My Generations: A New Way to Look at Consumers

I have about as much in common with someone born in 1946 as I do an upper-age Millennial born in 1981

May 7, 2019
If you're targeting a product or community to the generational terminology of the past, John Burns proposes a new way to look at consumers.

Photo: Flickr user xflickrx

I used to be a Gen Xer, a member of a relatively small and oft-neglected tribe wedged between Baby Boomers and Millennials, the two most populous (and therefore most economically powerful) generations. The term felt dismissive; an X, as in, crossed out. I wore it with defiant pride.

But then, without much fanfare or apparent reason, I was elevated to Boomer status, my birth year suddenly (if not universally) included in that wide swath of the populace. 

The problem is, I have about as much in common with someone born in 1946 (or 1956, for that matter) as I do with an upper-age Millennial born in 1981 … or really anyone on either side of the 1960s. 

Thankfully, if unwittingly, John Burns, he of John Burns Real Estate Consulting and a forward thinker if there ever was one, took up my cause by proposing a new way to look at consumers not by some arbitrary and occasionally fluctuating measure, but simply by decade. 

John’s book, Big Shifts Ahead: Demographic Clarity for Business, with co-author Chris Porter, identifies the people born in each 10-year time period from 1940 to 2000 by life stages, economic status, and buying habits that are far more common than grouping me (an empty nester working full time, with a waning mortgage and an aggressive investment strategy) and a guy in his 70s. And I bet if you asked a dude born in 1993, renting an apartment and swimming in student loan debt, he’d say the same thing about me.

(For the record, according to John and Chris, I’m an Equaler, a champion of equal rights destined to retire less affluent than prior generations, namely Innovators born during the 1950s. Could be worse.)

The point is, if you are targeting a product or community to the generational terminology of the past, you’re probably running up against the same issues I have being grouped with my parents or with a hipster. The architecture, floor plan, options package, common areas and activities, and likely even the location, don’t resonate well within that nomenclature.

Perhaps it’s time builders and developers took a fresh, better look at a more discernible and more accurate definition of homebuyers and applied it to their marketing, sales, and product-development efforts. 

We’ll do the same in these pages, and perhaps together we can move the industry a little closer to a future that sheds age-related (or any) labels entirely and truly meets each consumer’s unique housing needs.


Access a PDF of this article in Professional Builder's May 2019 digital edition 



Rich Binsacca is Professional Builder’s editor-in-chief. He has served as an editor and frequent contributor to several housing and building construction-related print and online publications, and has reported and written about all aspects of the industry since 1987.


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