As marketers we’re laser (and some might say hyper) focused on Millenials. In particular, the challenges associated with marketing to a generation that is often digital first and approaching their relationships with brands in a much different way than those of us in the generations that preceded them. Clearly, this generation warrants our attention, but in our zeal to develop new ways of engaging Millenials have we been ignoring a generation with significant buying power? I’m talking about the often overlooked Gen X.
For those asking “who are these Gen Xers?” (likely Millenials). We are the generation often defined as those born between 1965 and 1984. Based on an estimated total adult population of 236.9 million according to the Current Population Survey of the Bureau of the Census published in the fall of 2013, Gen X makes up 25% of the population at 60.4 million.
But the golden nugget for brands is that Gen Xers spending power is disproportionate to their numbers. We may be the third-largest generation (after Baby Boomers and Millennials), but Gen X has more spending power than any other generation, with 29 percent of estimated net worth dollars and 31 percent of total income dollars. With all the focus on marketing to Millenials (those shiny new objects) and Baby Boomers, brands could be overlooking the generation that is likely to be their most high-value customers.
How does this generation differ from its two bookends? Interestingly Gen Xers often share traits of both when it comes to their engagement with brands. Like Baby Boomers, many in our generation are loyal to the brands we have long established relationships with, based on value and trust. But like Millenials, Gen Xers engage with brands across multiple channels and devices, and expect a seamless experience across these different connection points. Gen Xers have a high affinity for the brands they trust and are willing to pay a premium for their products. So while we are more likely than Millenials to bestow loyalty and our dollars to trusted brands, like Millenials we will abandon a brand that doesn’t reward our loyalty with relevant offers and services.
When it comes to brand awareness most Gen Xers began their consumer journey in the offline world through direct mail, in-store, television, and radio. Television advertising was a highly influential way to reach consumers that came of age in the era of MTV, and later on The Simpsons. With a captive audience brands created strong associations with the consumers, and often emotional ones. This produced that foundation of trust and loyalty to a brand that still matter to Xers today. I’m dating myself but to name a few from the 80s and 90s that some reading this might remember:
Toys “R” Us “I Want to Be a Toys R Us Kid” (1980)
Folgers Coffee “Best Part of Waking Up is Folgers in your Cup” (1980s)
Chevy “Like a Rock”….that’s Bob Seeger for you Millenials (1991-2004)
Wendy’s “Where’s The Beef?” (1980s, revived in 2011 with “Here’s The Beef”)
This should be instructional for brands. They have an opportunity to reach Gen Xers on an emotional level that doesn’t exist for Baby Boomers and Millenials. Those early experiences in the offline world, namely TV, helped Xers identify with brands in a way that they continue to long for today. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and one prevalent in Gen Xers. This brand resonance should extend to the online world. Gen Xers grew up as digital was emerging making them equally comfortable in engaging across the offline and online world, with the same expectations of their favorite brands regardless of the engagement channel or device.
Gen Xers perceptions of brand may have started in the offline world but their comfort and ease with the offline and online world, and with multiple devices make them a highly attractive segment for cross-channel engagement. For example, for many Gen Xers (women mostly, but they buy for their husbands too) catalogs are still a favorite way to shop. While Milennials engage heavily on mobile, and are often digital first, Gen Xers love catalogs, and often will purchase an item online that they picked out from the catalog. For retailers this is incredibly valuable because you have a captive audience. Unlike surfing on mobile apps or on a brand’s website, the likeliness for disruption is considerably less. Gen Xers are also parents, and as parents love to share their brand experiences on Facebook, via Twitter, or simply through their social circles. When marketers map out customer journeys Gen Xers will often have very circuitous and very engaged paths to purchase, and are more apt to share that experience across channels. This provides brands more opportunities (by channel) to reach this segment and more opportunity to create brand evangelists. A win win!
This is the generation that coined the term work-life balance. They give a 100% at work, but when they’re off the clock they’re highly interested in personal fulfillment with family and friends, and with brands that cater to their interests be it fitness, beauty, travel, sports, fashion, etc. Also brands that they believe express their identity. Gen Xers started the SUV craze that for many males expressed their masculinity….then spread to females (mostly Moms)….and is now widely critiqued in the age of the hybrid vehicle. So it goes. But back to that work life balance. This is the generation of “latchkey kids.” It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of Gen Xers were latchkey kids who returned home from school to empty houses. Their desire for work life balance is in direct response to this experience, wanting something different for themselves and their children. What’s interesting is the confluence of experiences that created the Gen X consumer profile. The generation that directly experienced or witnessed the latchkey kid after school routine created a generation highly impressionable to advertising (plopped in front of the TV after school) yet highly skeptical individuals because of that experience; specifically the sharp increase in the divorce rate in 1970s and 1980s. The nostalgia for brands combined with a healthy skepticism has created a generation of consumers eager to engage with brands, but only those that cater to their goals and lifestyles. For those brands that offer goods and services that fulfill the promise of identity and value you can create lifetime relationships with this Generation.
So please marketers remember Gen Xers! At 25% of the U.S. population and commanding 31% of total income dollars this is not a population to ignore. Your searching for gold……well you may have just found it.
Gen X – let’s revel in our sometimes good and often horrible taste as consumers back in the day
Cabbage Patch Kids (really? why the obsession?)
Belle & Sebastian (good then …still good)
Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure
Dirty Dancing (“nobody puts baby in the corner”…possibly the worst and yet best line in a movie)
Norman Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song”
Bon Jovi’s “Living on A Prayer” (I’m a Bruce fan but this was sorta an 80s anthem)
Tiffany’s “I Think we’re Alone Now” (c’mon any female over 40 knows this tune….even if we’re cringing)
Band Aid “Do They Know It’s Christmas”
The Mixed Tape – technically created by the consumer not the brand ….but worthy of mention