The age of the baby boomer ended in 2003. The torch has been handed to a new generation with new ideas and values. Sure, boomers still hold the power at the top, but the prevailing worldview that drives our nation is different from the one they grew up with. Businesses that don't get in step with the new world order are going to find it increasingly difficult to succeed.
Being a baby boomer isn't about when you were born. It's about how you see the world.
Baby boomers were idealists who worshipped heroes, perfect icons of beauty and success. Today these icons are seen as phony, posed and laughable. James Bond, their cool as ice, suave lady's man, has become the comic poser Austin Powers or the tragically flawed and vulnerable Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity . That's the essence of the new worldview, really-a rejection of delusion, the quiet demand for gritty truth. We're seeing it reflected in movies, TV shows and music.
Baby boomers swayed back and forth to the lyrics of a 1971 Coke commercial featuring teenagers from around the world singing, "I'd like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love; grow apple trees and honeybees and snow white turtle doves. I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony; I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company...." The idea was pure and wholesome, but it required no action other than belief. Today's generation would retch if that ad were aired, saying, "What has Coke actually done to promote world peace? Nothing. They're a bunch of phony posers."
Baby boomers believed in big dreams, reaching for the stars, personal freedom, "be all that you can be." Today's generation believes in small actions, getting your head out of the clouds, social obligation, "do your part."
Baby boomers anchored their identity in their career. The emerging generation sees their job only as a job.
Baby boomers were diplomatic and sought the approval of others. The emerging generation feels it's more honest to be blunt, and they really don't care if you approve or not.
Boomers were driven, self-reliant and impressed by authority. Emergents lead more balanced lives, believe in working as a team and have less confidence in "the boss."
Idealistic boomers had an abundance mentality, believed in a better world and were opulent in their spending. Emergents see scarcity, believe in doing what it takes to survive and are more fiscally conservative.
Based solely on the core values of the emerging generation, here's what I believe we can expect to see beginning to happen during the next four to six years:
- A decline among prestige brands such as Rolex, Harley-Davidson and Gucci.
- The end of "upwardly mobile" as a slang expression.
- A decline in the effectiveness of traditional advertising.
- Comparison-shopping to be done increasingly online, though purchasing will remain largely in brick-and-mortar stores in many product categories.
- An increase in volunteerism and donor support to socially responsible organizations.
- A slow increase in the popularity of labor unions.
- A slight decrease in the divorce rate as couples become increasingly committed to family unity and fall less under the spell of idealistic "true love."
Here's what these things mean to the business owner:
- Don't count on prestige brands to be the strength of your identity in the future as they have been in the past. Craft an identity that doesn't depend on the vendor lines you carry.
- Investigate the values of the new "upscale" customer of tomorrow and get in step with those values.
- Focus less on instant-response, promotional advertising and become the store customers think of immediately when they need what you sell. The new trend in advertising is away from hype and romanticism and more toward facts and truth.
- Have an informative, user-friendly website that allows customers to learn all the details of your product or service they would traditionally learn from a salesperson. Don't expect tomorrow's customer to call you or come by your store "for more information."
- Pick an organization or a cause you believe in and support it openly.
- Speak less often to self-image and prestige as a primary motivating force in your customer. Believe it or not, people are becoming concerned about a world outside themselves.
These things may be coming, but remember: Changing too much too soon is almost as dangerous as changing too little too late. The adoption curve of the new values by the mainstream of our society began in 2003 and will be complete by mid-2008 or early 2009. You have plenty of time to get in step with tomorrow. But you need to get started today.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.