Six Traits that Make Marketing to Gen Xers Both a Joy and a Challenge
Born between 1965 and 1980, Generation X is thought to some of as the “middle child generation”. They are often overlooked for the cooler, trendier Millennial market. And believe it or not, Gen Xers won’t overtake Boomers by number for another ten years, according to Pew Research. But Gen Xers wield a significant amount of influence in the market, with spending power that tops $2.4 trillion.
In this post, let’s take a look at what makes the 66 million adults known as Generation X spend their hard-earned money, and how brands and businesses can capture the attention of the Digital Age’s first adopters by tailoring their marketing specifically for this booming audience.
Trait #1: Gen Xers Are a Nostalgic Bunch (Sorta)
It’s no secret people love reliving the good old times. Studies have found that that we spend more money when we’re feeling nostalgic. While nostalgia is nothing new (haha - pun), Gen Xers are the first generation to be able to indulge in their nostalgia by accessing retired sitcoms and music videos from the 80s and 90s on demand.
(Like when Ozzy got his own show… and it was both startling and hilarious? On the one hand, Ozzy was BACK! On the other hand, Ozzy was OLDER and didn’t know how to operate his own remote-controlled house.)
And it’s not just the music. Sony released an updated PlayStation Classic. Reboots of popular franchises like Star Wars, Transformers, and Full House grace our screens - big and small. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Iron Man are back. Nostalgia is a growing market, and people are buying into it in spades.
One great example of this was the marketing campaign from Domino’s to advertise the new Domino’s Tracker app. Modeling its commercial on the classic 80’s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and casting one of the original cast members alongside Stranger Things star Joe Keery, the company effectively covered all of their bases by appealing to people across generations.
Gen Xers were the last generation to grow up on Saturday morning cartoons, and the amazing storytelling that came with them. To this day, Gen Xers can be swayed with a great story… and even more if the great story you’re telling is a throwback. Ideally, you never want to alienate anyone from your marketing, even when targeting it at a specific group. Nostalgia is one thing that everyone can enjoy - if it’s executed well.
Trait #2: Gen Xers are BIG on Family
Gen Xers are still knee-deep in family matters. The majority of Gen Xers are married and have an average of 2.5 children per household . Many older Gen Xers have also assumed the role of primary caretaker for their own parents. But here’s the thing that sort of rattled the personal finance world a few months ago: According to a recent study released by Merrill Lynch, there is actually what is referred to as an “economy of support”. Millennials and adult Gen Zers are relying on their Gen X and Boomer parents to help them meet financial obligations, to the tune of $500 million a year. The money Gen Xers and Boomers would otherwise earmark for personal purchases and retirement is being reallocated to financially support adult children.
Gen Xers make up around 20 percent of the population, and control 14% of the nation’s wealth. But, 75 percent of them also help their parents financially, and 52 percent support their adult Millennial children struggling to make it on their own. Add to that the 54 percent of Gen Xers still controlling the spending of younger Gen Z children who are now teens and in their early 20s, entering high school, college and the workforce and you can see why Gen Xers have to be smart about their spending.
Many Gen Xers live in multi-generational households, really keeping their families as close as possible. This is why a lot of that family support spending happens. Family is incomparably important to this generation (we’re not going to mention the helicopter parenting thing), so keeping a focus on that is essential if you want to appeal to Gen X.
This doesn’t mean that you have to fill every commercial with the beaming faces of a happy family. What it does mean is that appealing to this generation as parents, adults (who are STILL rebels, by the way), and individuals.
Trait #3: Gen Xers Pretty Much HAVE to Be Smart Shoppers
Let’s talk about that $2.4 trillion in spending power. Despite being the hardest hit by the Great Recession, most Gen Xers count the cost of home ownership among their many financial responsibilities… in addition to college tuition, business costs (they’re the entrepreneurial generation who invented hustling), and saving for retirement.
This may explain why Gen Xers are so likely to zero in on good deals and thrifty spending… despite their ample incomes. You’re likely to find Gen X coupon clippers, so if you want to channel their spending power into your brand, you’ll need to offer them a great deal because these guys do their due diligence. They love comparing companies, products, and prices online to ensure they get the BEST possible deal.
That said, it’s pretty safe to assume that Generation X will respond positively to the use of compelling UGC in your digital marketing campaigns. They put a lot of stock into researching brands to figure out which companies are worth patronizing. Positive (and negative) customer reviews matter, so make sure you’re set up to receive recommendations and reviews. . Learn how to effectively use user-generated content, and you’ll be appealing to what these savvy shoppers find important.
Right now, the average Gen Xer is on the verge of big life changes, and these kind of changes always come with a price tag. Whether that’s focusing on personal investment, organizing retirement funds, or sending kids off to college. Money stays on the mind of Gen Xers.
Brands like Amazon (headed by borderline Gen Xer Jeff Bezos) have the market cornered when it comes to online shopping. Their unique mixture of great deals and customer reviews makes this a popular spot for Gen Xers to spend their time and money. It’s easy for them to research the products, they can save money compared to buying elsewhere, and with the option of free delivery, they can be confident with every purchase that they have either gotten the best deal or they’ve gotten the best value. Both are wins.
Trait #4: Gen Xers Prefer Analog… and Digital
Analog was a bit of a reach, I know. But it’s totally true for Gen Xers. This generation didn’t grow up with the internet. There was no wi-fi, no smartphone, and no social media. But, they’ve adapted better to this new technology than the Baby Boomers who came before them.
All the technologies that we take for granted as part of our everyday lives came to fruition as most Gen Xers were already adulting. They had to either adapt or be left behind… typical choices for Gen Xers.
Despite this, they’ve have developed an intense affinity for tech and gadgets, while still nurturing a sort of inborn appetite for traditional live TV, old school radio, and even lo-fi vinyl records.
Gen Xers aren’t afraid of technology, but they still have old school boundaries in place from when they were growing up. They come from a time when there was only one telephone in the house that everyone used, and today 85 percent of Gen Xers use smartphones. They really are great at straddling both the traditional and digital worlds. This is the type of fluid duality marketers complain about when it comes to reaching Gen Xers, but the truth is being able to reach your target audience across multiple platforms isn’t a disadvantage.
Gen Xers are masters of cross-channel living. They will happily research the best product and price online before heading into the store to purchase. They all have social media accounts that they check throughout the day, but will also still put pen to paper and actually mail a handwritten letter. They survived Oregon Trail (or rather, they died of dysentery, but kept trying time and time again to make it), and played Monopoly, Clue, and Catan on the weekends… that was before they switched to The Sims, Candy Crush, and 2048.
Brands only have to make it easy for Gen Xers to find them and that means doing some savvy omni-channel marketing and beefing up your voice search and AI chops. In the next few years, 50 percent of online searches will be conducted by voice, rather than by typing. No surprise there. In January 2018, 39 percent of US adults said they were very likely or somewhat likely to buy voice-activated smart speakers in 2018, and 61.1 million Americans (nearly 20 percent of the population) expected to use a smart speaker in 2018.
This shows a considerable shift in the way that we use everyday tech… and where brands should be aiming their marketing. Even when working in the digital space, keeping it personalized and human, while combining it with the newest tech or digital practices inspires Gen X to take action.
Trait #5: Gen Xers Prefer Live TV… When They’re Not Streaming
Once branded the “MTV Generation”, it’s no surprise that Gen Xers are big live TV watchers. In fact, according to data from Nielsen, this generation watches more traditional live TV than Millennials . This does not, however, mean they’re not also indulging in streaming services like Netflix, although older Gen Xers still prefer traditional pay TV services over streaming.
So, when building your marketing campaign for this generation, traditional TV ad spots can work to your advantage. This generation grew up on massive amounts of TV, and are more than used to sitting through countless commercials, and seeing them become more and more inventive and interesting. They pay attention to what you’re saying in a commercial, but only if you stand out some. Make your ad original and appealing, and this generation will sit up and listen.
Alongside traditional TV, YouTube offers an amazing opportunity for brands to interact with Gen Xers. Of all the the most popular platforms (most of which are social networks), YouTube is one of the most effective ways for brands to reach Gen Xers, moreso than any other demographic. This is because Gen Xers rely on YouTube to improve their personal and professional performance and to find better ways to connect with their children and those around them.
Seventy-three percent of Gen Xers go to YouTube for DIY tutorials, according to Think with Google. They learn new skills by following DIY tutorials, which in turn could save them money.
Seventy-five percent of Gen Xers watch YouTube videos that relate to past events or people. They can rewatch old favorites that have been uploaded onto the platform for new generations to enjoy.
Sixty-eight percent of Gen Xers use YouTube to stay on top of current events, get the news, and keep up with what their kids are watching.
“I sat through what turned out to be a pretty fun night of YouTubing Carpool Karaoke with my nieces and nephews, which introduced me to both Cardi B and Migos. Weirdly enough, a few days later, my teenager met Quavo from Migos at the Pacers game, and you know what - I didn’t have to ask, ‘What the hell is a Quavo?’ Cool Mom moment.” -Sorilbran, The Shelf team member and Gen Xer.
Most Gen Xers aren’t fans of digital advertisements in the way that their Millennial, Gen Z, and Alpha counterparts are, but YouTube manages to get around this by toeing the line between traditional TV commercials and customer reviews.
Trait #6: Gen Xers Have a Tech-Driven Split Personality
While Generation X is no larger than any of the other defined generations we work with, the difference between the oldest and youngest of the group is much more defined.
Between the 1970s and the 1990s, the evolution of digital technology happened was much faster than in previous years, resulting in very different landscapes from the 70s to the 90s. It’s because of this split that we even have a microgeneration within Gen X - the Xennials; a mixture between Gen X and Millennials.
Xennials were finishing high school in the 1990s. Many are now looking after young kids, and being extra wary of their money after the Great Recession back in 2008 when they were first building up their careers and savings.
Compare this to the older Gen Xers who enjoyed an almost Boomer-esque economic period of stability and were able to climb onto the property ladder in the midst of an upswing - lucky them. Now they’re getting ready for retirement, with their own kids heading off into the world on their own.
Understanding these differences is key to understanding this generation. Younger Gen Xers and older Gen Xers can be vastly different from one another. These are the differences that make it a challenge to target Gen Xers.
Their parents may have ignored them after school, helping them to attract the title of “latchkey kids”, but marketers really shouldn’t follow suit. As with middle children in real life, this generation has had to fight for attention, breeding a collective of “I’ll do it myself” entrepreneurs, go-getters, and people who have no trouble bucking tradition and dismissing both the prevailing wisdom and authority. Gen Xers have launched over half of all U.S. startups, eschewing Boomers who refuse to leave their jobs, and creating roles for those digitally advanced Millennials to fill.
Let’s Wrap This Up
As youths, they were disinterested in what “the man” was doing to our country, rebelling through the pop punk movement, skateboards, and bags of teen angst. You can see this perfectly mirrored in the hit movie of the era, The Breakfast Club which shows a group of misfit teens learning that they want to be themselves, and that’s what will make them “cool”.
These latchkey kids were left alone for vast amounts of time, with their parents busy working, or simply taking a backseat approach to parenting - which was the way to do things back then. This turned them into the generation of parents who liked to hand out participation trophies, and never say “no” to their toddlers. A total 180 from their own upbringings. But, this built in need to rebel and nurture all at once makes wooing this audience a bit tricky.
While many may forget or overlook Generation X, they aren’t going anywhere. They not only have massive spending power right now, and if if they seem a little elusive at times, smart marketing teams would do well to target them.