO CHANGE (apologies to The Brady Bunch)

Change is hard, but necessary. Remember when Peter Brady’s voice was cracking and he was having trouble singing? The Brady Six figured out a way to make it work for them. First, let’s be clear. The purpose here is not to advocate ignoring Boomers. But it is time to start transitioning to the next generation of customers. You or someone in your business needs to get to know Gen X and Gen Y and what their purchase drivers are.


Gen X is between 45-50 million strong. Their average education level is higher than that of the Boomers, which means their average earning power is higher, plus they are the first completely tech-savvy group. They are fairly mature in their careers and are starting to hit prime earning years.

Gen Y will rival Boomers in numbers as they are estimated at around 75 million. They are now moving full-bore into the workforce and many are already established in careers. Boomers are buying less and transitioning out of the marketplace. Gen X and Gen Y are just reaching their earning/spending power.


Some business owners and marketers may shy away from Gen X and Gen Y because of their perceived attitudes. They are often seen as difficult, entitled, self-absorbed and demanding and they certainly can be. It’s open to question whether they are more self-absorbed than Boomers, but that’s another debate. They are also perceived as only being interested in the new, new thing because of their affinity for the fast-changing world of technology.

Here at Gibbs & Soell we recently commissioned some research around American hardwoods for a prospective client. What we discovered surprised us. Hardwood is a very traditional material for flooring, cabinetry and furniture. Therefore, one might assume that Boomers would be most likely to select hardwood versus some of the newer materials available. It turned out that consumers under 45 were most likely to choose hardwood. They see it as natural and classic without being old-fashioned.

The lesson here is that Gen X and Gen Y attitudes are still forming and can be shaped. They aren’t necessarily prejudiced in favor of something just because it is new. They look for quality, style and value just like any smart consumer.

If you want to grow your business, you need to grow your customer base. There are well over 100 million Gen X and Gen Y consumers out there waiting to do business with you. Your job is to give them a reason to buy what you’re selling.

—Dick Wolfe is VP of Gibbs & Soell Inc., a leading independent public relations agency that specializes in the residential and commercial building and remodeling industries. As a part of the company's Consumer Lifestyle and Building Solutions Practice, Wolfe brings deep experience as a trusted communications advisor to companies seeking successful brand positioning, marketing communications and visibility campaigns that focus on the design community. To contact Wolfe with questions and suggestions on topics for future articles, please email him at dwolfe@gibbs-soell.com.
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