Consumer Confidence: It’s a Bit Murky Out There

As small business owners in a recession, we eagerly await any news that consumer confidence is rebounding to normal levels. But looking at consumers as one undifferentiated mass is a big mistake. As the latest BIG Research Consumer Intentions & Actions survey uncovered, consumer optimism may be on the rebound among some groups, while it’s falling among others. Knowing what your customers think is key to successfully marketing to them.

stormy economy

BIG surveyed consumers in four age brackets:

  1. Silent (born 1945 or earlier)
  2. Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
  3. Gen X (born 1965 – 1982)
  4. Gen Y (born 1983 – 1993

Gen Y (there are various “definitions” of the age of this generation) was the most likely to be feeling confident that the U.S. economy is going to return to its pre-recession days. More than one in three (36.7 percent) of Gen Y felt this way. At the same time, Gen Y was also the most likely to feel uncertain about the future of the economy (37.5 percent).

Generation X was close behind its younger cohorts, with 35.8 percent feeling that the economy will bounce back, and 33.9 percent feeling uncertain.

More pessimistic were the Baby Boomers and Silents. Only 29.5 percent of Boomers and 26.8 percent of Silents felt that the economy will bounce back to its former days. In contrast, 39.3 percent of Silents and 37.9 percent of Boomers believe the economy will never recover. (33.9 percent of Silents and 32.5 percent of Boomers were uncertain.)

Least pessimistic? Generation Y—just 25.8 percent felt the economy will never recover, and only 30.3 percent of Gen Xers felt the same.

What’s the reason for the different attitudes? And more importantly, how can your understanding of them help you market to the different age groups?

Silents: Silents lived through or were closely affected by periods of hardship. Some lived through the Great Depression, and all grew up in the shadow of World War II, so they are used to saving and sacrificing. So their pessimistic attitudes may reflect the attitudes they were raised with. To market to this generation, focus on value—not just cost savings, but products and services that are worth the price.

Baby Boomers: Born and raised in unprecedented economic good times, Boomers have taken hard knocks in this economy. They’ve seen their retirement plans decimated and since many of them are caring for aging (Silent generation) parents, they’re shouldering their parents’ financial burdens as well. Add to it the return of adult children to the nest, and Boomers are feeling pretty squeezed. But Boomers still want to treat themselves, so marketing to them should focus on how your product or service can save them time or money, how it can enable them to enjoy life (the way they feel they deserve) or how it can give them a well-earned break.

Generation X: Generation X is in the throes of marriage and parenting and are at the prime of their work careers. This is the stage when consumers, no matter the economy, have to make lots of big purchasing decisions—buying homes, planning weddings or gearing up for babies. Gen X has high expectations for success but a lower budget to achieve it. Target these stressed-out consumers with products and services that help them feel good about themselves without breaking the bank. And be aware that they’re fully tapping the power of the Internet to find and share the best businesses and the best deals.

Generation Y: While they may be the most optimistic, Gen Y has less money to spend than the other groups, simply due to their life stage. However, because they have fewer commitments, they may have more disposable income. Target them with products and services that help them connect to their peers while still being affordable for their limited budgets. One option that can work well for Gen Y is offering different price packages for your product or service. Pricing at a basic level, mid-level and premium levels can appeal to their budgets as well as to their beliefs that eventually, the premium level will be within their reach.

Learn to target the different generations in your marketing, and you’ll see sales that will have you feeling a lot more optimistic about the economy.

Stormy Economy Photo via Shutterstock


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

3 Reactions
  1. With Silents, make sure your product/service is top-notch. People say “they just don’t make ’em like they used to” for a reason.

  2. Good point Robert, thanks.

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