Sell Me This Pen: A Generational Study

“Sell me this pen”
“Sell me this pencil”

This “test” is about as old as sales themselves. I read one source claim it stems from “Sell me this bowl of crushed berries” and dates all the way back to cavemen. The idea is that in a job interview the candidate is handed a pen and asked to sell it to the interviewer. It’s intended to show one’s ability to display confidence and think on their feet.

You Have 30 Seconds to Sell Me This Pen

“This is the greatest pen ever made”
“This is the cheapest pen you could find”
“This pen will last forever”

However the real Mr. Belfort, who The Wolf of Wallstreet is based on, says these are all wrong answers.

“The real answer is, before I’m even going to sell a pen to anybody, I need to know about the person, I want to know what their needs are, what kind of pens do they use, do they use a pen? How often do they use a pen? Do they like to use a pen formally, to sign things, or use it in their everyday life? The first idea is that when you say ‘Sell me this pen,’ I want to hear [the salesman] ask me a question”

Let’s go a little further! The Vala Method leaves as few questions in the mix as possible. We like to use data, buyer personas, habits, and precisely crafted and targetted messaging to find and convert leads. I’d like to illustrate with this old age riddle. How can you sell a pen. Too easy? Ok – Let’s make it digital.

I will sell the following 3 generations a pen using digital marketing.


Baby Boomers

Google Definition: Baby boomers are people born during the demographic post–World War II baby boom approximately between the years 1946 and 1964. This includes people who are between 70 and 52 years old in 2016, respectively.
Aspiration: Job Security
Attitude Toward Technology: Early Adopters
Signature Product: Televisions
Communication Preference: Face to Face
Financial Decisions: Made Face to Face

In crafting a digital campaign to sell pens to baby boomers I would ask myself the following questions with every decision I made. Is this factual? Is this honest? and is this upfront? Baby Boomers value trust in their decisions more than any other generation. They also really like themselves. (I should probably apologize up front for any feelings I hurt during this write-up) so I would include pictures of that age group in my materials. Baby Boomers also share a couple traits with Millennials: They’re interested in who businesses actually are. I would include pictures of the staff and day to day operations. They’re smart and well informed. They know what they want. I would make sure information about the product is readily available and completely avoid the “hard sell.”

So what would I do?
1. Create a landing page with a display of the pen, product features, pictures of the staff and manufacturing process if available (Upfront, honest, and factual)
2. I would integrate an anonymous chat program where questions could be asked about the product without providing personal details (Baby Boomers love their privacy!)
3. I would create a referral program
4. I would create a 1 year replacement program
5. I would allow anonymous checkout
6. I would promote the campaign primarily through Facebook – Posting would include information about the business and process, reviews, endorsements, community interaction, and highlight the referral and replacement program
7. I would spend money on Google AdWords and Facebook Ads


Generation X

Google Definition: The generation born after that of the baby boomers (roughly from the early 1960s to mid 1970s), often perceived to be disaffected and directionless.
Aspiration: Work-Life Balance
Attitude Toward Technology: Digital Immigrants
Signature Product: Personal Computer
Communication Preference: Text or Email
Financial Decisions:  Prefers in person – Will use Internet and Email

Gen X grew up rough. The divorce rate peaked in 1980 and more Generation X grew up in split homes than any generation. They entered their careers when pensions started disappearing, jobs started shipping offshore, and a lot of them weathered a stock market crash in 1987. Generation X grew up cynical, angry, and profoundly insecure: Think Kurt Cobain and The Breakfast Club.. They had it a lot better economically then Millennials, however the perception is very skewed a
s they were raised by the self-proclaimed “best generation” and were subject to a harsh contrast in lifestyles between the post WWII era and the corporatization of America.

Gen X is often forgotten by marketers and media. Believe it or not, when Generation X started making noise they were labeled as “slackers” and “poor” (Sound familiar?) and some Baby Boomer brands simply leapfrogged over them and bent over backwards for Millennials. So how do you market to this relatively small, disillusioned, cynical, convention-questioning generation? Generation X didn’t grow up with the internet, however they adopted it. They have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. So – I would propose you market as such. An integrated omnichannel campaign that hits them right in the nostalgia and finishes with a solid tech-savvy uppercut.

Here’s the Plan

1.  Discounts – You need discounts. Lot’s of discounts. In fact for this campaign if I had to I would forgo advertising to built in more ways to save. Appeal to Gen X’s financial responsibility. Dollar value is the most important factor in Generation X’s spending habits
2. Email Blasts – Generation X are the only generation (statistically) that check and respond to their email daily. In the email I would include discounts and highlight the value of my pens.
3. Referral program – Word of mouth is a huge factor for Generation X. Get a discount if your friend buys a pen!
4. Make a Video – Over 75% of Generation X stream video online. Show your pen in action!
5. I would still use Facebook primarily. I would post about nostalgia, insert my pens into pictures of their favorite movies, post about discounts, post videos about my pens, and encourage sharing to grow word of mouth potential. Maybe make fun of Millennials.
6. I would host a Pen Giveaway – Buy my super cheap pen and have a chance to win a years supply!




Google Definition: the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, typically perceived as increasingly familiar with digital and electronic technology.
Aspiration: Freedom and Flexibility
Attitude Toward Technology: Digital Natives
Signature Product: Mobile Devices
Communication Preference: Text and Social Media
Financial Decisions: Made Online

I just recently wrote a post about marketing with millennials.  So I won’t go as in-depth as I could on this point. In fact Vala considers marketing with Millennials to be our specialty, so I could go on for hours and hour and pages and pages. But here are some tips. Millennials want to have fun. They respond to interactive content and favor collaboration. They don’t respond to traditional advertising or interruptive marketing. You also need to target social groups – not ages. So who would still use a pen? I am not actually going to do a ton of research for this. It’s literally my job and I do it every darn day. Give me a break (I’m a lazy Millennial). I am going to take an educated guess and hypothesize I could crack the market with serial academics and college kids.

Here’s what I would do:

1. I would create a video series of college kids who use notepads and pens as opposed to their laptops and their experiences.
2. I would create a series of blog articles that propose taking notes with a pen is better. [Potential Sources]
3. I would create a series of infographs based on those articles
4. I would run a Facebook, twitter, and Instagram campaign that involved awesome photography of my happy pen-using community, show my staff and manufacturing process, and focus on things like study tips, note-taking, and academia.
5. I would sell my pens as a subscription, where the user received a new pen every month
6. All of my blogs and videos would point towards that subscriptions as the call-to-action

What do you think? I would love to hear your feedback! Also keep in mind through the month of July 2016 I am offering some free information for business owners including a website, SEO, and social media audit. Let’s talk!

Grant Mielke

AUTHOR: Grant Mielke
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