American Bandstand to Satellite Radio: Generational Marketing Improves Results

Mark Arnold

“Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

As the financial services marketplace continues to tighten and credit unions look to find new and innovative ways to reach members and potential members, it’s important not to overlook a key option: generational marketing. When used properly generational marketing offers a powerful way to reach the diverse people credit unions need to grow and prosper.

What Is Generational Marketing?

Generational marketing is an approach to membership retention and loyalty that focuses on age and generation. Generational marketing recognizes that people are the products of the time in which they grew up and seeks ways to reach them that complement these unique experiences. As we explore the four generations currently in play for credit union marketers, it will become increasingly obvious that each has its own unique set of needs, wants and expectations.

Generational marketing is useful because it allows credit unions to:

  • Understand members and potential members
  • Train credit union staff on the best ways to reach the generations
  • Make more educated decisions relating to long-term credit union growth
  • Personalize and focus marketing messages
  • Make better overall marketing and communication decisions

Generational Overview

Various dates are used with each generation. For example, one source might indicate Boomers were born in 1960 while others say it was 1964. For the purposes of this article, we will use the dates from William Strauss and Neil Howe. They are the leading demographers of our country and use dates associated with societal change rather than parental birth patterns.

Strauss and Howe break the generations into the following groups:

  • Matures—born between 1925 and 1942 (between the ages 69 and 86). Matures are also known as the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation. There are currently 27 million Matures (9% of the population).
  • Baby Boomers—born between 1943 and 1960 (between the ages 51 and 68). Baby Boomers are also known as the original “yuppies” (the young upwardly mobile professionals). There are currently 64 million Boomers (21.5% of the population).
  • Generation X—born between 1961 and 1981 (between the ages 30 and 50). Generation X is also known as Baby Busters, Slackers and Latchkey Kids. There are currently 89 million Xers (30% of the population).
  • Generation Y—Born between 1982 and 2003 (currently between the ages 8 and 29). Generation Y is sometimes referred to as the Dot Com Generation, Echo Boomers or Millenials. Depending on where you mark the demarcation line, there are 78 million in the Gen. Y group (26% of the population).

Characteristics of each generation include the following:


  • Formed by war and economic depression
  • Define themselves by family
  • Defining moment = end of World War II (V-J or V-E Day)
  • Idealistic
  • Devoted to things beyond themselves
  • Devoted to “old-fashioned values”

—Baby Boomers

  • Formed by the 60s
  • Define themselves by work
  • Defining moment = JFK assassination
  • Self-centered
  • Spoiled by affluence growing up
  • Impatient: want things now
  • Faded idealists

—Generation X

  • Formed by technology and cable TV
  • Define themselves by individuality
  • Defining moment = Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
  • Skeptical
  • Raised by absentee parents
  • Resent boomers
  • Independent and diverse
  • Gen. X is growing up, they’re starting families and they’re becoming career-oriented

—Generation Y

  • Diverse
  • Media savvy
  • Family oriented
  • Defining moment = September 11
  • Technology driven
  • Financially smart
  • Work-life balance
  • Change
  • Educated

The better you know each generation the better you can serve them.

Applying Generational Marketing

Now that we have a better feel for the nature of generational marketing and each generation’s characteristics, how do we best marketing our credit union products and services to them? The answer is knowing and respecting the generational differences between each and crafting a marketing plan that reflects this knowledge.

As a generation ages and matures, the best methods of communicating with it changes, as well. What message, communicated in which ways, best expresses your credit union’s desire to resonate with a particular generation?  Here are generational considerations and practical application for each target specific group.


  • Voracious readers of printed materials—your credit union newsletters are key.
  • Due to possible limited mobility, technology can play a key role—be careful not to label them as “technophobes” and don’t assume they won’t use your home banking platform.
  • Will always prefer face-to-face encounters—it is imperative your front-line staff treat them with respect, saying “yes, mam” and “yes, sir.”
  • Primarily past borrowing years, unless it is for big-ticket items like RVs—show matures enjoying RVs in your RV loan promotions.
  • Prefer expert and peer testimonials and straightforward marketing messages—quote other matures in your marketing pieces because they listen to their friends.

Dupaco Credit Union created a Prime Time Club for their older members (both Boomers and Matures are actually eligible). Features of this club include access to free seminars and discounts for social, entertainment, merchant purchases and travel. Through the Prime Time Club, Dupaco Credit Union actually coordinates trips for their club members. This link shows how the credit union used pictures of their own retired members exploring the Canadian Rockies to illustrate the Prime Time Club benefits.

Baby Boomers

  • Teetering on the brink of retirement—lead your product offerings to Boomers with investment services.
  • A busy generation (kids, grandkids, parents, jobs, personal lives, etc.)—convenience services are key so show how your products (bill payment, instant loan approval, etc.) saves them time; many Boomers prefer more time to more money.
  • Also too busy to read lengthy marketing materials—a quick grab for attention is crucial, therefore use bullet points and make information “scannable.”
  • Believe in the supremacy of the individual over companies and organizations—Use the word “you” in your marketing materials; for example, “your wealth,” “your retirement,” etc.

One of the keys is to make your credit union indispensable to the Boomer. To cement the relationships with the Boomers, position your credit union as the “one-stop financial center.” Use a phrase like, “If you have money, we want it; if you want money, we have it.”

Generation X

  • Cynical and very marketing savvy—don’t blow smoke with your marketing; communicate what is real and authentic about your credit union.
  • Demands the truth first and foremost —don’t issue over promises with your marketing; cut to the facts.
  • Grew up under the shadow of emerging technologies (computers, internet, mobile devices)—if you don’t use technology your credit union will not reach Generation X.
  • Live in the now and rely heavily on web-based communications and relationships—social media is a must; make sure your credit union is active with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Sporting an average credit union member age of 37 (ten years below the national average), Linn Area Credit Union is obviously doing something right when it comes to generational marketing. Alice Hagerman, vice president of marketing at Linn Area Credit Union,  says, “Provide them what they want … free services, low fees, the latest in technology and, most importantly, treat them like they have a brain. Young people want to be trusted and respected – even if they’re covered with tattoos.”

Generation Y

  • Fanatically loyal to brands and brand image—think Apple; how can you make your credit union more like Apple?
  • Believe in corporate accountability and organizations that profess civic responsibility—leverage your credit union’s volunteer roots and community involvement.
  • Live life at light speed and expect products and services to match this pace—how fast does it take to get a loan at your credit union? Time your loan approval with your competitors. The one that has the fastest time is the one that will get the Gen. Y loan.
  • Focus on peer-reviews—they read those consumer recommendations; do you have quotes, testimonials and product reviews on your website?

A terrific example of a credit union focusing its generational marketing efforts on Gen. Y is Tinker Federal Credit Union’s “Buck the Norm” campaign. Using a designated website, social media channels and other marketing, Tinker FCU puts special effort into attracting, retaining and educating young members.


Generational marketing is a powerful tool to help your credit union strengthen its offering in the local financial services marketplace. It can also help your credit union better promote and cross-sell the right products and services, to the right people, at the right time. This can, in turn, lead to increased membership growth, improved member retention, new loans and additional assets. Credit union marketing professionals would do well to keep these key generational differences in mind and customize messages that best address them.

Mark Arnold, CCUE, is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner. He is also president of On the Mark Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in branding and strategic planning. Some of the services Mark provides include strategic planning, brand planning, leadership/management training, marketing planning and staff training. His web address is and his blog is You can also contact him at 214-538-4147 or

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details