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Generation X: The Mixtapes of Marketing

Millennials. Millennials. Boomers. Millennials.

I am a middle child raised in a middle-class family, born into the middle generation known as Generation X. Oh, and I am fast approaching middle-age. For most of my life and career, advertisers have been obsessing about how to “reach” Millennials this and how to “market” Boomers that. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that somehow, somewhere, lost in the conversation is a connection with the generation sandwiched between them—my generation—Generation X.

However, this post is not lamenting about having been a latch-key kid or discussing my twenties filled with plaid flannels, grunge music, and angsty poetry. Instead, I want to focus on how a whole generation has, more or less, gone unnoticed by marketers, and why they really shouldn’t.

Nevermind, We’re Not Worthy

Although it’s gaining traction, chances are if you google “generational marketing,” you won’t find a lot of “how-to’s” about Generation X.  As of the last U.S. Census in 2016, Boomers (ages 52 to 70) numbered 74 million, Generation X (ages 40 to 51) numbered 49 million, and Millennials (ages 22 to 39) numbered 79 million. It’s not a stretch to say that our small size hasn’t exactly made us an attractive target for marketers in the past. I don’t think our “labeled” reputation helped out either.

In our youth, we were called cynical and societal slackers with nothing to care about. Ouch! But we have grown up and, as it turns out, not only are we earning more than our parents did at our age, we are fiercely loyal. While Millennials tend to be “commitment adverse,” Gen X  boasts the highest rate of brand loyalty among the three generations. According to a survey conducted by CrowdTwist, Gen Xers are also incredibly responsive to loyalty programs. In fact, more than 88% of people surveyed said they joined loyalty programs to save money, while 71% participate to receive rewards.

Something else to take note of, Gen X may be the smallest generation in the workforce, but we are set to overtake Boomers in size by 2028. Currently at the peak of our careers, we comprise about only 20% of the population, but we earn a whopping 31% of total income dollars in the United States. This makes the spending power of Gen X utterly disproportionate to our numbers. How ’bout them apples?


The Marketing Mixtapes

There is a misconception that Generation X is digitally different from younger generations, which in my opinion, should be banished entirely. I have also heard Gen Xers referred to as a “crossroads generation,” but I like to think of us as the last mixtape. As a group, not only did we play a critical role in emerging technologies, we are currently the only fully working generation that remembers the world before the digital revolution. We grew up before the internet yet straddled the transition into technology with agility, while still retaining the value of tradition.

My own personal story is steeped in this transition. I was 11 before my family got a computer, the Commodore 64, on which I played Oregon Trail and The Hobbit endlessly using only DOS screen commands. A few years later, I secretly installed a 14k dial-up modem on our Intel 386 PC because my mother was afraid of the internet. (Now, I can’t get her off Facebook.) In college, I was learning graphic design using table boards, and am now an expert in digital design. While I wasn’t born with a smartphone in my hand, like many of my generation I am simultaneously nostalgic about rotary phones and that strange static-ping sound of dial-up, as well as enthusiastic about adopting new and more efficient technologies.

That said, as we approach mid-life, it’s clear we are not quite ready to become our parents or grandparents. We have a lot in common with our younger counterparts when it comes to technology and brands, as well as possessing marketing traits of both the Boomers and the Millennials. We are—in a nutshell—smartphone-addicted, social media savvy, online and in-store shoppers, and digital media consumers, yet we appreciate the value of traditional and analog media like television, radio, and direct mail. It’s understandable that our customer journey map can appear more complicated.

Recently, I read an article that said one way for marketers to best leverage the impact Gen X has to offer, brands need to consider taking a multi-generational approach. Between the similarities of Gen X and Millennials, as well as the fact that many Gen Xers are concurrently raising their children and caring for aging parents, this approach makes a lot of sense. We are making daily purchasing decisions not only for ourselves, but also for our children, and parents. In addition, now that we can recognize and acknowledge the traits and behaviors of Gen X, we can begin to create amazing omni-channel experiences using both digital and traditional channels to effectively target and reach them.

Fellow marketers should take notice! Gen X is brand loyal, receptive to both traditional and digital marketing, and has the spending power to make an economic difference. Whether we put ourselves in the shadow of our parents and children, or we were just accidentally overlooked for a time, we have now emerged as a genuinely influential marketing segment.




About the author: Amber Jodoin is the Creative Director at Polaris Direct, a nationally acclaimed high-volume direct marketing services company in Hooksett, NH. With over 20 years of experience, she is both creative and strategic in her approach — recognizing the importance of successfully delivering “the message” and adhering to brand standards, while consistently bringing forward new ideas. With her B2B and B2C marketing background, she brings a strong foundation of brand strategy, marketing, digital & social content development, as well as creative design, to the Polaris Direct Strategic Marketing team.

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