The forgotten generation: Let’s talk about Generation X
November 26, 2018
Millennials have relentlessly been at the center of branding and marketing conversations over the last few years. Marketers will not stop talking about them — often with misguided and unfounded generalizations.
This level of hyper-focus, and what some might call a bit of panic, is no surprise: This generation of over 70 million individuals is projected to overtake baby boomers in size and are wildly different in their attitudes and behaviors. They’re so different from their predecessors that we continue to be fascinated by them, constantly dissecting and re-dissecting their actions to find the best ways to connect. So, what’s getting lost in the shuffle? Or rather, whom?
Generation X (ages 38-53) has essentially fallen off the radar among marketers. They are often referred to as the “slacker generation” or the “forgotten middle child.” For our youth and young adulthood, baby boomers sucked up all the oxygen in the room, dominating our political, educational, business and social arenas. We were always under the shadow of boomers.
Many of us grew up as latchkey kids with both parents working or as part of a divorced household. We witnessed the beginning of ATMs, started our careers around the dot-com boom (and some busts as well), lugged around large cell phone suitcases and reached adulthood just when the internet became a daily part of life. We saw the Berlin Wall fall, the Cold War end, Communism disintegrate and saw the end of Apartheid in South Africa, all to a backdrop of grunge and disillusionment.
This cultural backdrop has defined a “work hard, play hard” generation that is now at the pinnacle of their careers. Many of us are homeowners and have families of our own. So, here we sit in this powerful time with money, resources and influence, and we still aren’t in the mainstream conversation. We’ve watched the culture interest shift from boomers to millennials like we’re a flyover state.
Yes, our size is smaller than the boomer and millennial generations, but we are not insignificant. At 66 million strong, why have we faded into near obscurity in the marketing conversation? Gen Xers are spending more than their counterparts, spending one-third more annually than the celebrated millennials.
Despite recent studies showing that Gen Xers continue to struggle with debt, some of these studies also show that they aren’t too worried about this debt. Even though they are struggling to save for retirement, they are well positioned to become the wealthiest generation — above boomers — within the next few years.
Gen Xers also have a lot of influence on other generations, which makes them powerful. Roughly half of Gen Xers are financially supporting both a parent and a child at the same time, making financial decisions that can affect all three generations. And as reported by Business Insider, Gen Xers make significantly more money each year than their younger counterparts. In my home state of California, Gen X workers take in a whopping $18,000 more annually on average. Not surprisingly, they spend more too, averaging 11% more than baby boomers and 33% more than millennials.
Additionally, our generation is poised to become the dominant group running businesses and politics. So, why do we still feel like Ducky at the prom from the 80s cult classic Pretty In Pink? Savvy marketers would do well to remember Gen Xers, not only as a spending powerhouse but also as a strong influence on the other generations.
Here are some tips for reaching out to this forgotten generation:
Don’t delete Facebook.
There is no doubt that Gen Xers are technologically savvy, but traditional online marketing methods still work effectively with this group. They are more likely to react to social media advertising on online platforms such as Facebook and, to some extent, Instagram. Facebook is especially an appealing source given they make up the highest concentration of users, around 45 million.
Communicate through email.
Email marketing communications is also a more effective channel for this group as they are constantly checking email both at work and home and across all of their devices (smartphone, iPad, Apple watch, etc.). We were there when email as a form of communication was created and it continues to play a big part in our lives.
Gen Xers still like to get a good deal and, yes, this means coupons. While it may not look like your grandma’s coupon clipping file box with scraps cut from flyers or newspapers, it’s not too far off. This group is willing to search the internet to look for cost savings from coupon codes offered online or digital coupons.
Reward their loyalty.
Gen Xers like loyalty programs and the primary drivers are to save money and receive awards for purchases they make. In a recent study about loyalty, more than 88% of Gen Xers join loyalty programs to save money, with the rewards coming in as a close second at 71%. Brands should consider this behavior and appeal to this generation with rewards programs that resonate on these levels.
Straddle brick-and-mortar and online.
This generation grew up loving to shop at malls and, of any generation, they are still very likely to enjoy shopping in-person. However, they have seamlessly embraced online shopping, making them a hybrid generation. They are also more likely to make unplanned purchases at in-store than any other generation while they are shopping.
Gen Xers are a force to be reckoned with. They have huge buying power and influence over other generations and are expected to live longer than boomers. Brands and marketers should not gloss over this generation and need to understand how this group is maturing. They want to be heard, not forgotten, and marketers would do well to pay attention.
By Angela Woo