X is to Y as Y is to Z. Branding to different generations can seem like a complicated word problem, but there really is a rhythm to it. Although there’s some argument as to the exact dates that comprise these generations, they are the generations immediately following the Baby Boomers. According to marketing research firm, The Nielsen Company, marketing across the generations requires very specific, individualized marketing strategies to be effective. With three major consumer groups being represented in the US population post 1964, the key to developing a branding strategy that speaks their language lies in brands’ understanding of the cultural and political influences that shaped them.

Generation X: a focus on benefits

Coined “problematic” and “edgy” Generation X, accounts for people born between 1965 and 1976. According to Claire Raines, author of Generations at Work, this generation is much more focused on kids and their parents were very involved with them. Having experienced two recessions (the first in the 1990s after the dotcom bust and the second spawned during the Bush-era), Generation X is a more reserved spender than its younger sibling, Gen-Y, and very aware of the lack of job security.

Studies show that Gen-X consumers place heavy stake in reviewing their purchasing decisions and are less likely than their siblings to be brand loyalists, as a result. Accordingly, some experts suggest approaching Gen-Xers with time-saving benefits when communicating value. Also, since over 80 percent of Gen-Xers are actively engaged in social media, brands can use this platform to engage them.

Emotional connections

To better target calculating Gen-Xers, brands from American Greetings to MTV are relating to them through feelings of nostalgia. 1980s throwbacks, for example, like Cabbage Patch Kids and Beavis and Butthead cartoon series reveals an apparent, promotional strategy in the making—if we remind them, they will come. This strategy seems to have permeated the box office, too. The success of recent superhero movies like Iron Man 2, and Captain America, and more recently, The Avengers—all comic strip heroes that gained a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s—undoubtedly has strong Gen-X influence.

Generation Y/Millennials: family values

Millennials are often referred to as the nation’s second Baby Boomers or Generation Y. According to US Census information, the first Boomer generation accounted for 80 million of the total US population. Comparatively, Gen-Y is counted at 85 million, while is just over half of Gen-X population. Lacking the rebellious nature characteristic of Gen-X, Gen-Y is identified as the young adults born between 1977 and 1994. Culturally, Millennials show a strong interest in family, religion, and community and are less motivated by celebrity brands than Gen-X. Carolyn Martin, Ph.D. of Rainmaker Thinking, a management consulting firm, states, “When you ask this generation who their heroes are, the majority say their parents.” By and large, Gen-Y values the opinions of their parents on major decisions and big-ticket purchases. As such, brands targeting this generation would do well to keep this parental connection in mind.

Members of Generation Y are entrepreneurial thinkers. They place heavy stake in work-life balance and opt for home offices over stuffy board rooms. They respond to reasonable prices for good quality, a dedication to corporate responsibility, and good user experiences. Brands that relate authenticity rather than vague marketing tactics like Trader Joes, Apple, and Jet Blue have not only a firm footing with Millennials, but can bypass the price point prerequisite by demonstrating value.

Generation Z: gearing up for more

The future of consumerism starts with this coming-of-age generation, born between 1995 and 2010. This generation is being brought up with the noise of information as they have no memory of the pre-Internet era. With data readily at their fingertips, they quite probably, will urge toward instant gratification. This generation will see an increase in user-generated platforms and embrace technology it can personalize and manipulate.

Cultural influences significantly influence generations—who they are, their values, and ultimately, what they buy. As brands pinpoint effective strategies for crossing generational lines, there will be a push to captivate consumers through digital advertisements, social media, and cutting-edge marketing campaigns.  Focusing on life stages, such as motherhood, for example, could conceptually blur generational lines and allow brands the opportunity to target sub-cultures.