Today's specialty brands are now feeling the pressure to decide exactly how to appeal to two arguably incompatible demographic groups - Millennials and Baby Boomers - according to retail customer experience experts WD Partners. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

Some 80 million Millennials will soon reach peak buying power. At the same time, 77 million Baby Boomers are entering new lifestyle stages - retirement, second career, empty nester - and so in many retail categories, brand loyalty is up for grabs.

It's a seemingly impossible choice: try to matter most to a 65-year-old retiree and the brand risks compromising cachet and 'cool' in the mind of someone as young as 18, but solely target the 18-34 age range and risk alienating an older demographic group with real spending power (40% of total consumer demand) that is simply too big to ignore.

"We wanted to answer some arguably elusive questions facing specialty retailers today: Does cool matter? Does it actually drive purchase? How does a specialty brand define itself without limiting itself?" said Lee Peterson, executive vice president of client services for WD Partners. "So we sought to find out how relevant brands act and communicate with consumers in the marketplace."

The company's research report, entitled 'The Continuum of Cool', explored the changing attitudes and emotional needs among America's Baby Boomers and Millennials, and this generation's vital subgroup: Hispanic Millennials. Among the key findings and recommendations from the study:

  • Identify and Prioritize Emotional Needs of Both Generations
    Brands that help them express and define identity; Boomers value specialty brands that make life better, but don't need brands to define who they are. Millennials use brands more intimately at this stage in their lives.
  • How Millennials Define Cool: It's All About Identity
    Cool is a social construct: Millennials seek peer approval through the brands they choose and find aspirational specialty brands most appealing. They want brands that allow them to create a personal style; products that signal a lifestyle to others or denote membership in a distinctive social tribe. Technology no longer serves as a way for this generation to signal difference; its ubiquity and thorough lifestyle adoption defines the entire generation, so it no longer serves as a way to define identity.
  • How Boomers Define Cool: It's All About Relevance
    As people age, they don't become less concerned about fashion, trends, and what's considered cool; it's just these kinds of constructs become less relevant to how they structure and create identity. Boomers still want to try the latest cup of coffee; dabble in the freshest fashion trends; and stay up-to-date on the technological change. Yet, unlike Millennials, it's less about identity-formation and more about making life easier or empowering communication with family and friends.
  • The Common Ground: Health, Wellness and Good Works
    The research showed that broader consumer trends surrounding organic food, local buying, healthier lifestyles, and corporate philanthropy, appeal to both generations. It's the most robust area of cross-generational appeal. Brands that communicate with messages of health, wellness and good works resonate most deeply with consumers of all generations.