Parents are People too – Understanding The Sandwich Generation

Parents are people too understanding the sandwich generation

In my last article “Parents are People Too – Surprising facts about this Key Consumer Segment” I revealed some facts about parents as consumers, some of which may surprise you.

In this article I’m going to look at the position and role that parents play in their own family life, that of the sandwich generation.

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parents as Sandwiches

As I continue to point out, parents are people too. Many marketers tend to think about consumer segments in a very specific way – by age, life stage or interest.

It is too often assumed that once people have children, the only thing they are interested in is buying for their kids. In fact, parents still very much have an interest in products or experiences for themselves!

On top of that, parents between 35 and 55 in particular are really sandwiched in between their children and their own parents. And this makes them a wonderful segment to build trust with, because not only do they buy for the 3 generations but they have a huge influence on their parents, siblings, children and fellow parents. 

Defining The Sandwich Generation

The “sandwich generation” is defined as those who have a living parent age 65 or older and are either raising a child under age 18 or supporting a grown child.

Pew Research defines the ages of parents belonging to the sandwich generation as being mostly middle-aged, their stats show that 71% of this group is aged between 40 and 59.

However, interestingly, an additional 19% are younger than 40 and 10% are age 60 or older. So this is covering a broad swathe of parents of different ages. 

When you look at all the definitions and research on sandwich generation adults, most of it is talking about stresses, strains, caring for 2 generations as well as yourself. 

There’s no doubting that these are burdens that this cohort of parent bears. Not only does this makes them particularly time-poor but also, they really need to have an extra level of trust in the brands they buy from because they aren’t just buying for themselves.

Sandwich-generation adults are also more likely than other adults to say they are pressed for time.

When those with a parent aged 65 or older and a dependent child were asked about time, 31% say they always feel rushed even to do the things they have to do, compared to 23% of other adults.

Parents and Influence

500 parents answered questions, actively shared their opinions and gave detailed commentary on how parents and how they approach giving and receiving recommendations on products and services, and what influences them to try new products. 

Download our free mini Insights report about Parents and Influence.

The Typical Life of a Sandwich Generation Parent

Research by Trinity College Dublin profiled women in the sandwich generation, with both living parents and children. The research showed:

  • 31% of all community dwelling women aged 50 to 69 years old meet the profile.
  • Women in the sandwich generation in Ireland have a higher level of educational attainment compared with other women in this age group; one-quarter have a tertiary level education.
  • Half of all sandwich generation women provide substantial time support to their parents, one-third provide support towards basic and personal care such as dressing, eating and bathing (activities of daily living) for an average of 21 hours per week
  • More than half give household help with chores, transportation
    and shopping, the instrumental activities of daily living.
  • One-third of the sandwich generation women also provide practical household help
    including shopping and household chores to their non-resident adult children for an average of 12 hours per month.

What does this all translate to? Very busy parents making lots of quick decisions about what they buy and use when giving their time and support to family members.

Parents as Intergenerational Brand Influencers

Parents are really the gatekeepers to family life. They don’t just make purchasing decisions for themselves but are key influencers and decision makers for their children, their own parents and extended family. They have to have a strong level of trust in the brands they buy from. And they will freely recommend brands they trust to their peers and network.

Intergenerational transfers of time and money can also be extended to transfer of brands. Yes! Brands.

Egade Ideas point out that studies have brought to light different facets of how the family could affect brand awareness and brand associations.

Brands are transferred from parents/grandparents to their children, resulting in deep emotional “connections” with brands. We saw this on our recent insights project working with Love Irish Food, where parents expressed brand loyalty to Irish products that they had grown up with.

Children observe and are influenced by their parents’ brand choices, their brand trust, heuristic frameworks and symbols, acting as “recipients of meaning and emotion”.

Effectively, parents are training and educating their daughters and sons in their brand preferences.

Consider these facts:

  • Two in five Gen Z and Millennials say their parents are an important influencer in brand choice
  • Children are the second most important influencers for Baby Boomers.
  • Multi-generational homes and networks mean that brands that are trusted cross those generations. 

According to a recent quantitative cross-generational study from Mail Metro Media, 38% of Gen Z and 37% of Millennials in the Great British population claim their parents or guardians are one of the most important influencers in their choice of brands – outranking both celebrities and social influencers.

Parents ranked second as the key brand influencer (after friends) across three in four generations.

Parents rank as the #2 influencer across 3 in 4 generations and younger generations still place value on their parents’ opinion. Family is both a top priority and brand influencer across all generations.

This is why these sandwich parents are so important – they influence their children and their parents as well as their peers and friends; build trust, reward their loyalty and you will reap crossgenerational rewards.

One parent says:

“I’m trying to buy from local businesses, and one I love is Voya Seaweed Baths. They do lovely teas, the mint one is my favourite and my parents now too.”

What Brands and Businesses Can Do

Here are 3 simple starting points to leverage “sandwich” parents:

1. Knowledge is Power

On a recent call with a multinational brand, they admitted that they don’t ask what their customers want!

How can you provide an outstanding service or product if you never ask what your customer wants or needs?

Talking to your customers and would-be customers will help you to understand not only what will resonate but also how you can leverage their inter-generational influence and word of mouth. What are parents thinking about your brand, product or service? Where are they finding out about you? What would activate them to spend more with you?

2. Communication is Key

Armed with the knowledge you gain by asking parents what they want, let them know you have listened and communicate changes, new products etc. and continue to ask for their ongoing feedback.

This method of listen-learn-tweak-test will ensure you not only maximise your marketing spend but build brand trust too.

3. Don’t Alienate the Sandwich Generation

Instead of thinking of parents as only interested in child-focused products think of them as multi-generational influencers and buyers.

Whether your product is aimed at the high end luxury market, the child or teen market or the later stage in life market, parents are likely to be consumers themselves or have influence over purchasing decisions made by other consumers.

This is a ready-made, highly influential segment to tap into!

And if you would like our help to talk to this valuable consumer segment, we’re here to help. We work with companies and brands, large and small, in a variety of sectors to help bring them in depth feedback and actionable insight to grow their business and engage with and more importantly, activate parents. 

grow your business with consumer insights

Would you like business-transforming insights for your brand? Use our tailored panels of engaged parents and our dedicated private platform to gather critical insights to help your decision making and activate customers.  Contact us now to find how we can help.

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