Bridge the gap

Bridge the gap

Understanding the differences between the generations is the first step to better marketing and a happier workforce.

June 9, 2017
Kate Spirgen
Industry News

Each generation has its own idea of what greatness looks like whether it’s an individual, a product or an experience. Phil Gwoke, consultant with Bridgeworks, laid out the differences between the generations and how to understand them at Lawn & Landscape’s inaugural and Top 100 Executive Summit held in Cleveland June 6 and 7.

“Each generation is vital to the success of a community, a company,” Gwoke said. Whether you’re marketing to or trying to work with people of different generations, it’s important to understand and respect their differing wants, needs and opinions.

In general, each generation wants a different kind of working relationship. While Boomers want a professional, productive and effective relationships, Gen Xers want transparency, honesty and efficiency. The newest addition to the workforce, Millennials, want relatable, authentic and accessible interactions.

When you’re marketing to the different generations, it’s key to understand that they want and value different things. Boomers are stuck in a sandwich, Gwoke said. On one side, they’re taking care of their children, and on the other side, they’re taking care of their aging parents. “They want things to be easy,” he said.

Gen Xers grew up being told they won’t have is as good as their parents did. And due to a tumultuous atmosphere during their childhood, they find it hard to trust anyone. Gwoke cited the example of NASA. When Baby Boomers think of NASA, they think of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. But when Gen Xers think of NASA, the first thing to come to mind is the Challenger explosion.

So Generations Xers don’t trust salesmen. They prefer to find out what end-users think, which is what brought us sites like Angie’s List. “Say you’re an expert and don’t push so much,” Gwoke said. “They’ve seen so much fall apart that they can detect insincerity.”

Millennials have a bit of a PR problem, Gwoke said, but they’re expected to spend $200 billion annually starting in 2017. Last year, they took over the housing market as the biggest homebuyers. There are 5 million Millennial millionaires right now, compared to just 4 million Gen Xers.

Threats of violence to Millennials were much closer to home than previous generations so they’re more likely to live in the moment. Eighty percent are more likely to buy an experience than a thing so campaigns like Weed Man’s “Transform your lawn from a burden into a paradise” work well.

But Millennials aren’t ever going to be loyal buyers. They’ve been hardwired since childhood to always be looking for the next best thing. Gwoke cited the difference between how Millennials and their parents look at phones. He (a Gen Xer) grew up with the same phone in his house his entire life. Millennials, on the other hand, upgrade their phones every two years or less on average.

“To attract them, lead with why you do what you do,” Gwoke said.

Working together. 
To work together, Gen Xers need to realize that Millennials are motivated to work harder when they’re allowed time to connect, while Millennials need to acknowledge the disruptions being nontraditional can make.

“Millennials want to make friends and have fun while still getting the job done,” Gwoke said. “If it looks a little different and the results are still being met, that’s ok.”

So instead of the Golden Rule, Gwoke said to use the Platinum Rule, which is, Treat others the way they want to be treated. “When the Platinum Rule is done well, I adjust to them and they adjust to me,” Gwoke said.

While Boomers want public recognition of a job well done, Gen Xers would prefer time off, and Millennials want opportunities to do more and make a difference. Noting these differences and adjusting the way you reward your employees makes sure that the accolade is really something your employees want.

Realize that the first 18 months or so are crucial. Millennials need to feel like they’re moving forward. That doesn’t necessarily mean a promotion, though. It can simply be pointing out the skills they’ve gained and what they’ve accomplished, and where they can go from there.

For the green industry in particular, Gwoke is optimistic. "Guidance counselors are finally realizing they messed up," he said. So instead of recommending that everyone go to a four-year college, they’re recognizing the value of going into other kinds of industries like the green industry.

“Hold tight because the next generation will get it and there will be huge opportunities,” he said.