Civically Minded

Civics are nine times wealthier than the rest of us, so how can you cash in?

Back Article Jul 1, 2014 By Gordon Fowler

If I wanted my 20-year-old son to join me for a late meal, I’d text him: “Buffet on me.” But I would never ever text my 86-year-old mother with a dinner invitation. For her, there would be a phone call with plenty of formalities and forewarning, a promise of a nice, sit-down establishment and a start time of 4:00 p.m. to take advantage of early bird specials. Why? Because each generation communicates differently.

Tailoring our language and delivery is something we do naturally in our day-to-day lives. Yet, for some reason, in the business world we seem to be on a constant lookout for a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing and communications.

Our workplaces and marketplaces are more multi-generational than ever. The five generations on today’s economic game board are the civics, those born in the early 1920s to the early 1940s; baby boomers, those born in the early 1940s to the early 1960s; generation X, those born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s; millennials, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s; and generation Z, those born from the early 2000s to the present.

Small tweaks to your communications can make a big difference. Each of these generations has unique characteristics, demands, values and preferences that are often at odds with their clients, bosses or staff. Understanding and adapting tactics to address your customer base by generation can generate more sales, better client relationships and exponential growth for your organization.

Tackling all generations at once would be overwhelming. So for now, let’s look at the generation whose communication style most deviates from today’s go-to marketing trends: the

Civically Minded.

The civics, known as the silent generation, tend to be quiet, hardworking people. They are the oldest of the active generations, and one of the most powerful and wealthiest. They are some 55 million strong, mostly retired, and claim both the largest voting population and one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the nation — the AARP. They are a force no business can afford to ignore or alienate.

Their formative years — those years leading to adolescence, which are the most essential for learning trust, beliefs and behavior — were shaped by the Great Depression and World War II. Whether children, soldiers or members of families affected by these events, they and their consumer behavior were defined by the circumstances of war.

Civics have struggled with vast cultural and technological shifts in their lifetimes. The end of the second World War saw an explosion of births (the baby boomers) and many scientific and technological breakthroughs that led to one of the largest periods of advancement in human history. The 1950s brought a massive transition from war to the counterculture revolution and the rise of the Cold War, McCarthyism, civil rights and women’s lib. With instincts honed for loyalty and conformity, they faced emerging morals, ideals and desires that often conflicted with the world they understood.

These struggles also drove civics to strive for stability at home, work and  in the marketplace. Their generation typically saw men as the primary breadwinners, while women stayed home to raise children. They were “company men,” entering the workforce at a time when American industry dominated the world and unionization was on the rise. Civics worked hard, didn’t complain and were willing to sacrifice for their employers. They still believe in traditional family values, conservative ideals and that an honest day’s work earns an honest day’s dollar.

They are also much less likely to have taken on debt, preferring financial security to living outside their means. Many value simple living, a waste-not-want-not mentality and a belief in the nobility of sacrifice for the common good.

Why should businesses care?

Money: First and foremost, civics have cash. Civics got into the workforce when the United States was at an economic peak, and most got out prior to the financial collapse of 2008. As a whole, they have savings and maintain financial stability. While not completely unscathed by the recession, in general, this generation is still nine times as wealthy as those under the age of 40.

Loyalty: Civics grew up respecting authority, dedicating their working lives to one company and sacrificing for the greater good. Because of this, they draw on their strong interpersonal relationships with family, friends and businesses to validate their own identities. If you earn their trust, it tends to be unbreakable.

References: Because of their tendency to base their identity heavily on social status and reputation, civics rely on peers and other adults to validate both. This is why, if you can recruit one civic to your business, you can often gain a connection with their social circles as well. Every civic represents a crowd of potential customers.

You too can win over a civic!

Talk the Talk: Build a face-to-face relationship. Civics are often skeptical of electronic and mass communications. They do, however, trust their peers and others in positions of authority. Making your business interactions personal and engaging goes a long way, especially if you can make them feel like part of the family.

Tell a story: Growing up, civics often related to their environments through storytelling. They shaped their own personal narratives by sharing their lives orally. Relying on statistics in your marketing will not resonate as much as applying a situation to a personal experience. If Anne down the street had a great encounter with you, her story will go much further than reporting that 40 percent of “users” were satisfied.

Stress history and credibility: Since civics’ personal identities rely on social status and reputation, it makes sense that how they perceive businesses does so as well. How long a business or professional has been around matters, as do the awards you have won. Additionally, when introducing yourself or others, including titles and positions of responsibility holds great meaning for this generation, as it helps them define status and prioritize their trust.

Offer a no-hassle experience: Civics understand rules and have been following them for a long time. They’ve spent their lives working hard and sacrificing, so when interacting with businesses, they typically just want to be taken care of without complications. Don’t over-share the process or explain all the work you’re doing on their behalf. Instead, give them what they want with as little aggravation as possible.

Deliver on your promises: This is the single most important factor for businesses working with civics. They are loyal to those they trust and are willing to put their reputation behind their trust through referrals, but first you must earn it. If you say you will deliver at 5 p.m., don’t deliver at 6 p.m. Do what you say you will do, because late is a broken promise, and early raises questions as to where you cut corners.

Marketing budgets are finite. To maximize your investment, think strategically about the customer you’re targeting and the language you’re using. Wooing civics takes time and effort, but the payoff can be great.


Lynne Cannady (not verified)August 12, 2014 - 3:04pm

What a great article! I can hardly wait for the sequel, so I can figure out what I don't understand about each of the generations to follow. As usual, Gordon not only understands the nuances of communicating with each generation, but he knows how to break it down for all of us.

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