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For insurance marketers, reaching the right customer with an appropriate offer at the most opportune time is a top priority. But its not something that happens by chance. While terms like “generational marketing” and “life stages” are often bandied about, do we know what they really mean? And perhaps more importantly, do we understand their impact on the final outcome of our marketing efforts?

Generational marketing can be boiled down to a singular concept. Simply put, generational marketing is the practice of appealing to the unique needs of individuals within a specific generation group by offering the right product to the right person at the right time. That said, generational marketing is based on two founding principles: 1) that product needs change with life stages, and 2) that promotional messages and products targeting these generation groups or cohorts can reflect the generational values which drive their consumption behavior.

What is a life stage and why is it relevant to us as insurance marketers? A life stage is a role that individuals take on or act out over a lifetime, such as “spouse,” “parent,” “divorcee,” “retiree,” “caregiver” and so on. People move randomly from one life stage to another, typically occupying more than one stage at a time. These life stages define a consumers attitudes, perceptions, and subsequently, their daily activities.

Cohorts are the peers with whom we travel through life together, experiencing similar events at a similar age. Are cohorts necessarily in the same life stage(s) at the same time? Think of your peers. Some may be “where you are” now. But while the generation may be the same, life stages may not be. Even for the ones that join you in specific life stages, you can be sure that cohorts will react to a life stage in new and different ways, making marketing that much more complex. Understanding what motivates the consumer is the driver of successful marketing. Using cohort values and images that relate to a cohort-specific “coming of youth” experience symbol or icon in your marketing messages is a very powerful way to communicate “This is for you, we know who you are.”

Because product needs change with life stages, insurance marketers that want to find success must offer products that are meaningful at each life stage or event. Whether you employ targeting segments, a one-to-one marketing approach or modeling, a generational marketing approach can improve both your strategic and tactical marketing execution.

In todays world, it is not enough to rely on outdated and overly broad general marketing approaches based on age. A 50-year-old today isnt the same as a 50-year-old in 1979 (the first year when the Silent generation began turning 50) or a 50-year-old in the year 2016 (the first year when the Gen X generation begins turning 50).

Lets consider a specific life stage: retirement. This used to happen roughly at age 65. Today people are working into their 70s and 80s, with some starting second careers at a time when they might otherwise have been slowing down. Advances in medicine and health care and a sluggish and unstable economy are a couple of reasons why the elderly workforce has been growing. AARP used to be able to market products to people age 55 who were considered to be entering their “senior” years. No more.

Todays average 55-year-old (a Bloomer–the first wave of the Baby Boom) probably doesnt consider him/herself as entering their golden years, especially if he/she is considering leaving one career to enter another. Such a dramatic shift in societal thinking requires that insurance marketers make changes, too. That is, if they want to stay in business. Reaching these individuals then means taking a product, such as life or disability insurance, and reconfiguring it to meet redefined–and often reinvented–needs.

To truly reach a generation and its corresponding cohorts, messaging must be targeted and it must be meaningful and to do that, it must reflect a comprehensive understanding of attitudes and values, which tend to drive behaviors. Sophisticated marketers will use the disciplines of generational marketing, which is based on sociological theory and academic research and direct marketing, to define key messages and to design and execute a more effective communication campaign.

Analyzing a market based on generational characteristics can have significant implications for new product development. A thorough understanding of generations and cohort groups provides insight and helps to forecast product needs. The first step in developing new products is to evaluate existing products to determine if you have what the target audience wants.

Take for instance the “GenX” segment. Would an accidental death product that is marketed online be appropriate to this generation? More specifically, what things about a GenXers lifestyle, attitudes and values does your product appeal to? Perhaps this audience might appreciate premium payment flexibility or the ability to buy the product completely online–or the ability to self-serve (update account information, etc.) via the Internet. At the other end of the spectrum, seniors may not want to pay by credit card or transact business online at all. Or–some in their cohort group might. These are the types of preferences and nuances that must be explored in order to optimize product offerings.

Generational marketing is not only about the product, or the messaging, or modeling. Rather it is about all of these aspects. Its about reaching individuals with the appropriate offer based not only on generational considerations, but their life stage roles at any given point in time. Marketing success comes to those who not only appeal to the unique needs of generations, but also who match a product based on life stage need.

is vice president, Transamerica Affinity Services Inc. (TAS). Based in Baltimore, Md., TAS is a marketing arm of AEGON Direct Marketing Services Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at ewalker@aegonusa.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, July 21, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.