Bueller? Bueller? Is Anyone Even Talking to Generation X?

Blog - Gen X

How the latchkey kids grew up and are still, largely, neglected

Everyone is all Boomers this and Millennials that with the occasional Gen Z is so etc. thrown in for good measure. And I’m sitting here with one hand in my pocket and the other one throwing up a “Talk to the hand.” If you haven’t figured it out yet, A. that was a killer Alanis Morissette reference and B. I’m talking about Generation X… and it sort of feels like I’m the only one. Despite the fact that Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, are the top earners and biggest spenders, hold the majority of leadership positions, and account for 65 million people, brands seem to be slacking off when it comes to marketing directly to them. Uh, hello?

Gen X invented slacking off

This is the generation whose soundtrack was a li’l album aptly named Nevermind, whose wardrobe was oversized flannels and unbrushed hair, and whose most iconic movies involved kids getting high, kids skipping school, kids sitting in detention and one movie actually called Slacker. So, yes, Gen X, also referred to as the MTV Generation and the Sandwich Generation (as in sandwiched between the Boomers and Millennials, i.e. literally named for how insignificant it is), understands slacking off. But, that doesn’t mean marketers are off the hook for ignoring 25 percent of the population.

If you stretch your memory back a few decades, you may recall that Gen Xers developed their blasé attitude partly as a response to the cultural backdrop of their coming-of-age. Shaped by historical events like Watergate, the Challenger disaster and the Jonestown mass suicide, and sociological watermarks like rapidly rising divorce rates, the Rodney King beating and Black Monday, the latchkey kids of the 70s and 80s grew up understandably skeptical. They were often called disaffected, defined by their cynicism and self-deprecating humor.


But it’s not the 80s anymore, so…

Slacker reputation aside, Gen Xers more or less shaped the internet as we know it today and currently are the founders of more than half of all U.S. startups. It's no secret that they grew up and made their mark on the workforce. That skepticism? It matured into entrepreneurship – don’t trust your boss, become your own! Cynicism turned into pragmatism and apathy became flexibility, which are highly valued traits in most careers. (The self-deprecating humor is what it is, folks.)

Today’s Gen Xers are also stupid busy. They are in the thick of it with careers, school-aged kids, mortgages and more. Many are still paying off their student loans while contributing to their kids’ college funds, and some are supporting both kids and aging parents. They hold more influence at work and home than many of their Boomer and Millennial counterparts, and, according the U.S. Department of Labor, they are hands-down the biggest spenders when it comes to housing, groceries, clothing, dining and entertainment.

Seriously, why aren’t we talking to them?

And yet, Gen X-targeted marketing efforts are scant. It could be basic mathematics – there are simply fewer Gen Xers, with the demographic standing at 65 million compared to the 77 million Boomers and 83 million Millennials. Also, the self-deprecating tendency may have crossed over into disassociation with 59% of Gen Xers reporting they don’t even identify as part of the generation. What’s more, companies everywhere are panicking about succession planning, making Millennials a more sensible target for the recruitment marketing that’s out there right now. (Sort of like how everyone across the pond is waiting for Prince William to be king and no one gives a hoot about Charles.)

Dude, still seems like we should try

Even if Gen Xers are mildly disinterested and still somewhat cynical, it sure seems like investing at least some of our marketing dollars in the biggest earners and spenders is the right move. Afterall, Millennials aren't making or spending as much, and the youngest Gen Xers are only in their late 30s for goodness sake – they have a lot of life and spending left in them. With 54 percent of Gen Xers feeling frustrated that brands are constantly leaving them out of the conversation, maybe it's time we start talking to them. Here are a few things to consider:

They love Facebook – According to Nielsen, Gen Xers are actually the heaviest social media users (not Millennials or Gen Z!), Facebook is the platform of choice, and 7 out of 10 say they have purchased something from a brand they follow.

Traditional media matters – Gen Xers still buy actual newspapers, and 86 percent of them bring in their mail every day (with 68 percent reporting they’ve used direct mail coupons).

Reward their loyalty – Gen Xers tend to have more brand loyalty than Millennials and stick with a brand if the experience is positive. Brainstorm ways to keep your customers (coupons, loyalty programs, snarky yet charming e-newsletters, etc.)

Speak directly to them – Remember all that insane multi-tasking work/life chaos? Offer ways to make life simpler and more convenient. You can also consider nostalgia messaging. There’s a reason Stranger Things with its gloriously retro font and hairstyles was such an instant hit.

Ultimately, if you decide your marketing budget is better spent on Millennials, I’m sure that any Gen Xer who really wants your product or service will find the key under the mat and let themselves in. They’re cool like that.

Need help crafting just the right message for just the right audience? Get in touch. We love overthinking this stuff!

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