The Evolution of the Customer: The 1980s - Grace Hill
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The Evolution of the Customer: The 1980s

Posted on October 3, 2011 by Grace Hill

Certainly, the future never arrives as planned but the wild innovations in our industry and changes in our world over the past 30 years have kept things very interesting. Let us take a ride in a time machine to explore the past!

The 1980s: The “Me” Decade

Housing a generation of status seekers, the 1980s was definitely a decade that embodied the ‘greed is good’ ideology. The ‘yuppie’ (Young Urban Professional) culture emerged. They were selfish and very materialistic. Corporate power was becoming more prevalent, and these up-and-comers wanted their piece of the action!


Technology had come a long way by the 1980s. Computers were becoming more common household items and not just business machines; they even started making an appearance in schools. In 1981, we launched the first space shuttle, Columbia. The cell phone came into being in the late 80s in big, bulky bags, and they were mostly relegated to business use.


MTV revolutionized the world of music in the 80s. We saw the birth of the compact disc (CD). Pop, punk, new wave, rap, and hip-hop emerged or grew, in some cases exponentially, at various points. In 1985, Bruce Springsteen released his Born in the USA album. People were slam dancing and break dancing across floors everywhere. Milli Vanilli lip-synced their way to their 15 seconds of fame, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller became the best selling album of all time.

Fashion & Style

Teens were seen wearing tank tops, leg warmers, and tight fitting or torn jeans – thank you Flashdance! We loved everything big, bold, and brightly colored. Madonna’s leather and fishnet were as popular as Michael Jackson’s white glove and Donna Karan and Anne Klein designer attire.

Tennis shoes and shoulder pads – oh my!

Teased hair, two-toned eye shadow and glossy lipstick were the “it” look for women. Men pulled off a new business look with paisley or red power ties worn with fashionable suspenders or a silk vest.  And, yes, the 1980s saw the return of big hair – gels, waxes and mousses abounded – and people weren’t afraid to experiment. The net effect was a myriad of outrageous styles that were all about the VOLUME! There were headbands, ponytails, mohawks and crimping… and even the now-laughable mullet.

Film & Television

In the early 80s VCRs became a common household item. Popular movies included E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Tootsie, Cocoon, Back to the Future, Fatal Attraction, and Driving Miss Daisy. Cable TV was invented, and the 80s quickly became known as the decade of the sitcom: The Cosby Show, Cheers, Roseanne, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Golden Girls, and The Wonder Years were favorites. Dallas, an evening serial drama, was one of the top television shows during the era.

Who shot J.R.?


Consumers began their love affair with credit cards in the 80s; we borrowed and spent instead of saving for a rainy day. Aerobics, minivans, camcorders, and talk shows became a part of our lives! Popular phrases were:

If you’ve got it, flaunt it!  Shop ‘til you drop! and You can have it all!

The decade began with double-digit inflation, hospital costs rose, and we learned about and lost many to AIDS.  BUT, in the US we also saw the Constitution celebrate its 200th birthday, Gone with the Wind turn 50, and we gave $115,000,000,000 to charity in a single year (1989).

Apartment Industry

In 1980, apartments were a box with four walls and a small kitchen. A community laundry room was considered a great amenity. Communication between management and residents was verbal and most likely face to face. The apartment seeker of the 80s did not have a long list of requirements and amenities; even with many things becoming more sophisticated, for prospects it was simply, “Do you have a one bedroom on the second floor?” By the end of the 80s era, the Baby Boomer generation was moving out of the ‘singles and couples’ phase and into the parenting phase, while the smaller Generation X group was moving away from home for the first time.

Customer Service

In the 1980s we saw the development of database marketing, the precursor to CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Although helpful, information on existing databases tended to be unorganized, as well as hard to track, update and retrieve. But as our use of computer technology and email communication was on the rise, so was the incidence of computer-generated SPAM. No longer was it the simply the annoying call during dinner time, or stacks of junk clogging up our mail box, we began having to sift through undesired marketing materials in our email as well.

Highlights of the 1980s

  • The US Hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the Winter Olympics upset dubbed the “Miracle on Ice”
  • Our country declared a “War on Drugs”
  • Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed as a Supreme Court Justice
  • The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was erected

And, as we came to the end of an era,

  • US President Reagan demanded: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

At the turn of the decade, many were happy to leave the 80s for the promise of a new way of life and ever-changing culture in the 1990s, but many truly thought (and some still believe):


Grace Hill’s marketing content team aims to create informative resources that help multifamily and commercial industry professionals elevate their performance. From blog posts and ebooks to infographics, checklists and webinars, the Grace Hill team has a singular focus: creating meaningful and engaging content that resonates with real estate professionals across the industry.  However, what makes Grace Hill so unique is the range of collective experience and collaborative spirit of its marketing content team. A group of talented writers with expertise in the real estate industry, overall management effectiveness, marketing strategy, and operational efficiency, the team provides new ideas to take performance to the next level. As a thought leader, Grace Hill's content team constantly pushes the envelope, experimenting with new resources and tools to keep industry professionals ahead of the curve.  Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out in the real estate industry, the content team at Grace Hill is creating resources to help you succeed. Learn more about Grace Hill on LinkedIn.

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