Cross-Cultural Exam #9: Boomer v. Xer. (With PRIZE!)

Monday, 8:28pm
Reno, NV
Just take those old records off the shelf, I’ll sit n’ listen to ’em by myself…” (Bob Seger)


At the end of this post, I’ll explain how you can win a bitchin’ prize that will make you the envy of all your friends forever.

First, though — let’s learn something about marketing to humans, whadya say?

Here’s two quick “how to deal with the screaming chaos” tips for everyone in business today who’s just a tad freaked-out at the way things seem to changing so damned FAST:

Screaming Chaos-Dealing Tip #1: If you’re older, you need to cultivate solid relationships with younger folks who can help you understand the Zeitgeist of the dominant culture out there.  (Yes, even if you hate it.  Especially if you hate it, actually.)

And I’m not talking about having your nephew program your TV remote while you mow the lawn.

Nope.  I’m talking about entrepreneur-minded young adults, who just happen to be totally wired into the Grid…

… and can translate current trends while offering you some solid, smart perspective.


Screaming Chaos-Dealing Tip #2: If you’re a young entrepreneur, you need to cultivate relationships with geezers who can give you some perspective on how we GOT to this current state of affairs.

Key thing to remember: You must limit your cross-generational relationships to smart, aware, and open-minded people.

Which means you’re fishing in a VERY tiny pool.

For the most part, the generations despise each other.  Partly because of the tendency for folks to stay within their peer group both socially and economically… and partly because most old farts get grumpy, and most young studs develop an intolerable arrogance right after their first flush of pubescence.

I was an arrogant little punk when I was young.  And I remember meeting some girl’s father at a party, who took me aside twice during the evening.  The first time to admonish me (with finger waggling in my face) for having long hair and a bad attitude (and I did), which he insisted was gonna ruin my chances for living a good life (and also negate any chance I had with dating his daughter)…

… and the second time — after he’d drained a bottle of Scotch — he took me aside to tearfully explain how much he wished he was young again (sob, choke) and how us kids had it right about life while his generation was a pack of fools…

… and could I maybe move in with him and his wife and daughter, cuz I was such a wonderful, awesome dude?  (I respectfully declined.)

That pretty much summed up my youthful insight toward the elder generation: Conflicted, embarrassingly creepy when they tried to “rap” with us, and kinda sloppy with the booze.

And I hoped I died before I got old.

Then, one day I was in a big business meeting… and realized I was ten years older than the next oldest entrepreneur in the room.  I had, in what seemed like a freakin’ blink, gone from the young hotshot kid in the room, to the grizzled veteran guy.  Twenty years had passed.

Lemme tell you, I now have some solid respect for the weirdness that is growing older in American culture.

My saving grace is that I’ve never been an “ageist” — defined as someone who discriminates against others on the basis of age.  It’s a stupid concept… but the culture kind of ensures it happens, because there are precious few chances for the generations to legitimately interact and fairly judge each other.

I lucked out.  Back in college, my anthropology prof forced us to get out into the community, find people in the very late stages of life… and record their stories.  (Or flunk her course.  She was an early mentor, and knew how to get stuff done, tell you what.)

THAT was a genuine wake-up call for me. The older generation wasn’t much for trying to communicate with the younger one, and vice versa… (our motto:  “Don’t trust anyone over 30”)…

… and yet, once all the bullshit labels were yanked away, and real listening occurred…

… well, hell.  These were fascinating people, brimming with life experience I could only hope to encounter myself.  And they had fallen in love, suffered tragedy, made mistakes, lucked into a few good things, and had adventures that made the sci-fi stuff I was devouring look shallow and dull.

It’s not across the board, of course.  Some people never do anything worth telling a story about, and others are just plain boring zombies mad at the world.

But then, this applies equally to many of your peer group, no matter what age you are, or what segment of the socio-economic-ethnic culture you’re from.

So it’s important to always be on the lookout for people of all stripes and thinking that can add value to your life.  Regardless of anything else that defines them.  The real wealth in this all-too-short ride is to enjoy the full gamut of what’s on the menu.

And this brings us to the subject of this post.

Which is very much NOT earth-shaking…

… but is, rather, one of those interesting “little pieces of psychology” that nevertheless work their way into the top of your Bag Of Tricks as a salesman.

The lesson here will help any marketer trying to reach across the generational divide… and give you a hint as to how people have changed in the actual ways they measure each other up.

Here’s the story: Michele’s nephew David is (and I can back this up) among the savviest and most intensely-geared-toward-success entrepreneurs of his generation.  And he’s in his mid-twenties, for cryin’ out loud.

He’s my go-to dude whenever I have questions about how the younger generation thinks and acts.  (His biz is Next Big Sound, a company he started while still at Northwestern that is working with all the big music companies.  It’s basically a focal point online to measure how hot new bands spread their music far and wide.  Very hip, very ultra-modern, very cutting-edge… and taking complete advantage of the Web.)

And yeah, David has helped me program much of the various computerized and mechanical crap I’ve stuffed into my office.  (He’s been a life-saver, especially when I switched from PC to Mac.)

He is as deeply grounded in his generation’s psyche and habits as anyone you’ll meet.

And I’m a glutton for observing the cerebral changes constantly happening in our culture. I like to find sneaky shortcuts to understanding how people in my target markets THINK and ACT.

So… while the following may seem trivial to some readers…

… let me assure you that the underlying psychology is profound for any marketer looking to connect with an audience.

Here’s the exchange David and I had a short time ago:

Yo, David…

In my time (last century), you could walk into someone’s living quarters, spend 5 minutes perusing their record collection and the books on their shelves…

… and pretty much know what you needed to know about them.  Straight, square, hip, cool, interesting, or boring.  (Or how much dough they had, based on the number of new albums vs. used record store buys.) (And how obsessive they were, by how well they treated their collections, and what kind of stereo/turntable/components they had.)

For example: A single Carpenter’s record (or a Yanni cassette) was like 3 straight strikes, if you were dating.  And more than one Yes album (or not owning Dark Side of the Moon) was a sure clue you were dealing with a nerd.


… is there an equivalent for YOUR generation?  Do you hop on Facebook and check out anything specific, say, the way my gen studied albums and bookshelves?

Seems like most iTunes libraries are too large, and too casual, to get much info.  But maybe I’m wrong.

See, my generation didn’t spend money easily.  If you bought an album, you agonized over it.  It meant something.  Same with books.

Now, at 99cents per tune, your Iggy Pop and Queens of the Stone Age mixes don’t necessarily mean you even like the music.  Does it?

Or would you look for more general things, like emo, or trance, or hip hop vs rock, or something like that?

Thanks.  This might be a great blog post (for my generation, and for the marketers in yours).


David’s reply (and I’ve left his random capitalization and slang intact… another clue to his gen’s writing style, which reflects their agile thinking processes):

Hi John.

Spoke with a friend about this yesterday and debated the various cultural things we consume that also represent us… came up with a few things:

iTunes library / iPod

What’s in someone’s iTunes library doesn’t mean anything. Our libraries have gotten so stuffed with random hard drive dumps of music over the past 10 years that browsing someone’s library is impossible (it’s too big) and determining their taste from that selection sucks. You nailed it with the ‘costs money to buy an album’ argument that used to hold true, now everything’s so free/cheap there isn’t enough scarcity for it to matter. That is, until you sort someone’s library by play count. Seeing the Top 100 songs someone has listened to is totally telling. Which leads into… scrobbling is a sort of popular social network around music that CBS bought for a ton of money a few years back ($280mil). It’s pretty simple – anywhere I listen to music that has the ability to ‘scrobble’ reports to what I’m listening to and then shows me all sorts of cool stats and my musical affinity with another person. It’s always a good proxy for if I’ll get along with someone.  Here’s my profile:

fragmentation/long tail/top 40/the radio/the internet

After writing all that I realized two things. There’s been so much talk about the long tail and the internet fragmenting things and there never being another Johnny Carson because how the hell would all of america crowd around our TVs all the time when we have the internet now. That’s the first thing – there’s some fundamental thing that prevents massive selling albums and everyone the same age liking similar stuff. But the second thing is that I think there are really two types of people – those that still listen to the radio and know what’s on the Top 40 and those that only consume via the internet and have no idea what’s ‘popular’. There’s hybrids, of course, but that’s the bigger thing that separates people now – are they ‘internet’ people or normals? My view is probably skewed since I’m pretty much always surrounded by internet people – they find their music on Mp3 blogs and Hype Machine and started subscribing early to rdio like I did.

what blogs they follow in google reader

Seeing what someone chooses to read on a regular basis, and if they choose to read on a regular basis beyond facebook status updates and gossip sites at all, is pretty big.

who they follow on twitter

I like seeing who I follow in common with someone on twitter. That’s telling. They opt-in to these streams… and who they choose says a lot, i think..

So is there an equivalent in my generation? no, probably not. and that’s a bit unfortunate… but you figure it out pretty quickly by putting some music on and seeing how they react. lucky for me I always have an excuse to talk about music because of NBS and that helps figure it out quickly…


All right… so is this a huge wake-up call for marketers?

Perhaps… if you’ve been cross-marketing to generations and you hadn’t yet realized how differently each one “measures up” new people.  Or communicates with their peers.

The main lesson: You’re never gonna be totally hip to someone in a different generation.

I mean, I still think the current crop of pop stars are embarrassingly untalented twits… and I will never, ever understand how rap became a cultural mainstay.  (Though I like hip-hop.)

And this comes from a guy who — in my own youth — worshipped garage bands who could barely play their instruments (the Seeds, the Stones, the Ramones, etc)…

… and who remained oblivious of my father’s discontent with “that damn racket“, which was so awfully different than the smooth swing jazz he grew up with in the 40s.

Still… you should try to at least know the fundamentals of how current market segments communicate (or fail to communicate) with each other.  And how peer groups spread the message on anything (your old-school “word of mouth”).

Just don’t be that old guy with a comb-over trying to be hip around the kids, getting all your slang wrong.  (“Hey, kiddo’s, I’m a hip jivester, too, gimme some skin, man…”)

And please — if you’re a kid — don’t tell me your favorite Beatle’s song is “Yellow Submarine” and expect that to start any kind of bonding process.  I was Kinks’ kinda dude, anyway…


Okay, time for the game.

Here’s the task, and reward: The first person to name all the albums in the photo up top, in the comments section (don’t try to trump anyone by going to Facebook, now)…

… wins a free copy of my book “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel“… personally signed by me.  You’ll be the coolest kid on your block.

This is easily the toughest task I’ve ever had in this blog.  Some of those albums are freakin’ obscure… and there are a couple where all you can see are small bits of the cover.  (If I have to start dropping hints, I’ll start in a day or so.)

I imagine some Boomer who lived a life parallel to mine will scoop this one quickly.  Or some kid who grew up surrounded by Daddy’s tattered album collections…

Anyway, the comment section is open for any thread you wanna start, besides the contest.

Got any good stories or tactics to share on quickly evaluating someone?

Stay frosty,


P.S. I might be a big slow to respond in the comments — next week is Golf Week with my old pal and partner Stan Dahl.  Five days of scurrying around the finest links we can locate, with no distractions.

We’ve done this every year for around 15 years now.  Done it in Key West, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orlando, Phoenix, the California coast near Big Sur, Tahoe, Las Vegas…

… all over the freakin’ map.  It’s killer fun.  And I knew we were on to a good tradition when I noticed that other golfers we mentioned Golf Week to always got this misty-eyed look, obviously wishing they could come along.  Or have their own tradition going.

Ah, the stories Stan and I have.  Can’t share ’em here, of course.

Still, I’ll be checking in through the wonders of the World Wide Web.  So, carry on.