The Foundations of a New Marketing Paradigm VI

This is the sixth of a series of articles written by our colleague David B. Wolfe noted author and older consumer expert.

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by David B. Wolfe

How the stories we live by change by season of life

We live our lives as personal narratives. As we move through the seasons of life our storylines, characters and the mythic themes of those narratives change. The developmental objectives of each season form the plotlines of our narratives. The life focus of the season we are in keeps us on track in following our plotlines. The mythic themes of personal narratives determine the general character of our worldviews – how we connect to the world.

The Four Seasons of Life

SEASON
DEVELOPMENTAL
FOCUS
DURATION
PRIMARY LIFE STRATEGY & LIFE NARRATIVE THEME
Spring
Basic development
0 – 22+
Play (learning) Fantasy theme: “Everything will ultimately break my way.” deus ex machina – “There will always be someone to help me get out of trouble.”
Summer
Social/vocational development
18+ – 40+
Work (becoming somebody) Romantic, heroic theme: – “The world is my oyster. There is no holding me back because I can do anything I set out to do.”
Fall
Inner self development
38+ – 60+
Work-play balance (search for meaning) Reality theme: “There are limitations; I can’t do what I thought I could,” or “I’ve done better than I thought something is missing. Who am I really?”
Winter
Climax of personal development
58+ – ?
Life reconciliation (making sense of life) Ironic theme: There’s some good in every bad, and some bad in every good, nothing is black-and-white, and little that is certain; c’est la vie!

The mythic theme of Spring is fantasy. Fantasy gives flight to the imagination and obscures the boundaries between reality and non-reality. This is why children see nothing incongruous about animals talking like people in storybooks and film.

Teens also invest heavily in fantasy. Their views of the world and their future cast through the lens of fantasy inform them of an infinite array of possibilities. Yet, as with young children, teens are generally inclined to reflect a passive outlook that assumes life will generally break in their favor as a natural consequence of their desires.

Summer’s mythic theme is romance, not just in the context of Eros, but also in the heroic sense. Summer’s theme fosters feelings of power: “There is nothing I cannot do if I put my mind to it. The world is my oyster and I will harvest many pearls.”

Summer’s worldview is more intentional and activist-minded than one’s worldview characteristically is in Spring. A young adult headed towards success knows that meeting Summer’s developmental objective of social and vocational success isn’t just going to happen simply as a consequence of desire. They know that it takes focused attention and hard work.

Summer is a time when the influences of materialism are strongest. In Summer, we generally demonstrate our social and vocational successes through what we buy and the friends we keep. This has long made consumers in summer the darlings of marketers.

Fall’s mythic theme is reality. Less attention is paid larger-than-life dreams that fuel ambitions in Summer. We tend to become more realistic about our capabilities and limitations in Fall. Most of us begin seeking a simpler and less stressful lifestyle than we experienced in summer. Our materialistic appetites begin ebbing as we start examining our lives less in terms of material accomplishment and more in terms of life’s ultimate meanings.

Those who are in the Fall of their lives (nearly all of whom are boomers) now exert the greatest influence of any 20-year age cohort on the zeitgeist – the “spirit of the times.” They are the largest 20-year age cohort and have the most money to spend. Almost reluctantly it seems, marketers are beginning to adopt the Fall-time consumer as the new darling of the marketplace.

Winter’s mythic theme is irony. With relatively little time left, many people in the Winter of their lives ironically experience increased patience. One 85-year-old woman who had just planted several shade tree seedlings in her garden when asked why she didn’t plant larger trees replied, “Because I’m into beginnings, not endings.” We have less interest in Winter in solving the mysteries and conundrums of life. We become quite accepting of the idea that life is filled with an endless sea of incongruities and paradoxes and resigned to the idea that much in life happens that cannot be explained.  The black-and-white simple descriptions of reality that satisfied the younger mind have given way to a reality painted in shades of gray.

NEXT: How an understanding of the seasons of life can make you a more effective marketer.

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