Selling to the Silent Generation (Tip: Good Luck With That Plan)

I have incredibly specific tastes.

I like the band Blitzen Trapper, but only in their early period. I happen to know the band is named after a rather vague reference related to the founding band member’s girlfriend, the reindeer on Santa’s sleigh, and a school binder. (I don’t get it, either.) I like Band of Horses and know the lead singer recently made an album with the guy from Iron & Wine. It’s pretty catchy. I went to a concert last night where the band Wye Oak participated in an eclectic remix of their songs with a chamber orchestra. I know the lead singer, Jenn Wasner, had food poisoning and almost didn’t perform.

I don’t listen to Spotify much. I’m an album-oriented-rock type of person. When I listen to music, I usually listen to the entire album even if I don’t like all of the songs. I guess I feel I am being loyal to the artist.

I’m also very specific about my cars. I test them for a living, but I’m also a journalist which means I am not sleeping on a bed of cash at night. I recently bought an extra car. It’s a 2008 Toyota Corolla. I will probably buy another one someday, possibly the same year. If I really want to switch things up and live on the edge, I might buy another Honda Civic (my third). I don’t know. I might freak everyone out and buy a Honda Accord. I like buying highly reliable budget cars with low miles. That’s a specific genre. If it was any more specific I’d have to custom order a car on Amazon.

This makes it easy to sell me something. Specificity is a brands manager’s best friend. Ford can rule me out of the equation, and I think they like that. You can hone in on my likes and dislikes, show me banner ads, call me on the phone and explain things to me that will meet my needs.

I once took a drive with someone who was about 22 at the time. He told me something very interesting about himself. He said he doesn’t like to be specific. He doesn’t want to have specific tastes. He explained it as a way to live, a lifestyle choice, a way to keep his options open at all times. He seemed to be suggesting it was a good thing.

I recently asked one of my kids about her favorite music. We had a long discussion about K-Pop. Now, the umbrella band for this genre is called Big Bang. It has nothing to do with the television show. It’s basically One Direction with better synths. The drums are heavy, the guys are cute. But she said she’s not that into them anymore. I asked her to name a few more bands in the genre and she said she didn’t know any.

Then she revealed the most troubling aspect of the Silent Generation.

She said she just likes Spotify. I withheld my consternation. I tried to explain that Spotify wasn’t a band. She knew that. But, to her, the point wasn’t to like a specific style of music or to even pretend to have any loyalty to a genre. She is expecting Spotify to stream music she likes, end of story.

My son is a bit older but there’s another really good example of how this works. He doesn’t read maps. In fact, he doesn’t even know street names. When he drives, he types in an address or uses a pin on the map. Then, he just listens to the voice and follows the directions. The GPS is his Spotify. He is not “loyal” to the street names or the city. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t even have a favorite restaurant or a favorite part of town. If he wants a burger, he types in burger. If he wants to go to a park, he types in the word park.

I’m a little worried about this.

How do you sell anything to someone who doesn’t like Five Guys or even care that there is a Five Guys? How do you make music that just “has a beat” or expect a Spotify fan to ever buy a concert ticket?

I wonder if we need a new name for the Silent Generation. We can’t use Gen X because that one has already been used to define an age group that is hard to pin down. (Full disclosure here: I’m not hard to pin down but I am Gen X.) I’m wondering if we should stop naming generations. Maybe we should just call people born after 1995 a Generation and leave it at that.

Do you have any more examples of generic attitudes and preferences? I’m really curious to hear them. Ping me by email.

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