Gray is the new green, part 7: Cross-generational word of mouth

Like all good hoteliers, I read quite a few articles online. Many of these publications discuss the contrasting tastes of people in different demographics — namely Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials. But something is wrong in the phrasing that writers have come to use, and I am also a guilty party.

The tendency is to describe the mindsets of the generations as wholly disparate and with little to no overlap. While differences in wants and motivations are undeniable when comparing a 60-year-old to a 22-year-old, there are far more similarities than we are acknowledging. In many cases, we are being lead to believe that members of one demographic do not influence the pricing behaviors of members in another. This is not only wrong, but it is a dangerous assumption about how word of mouth functions.

As someone who just experienced a delightful Father’s Day with my two kids, I can testify to the fact that both my son and daughter have influenced what I buy, and despite however much they deny it, I have undoubtedly persuaded them as well. Whether you’re in a functional family unit or even in the most dysfunctional household imaginable, parents talk to their kids and vice versa. And this coercion may come in the form of overt dialogue or simply through one’s actions.

What we are discussing here is cross-generational word of mouth, and it’s important that you consider its impact when designing promotions and marketing campaigns. True, Millennials are the most likely candidate to research your property on a smartphone and book via an OTA, but this doesn’t mean that they will only converse with their peers or fail to share their gadgets’ accessibility with their Boomer forerunners. As it concerns technological advents, young adults have always been more inclined to adopt the latest and greatest. Just look at when television was first introduced and how old men would gripe about the advantages of radio.

The fact remains that it’s preposterous to think of generations as bubbles. Hence, you can appeal to Boomers and to Gen Xers by appealing to their kids, because the stories will inevitably trickle down. What’s critical here is that you have to have a story worth repeating. We Boomers are adventurous as well — maybe not to the same extent as our Millennial counterparts, but we compensate by having far more dough in our wallets to play with.

Where this cross-generational chatter becomes especially important is in the passing of the torch. Sooner or later, Millennials will be the dominant spenders on the planet, so it’s important that you introduce them to your brand before they too are set in their ways. By appealing to their parents, you are giving these young consumers a quick and cheap way to get to know characteristics of your hotel beyond what the guestrooms cost per night.

So, next time you design something with a “tell your friends” call to action in mind, you might also want to consider a “tell your parents” or “tell your kids” tagline in its place.

Moreover, the other related concept worth mentioning is the water-cooler effect — coworkers sharing stories while at the office. In this environment, people of disparate ages and cultures are brought together for a shared purpose. This is another means of idea transmission among the generations, and much like any other form, you have to give them an idea worth transmitting.