Words and Numbers

In the beginning, there was the word. And if Einstein’s right and mathematics was the language used to  create the universe, then numbers, too, function as words. So let’s spend some time with a post by Rio Longacre over at Target Marketing and look at words and numbers that just don’t add up for me.

The post ‘s subject is the coming transition of marketing leadership from Baby Boomers to Generation X. Here’s Longacre:

“…the transition I mentioned above will essentially be a passing of the baton, as the Boomers recede from the picture and are replaced by the next generation of marketers.”

So,  another in a long line of articles designed to grab my attention by appealing to generational narcissism.  It also misapplies a theory that the social scientist in me finds pretty profound.

As with most of these generational tales, the background is missing. Here’s a quick synopsis:  William Strauss and Neil Howe posited the theory of generational succession in their 1992 book,  Generations. In its full explication the theory posits four  generational types that cycle endlessly.

At root the theory is dialectical in the Hegelian sense. That means it’s about conflict and change. I understand the common consensus, especially in business, is to stress cooperation and collaboration.  I’m having a hard time, though, finding support in the historical record for the idea that those are innate  human behaviors.

In the dialectical view, there should be tension between Baby Boomers and Generation X and Generation X and the Millenials. That’s because each successive generation reacts to the generation immediately before it.  Plus, there’s always been a lot of power in defining oneself by what one is  not–as in “I’m not a Baby Boomer.” Nonetheless, Longacre, like so many others, takes a linear approach, cf that baton bit above.

I hear you saying, “this is just a difference in interpretation.” I don’t think so. I think it’s a prime example of cutting corners. I suspect that Longacre may not have read Generations. I hope I’m wrong but 543 page books with 427 pages of text and 100+ pages of footnotes tend  to be an acquired taste.

Let’s move on. How about  those  nifty generational  names we’ve all come to embrace? Here’s what Longacre says: “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a Baby Boomer is someone who was born between 1946 and 1964.”

That’s a nice try, but the Census Bureau actually says no such thing.The Bureau neither names nor defines generations, they merely recognize the break points for demographic cohorts using a fairly straightforward but technical method. Don’t take my word for it. Visit the Census Bureau’s site  and search for Baby Boomer. The only use on the site is in a footnote that references a paper given by Census Bureau staffers at an ASA meeting.

Picking nits, you say. I see it differently. Citing the Census Bureau is an appeal to authority, one of the informal logical fallacies that drive me to distraction. If you’re going to do that at least make sure that your authority backs up what you’re saying. In fact, Generation X and Millennials as labels come from Strauss and Howe and Baby Boomer is an earlier media creation. Again, a corner cut in a way that’s too easily uncovered.

Then there’s this incredible statement

What I find very interesting is that for the most part, the vast majority of Baby Boomers (with some notable exceptions, of course) are not especially digital people. Many have learned to live and work in the digital world and quite well… I most definitely can see a huge gap.

In rebuttal I offer two definitions from the favorite reference source of the digital generation, Wikipedia.  (Wikipedia, by the way, is the source of the Census Bureau generational nonsense touched on above. The entire sentence–in fact the item’s FIRST sentence–was lifted from the Baby Boomer entry. Yet another corner cut and one that when I attended school would be called plagiarism. Does anyone cite anything anymore?):

Customer: is the recipient of a good, service, product, or idea, obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier for a monetary or other valuable consideration.

Marketing: the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers

You can try to persuade me I’m wrong but I don’t see anything about channel specificity in either definition.  I’d argue that digital is an adjective and it refers,  in a marketing sense, to a means of information delivery and interaction. People, I’d say, are never digital though they may have digital representations of themselves.

One more item to consider: the one thing that arguably improves as you get older (if you work at it) is understanding people. And at the end of the day that will always make you a better marketer.

I find it ironic that Longacre’s post appears under the Target Marketing banner. Response marketers have known for more than a century that the best way to engage a customer or covert a prospect is to speak to basic human needs through whatever medium works best.

And those needs haven’t changed just because the phone you carry  is now considered smart.


2 thoughts on “Words and Numbers

  1. Pingback: Numbers and Words | An Honest Con

  2. Pingback: The Duchamp of Pop | An Honest Con

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