By Stephen Bean | Apr 09, 2010
A while ago, I was invited to speak at a diversity conference hosted by a large Detroit-area hospital. The audience, consisting of about 350 individuals, included doctors, nurses and a variety of other hospital staff members who are involved with the day-to-day clinical care of patients.
The theme of the conference was that, at any given moment, the patient population consisted of a diversity of people and that, to effectively care for each patient, the staff members must understand the nature of the diversity of these patients and respectfully treat them accordingly. In a sense, this was providing another dimension to the marketing philosophy of the hospital and sending the message that not only do they provide exemplary medical care but they also treat each patient with respect to their individual cultural and generational diversity. Their catch phrase is: “Everyone matters.”
Hospitals are businesses, just like your self-service laundry is a business. And each business needs customers. Obviously, a medical establishment prefers the term “patient,” but these individuals are nonetheless customers. And these customers ensure each respective business’ source of revenue and, therefore, must by proactively marketed to.
We live in a country of many cultural groups, so hospitals provide diversity training to their employees in order to make certain that each staff member treats each patient (or customer) with an ample degree of understanding in regard to their cultural and generational characteristics.
Your laundry business is no different from a hospital in that respect. Most coin laundries have a cultural – and certainly a generational – diversity of customers who patronize them. So, the more you understand, respect and cater to their diverse natures the more they will appreciate you and your laundry – and tend to not only remain loyal customers but, in all likelihood, to spread the word to others about how wonderful your laundry is. Thus, growing your business. It eventually becomes synergistic, meaning you get more back than you expected, which of course is the ultimate goal of all marketing.
But how do you truly begin to view your customer base as a diversity of individual cultural and generational market segments that must be marketed to individually? The answer is to thoroughly educate yourself as to the things – such as products, services, environment and management style – that each group values and then provide these for your customers on a regular basis. If all you have is a hammer, then everything tends to look like a nail, so you have to get more tools in your marketing “toolbox,” so to speak.
Cultural differences in the United States are well documented and somewhat easy to understand for most marketers. So, let’s focus mainly on generational differences, which are all too often less understood and not factored into the marketing strategy by many industry groups, certainly including the self-service laundry industry.
Generational differences are particularly interesting (and often confusing) from a marketing standpoint. Categorically, it’s generally agreed that there are currently five generational groups that comprise the total marketplace, and the approximate “born ranges” are as follows:
• Traditionalists, born 1927-1945
• Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964
• Generation X (“Gen X”), born 1965-1983
• Generation Y (“Gen Y”), born 1984-2002
• Generation Z (“Gen Z”), born 2003-Current
Today’s customer base is so extremely diverse in age, gender, race, religion, personal values, behaviors and geographic area of upbringing that the old rules of marketing to one homogeneous target customer audience base simply don’t apply. As a business owner, you need to develop a passion to show compassion for all of these diverse variables. If you do, you will greatly improve your chances of developing and retaining a strong loyal customer base and become what I call a “SWAN” – Sleep Well At Night.
To increase what is technically referred to in marketing lingo as “customer intent to return,” you need to acquire specific knowledge of the distinct generational characteristics of the five groups so that you can then market to them effectively. This often comes from personal experience (a.k.a., common sense) in dealing with people. But, unfortunately, this type of information is often incomplete and not totally accurate. Research has shown that we are more knowledgeable about the characteristics of people within 10 years of our own age, which, by definition, creates an error in our marketing premise because we have the human tendency to incorrectly generalize and conclude that all of our customers think and behave like we do.
Each generation has many significant and unique personality, lifestyle and value system characteristics, because they were born at different times in history and, therefore, exposed to different environmental events and circumstances. The more you understand these generational differences the better marketer you will be, and this leads to becoming more successful as the owner of your small business. This will require some research on your part because, as you may have noticed, business life does not just hand you things. You have to proactively get out there and make things happen – and when you do, you will find that it is definitely worth the time. You need to become “ruthless and not toothless” in your pursuit of marketing knowledge to achieve exemplary financial results.
There are many excellent books on the subject of generational differences as they can pertain to marketing. One of the very best is entitled, “Boomers, Xers and Other Strangers,” written by Dr. Rick and Kathy Hicks and published by Tyndale House Publishers. It’s available at amazon.com and would make a valuable addition to your marketing library. It details all of the characteristics of the various generations and will, as the authors say, “enable you to understand the generational differences that divide us.”
What you are about to read in the next few paragraphs is a compilation of generational characteristics I have identified by searching the Internet. They were mentioned by a variety of authors on the subject. Though far from complete, it’s enough to get you started on the subject so that you can eventually customize your marketing approach to the generational level.
In a nutshell, the Traditionalists – the well over 60 crowd – grew up in a world absolutely clear on the difference between what they consider is right and wrong. They are hard working and very loyal. They value perseverance and stability. They also value privacy, hard work, trust and formality. They respect authority and social order. They love “their stuff” and some may call them pack rats, but others will argue that they remember the Depression and going without. “You never know when you might need it” very well could be the Traditionalists’ slogan. Their values are influenced by their parents, whose values go back to the 1800s. This generation experienced the Great Depression and World War II, both of which shaped how they view the world.
The Baby Boomers are the information generation. They are the children of our World War II veterans. They did not go through the economic hard times that their parents did. They had the good life. The Traditionalists wanted them to have the best and, as a result, the “Me Decade” arrived. They are known for needing to uncover the truth – Vietnam, Watergate, political assassinations and nuclear energy. They love in-depth news coverage and television shows such as “60 Minutes.” Education, information and investigation are what they are about. They love to work and started the “workaholic” trend. They are committed to climbing the ladder of success. They don’t appreciate rules for the sake of having rules, and they will challenge the system.
Gen Xers are the first generation to push back on the conventional “me too” attitudes of the earlier generations. Do I really need to go to college? How can I lead a balanced work-family-fun life and still earn a good living? I’m an individual… don’t label me. They are economically conservative and prefer not to rely on institutions for their long-term security. They have the entrepreneurial spirit, and loyalty to them may mean a two weeks’ notice. They are independent, creative and value access to information. They work hard but always look for quicker, more efficient ways of working so that they have time for fun. While the Boomers are working hard to climb up the ladder, the Xers are working hard so that they can have more time to balance work and the responsibilities of life.
Gen Y, also called the Nexters. These individuals challenge what doesn’t make sense to them and work to change it. Their world is diverse, tech-savvy and team-oriented. They have access to a global library with information at their fingertips from the Internet. They have never known a world without high-speed video games, speed dial and the ATM. The secret to motivating this group is to provide systematic and frequent feedback as it happens. They value positive reinforcement and are very optimistic in terms of their outlook on life due to growing up in tranquil times. They are used to cultural diversity, and are used to making and spending money. They value technology as a tool for multi-tasking.
Gen Z, i.e., the Kids. “The Digital Generation.” They accompany their parents to your coin laundry and also buy (more accurately, ask their parents to buy) products, including your ancillary vended items. For them, the Internet and television is commonplace; therefore, they are used to instant action and satisfaction. They are great multi-taskers and can comfortably use many electronic media devices at once.
The practical aspects of using generational differences in your marketing plan can include such things as offering specific incentives and drawings for items that different generational groups prefer, customizing your signage to appeal to the value systems of the different groups, having video games that appeal to specific groups and designing your mailings or radio/TV ads appropriate to the various groups. The more knowledgeable you become about each generational group characteristics the more ideas you will develop as to exactly how to market to them.
Recently, in the Detroit Free Press business section, there was an article dealing with the causes of the declining demand for hotel rooms in the Detroit area. The article explained that the dilemma is in part due to a lack of business travel to the area and stated that “many 25- to 40-year-olds are more comfortable sitting in front of a camera and video screen for a teleconference than they are hitting the road with face-to-face contact and hassling with airport security.” This is an obvious and indeed observational reference to generational behaviors of a specific age group. So, companies such as gotomeeting.com would very likely use this information to market their services.
I fully appreciate that most self-service laundry owners will likely find this article to be interesting and yet somewhat frustrating, because up until now you likely have not figured generational differences into your practical marketing equation.
No worries… you can start right now to expand and change your “marketing nature” to include what you have learned here. If you do so, you will, I assure you, be rewarded for your efforts – and you will learn some new, very valuable marketing skills. As human organisms, we all have a nature and sometimes it’s difficult to change. However, when it comes to marketing your business (your livelihood), it’s worth the effort and temporary discomfort for the ultimate rewards.
There is an amusing parable that should help illustrate my point for you. It’s about a frog and a scorpion sitting by the side of a pond. The scorpion said to the frog, “As you know, I don’t swim, and I need to get to the other side of the pond. So, how about I hop on your back and you give me a ride across the pond?”
The frog responded, “Yes, I could certainly do that, since I can swim. But I know you are a scorpion and your bite is extremely poisonous. If you bite me, I will surely die.”
The scorpion answered, “But if I bite you and you die, I also will die because I can’t swim and I’ll drown.”
The frog was convinced. “OK, hop on,” he said, “and I will transport you across the pond.”
Halfway across the waterway the scorpion bites the frog. And in his dying breath the frog asked the scorpion, “What could have possibly possessed you to bite me?”
To which the scorpion answered, “I just couldn’t help it… it’s my nature.”
Scorpions may not be able to change their nature, but I know you can. In reality, your security as a small-business owner lies in your ability to assess marketplace events and to change and adjust accordingly.
I’ve heard it said, “When you are through changing, you are through.”
Mighty true indeed.