Gen X – Marketing to the Generations

They are often dubbed the forgotten generation, historically overlooked by marketers due to the fact that they represent a mere 25% of the population, however...

The latest installment of our generational marketing series tackles Gen Xers, born roughly between the years 1965 and 1980. They are often dubbed the forgotten generation, historically overlooked by marketers due to the fact that they represent a mere 25% of the population. 

However, Gen X seems to be enjoying an image makeover in popular culture these days in the following ways: 1) countless memes pitting boomers and millennials against each other while Gen X looks on amused; and 2) social media posts explaining why a Gen X latchkey childhood created the perfect training ground for surviving the pandemic. The moment that struck this (admittedly Gen X) author was when Stephen Malkmus, frontman for the quintessentially lo-fi, slack 1990s band Pavement, referred to “Gen X tranquility” as the quality he appreciated most in his contemporaries these days.

So what is going on here? In part, we see a cyclical revision of yesterday’s youth. Just as boomers developed from the first “teens” as defined in modern culture to the first self-conscious midlife crises (think Big Chill or Thirtysomething), Gen Xers — and, we would argue, millennials too — have grown up. They are now in midst of midlife woes. It happened under the radar, while much of the cultural conversation focused on the gigantic generations that preceded and followed us: baby boomers and millennials. And now, the forgotten generation is becoming increasingly top of mind, especially to marketers.

Let’s catch up on the last 20 years for Generation X, in rough chronological order:

  • In the precursor to a burden usually associated with millennials, many Gen Xers graduated with substantial college debt, in addition to credit card debt from the days when card companies targeted college campuses.
  • They started using the internet, mobile phones and the first messaging apps on computers. As the younger generation, they led the way. Later, they were early adopters of the iPhone.
  • They experienced September 11, 2001, as young adults. And the psychological, social and financial ramifications of that tragedy reshaped the way early adulthood and growth would look like.
  • They bought their first homes when real estate was hot and suffered when that bubble burst in 2008.
  • Family ties grew. Many had kids or started caring for aging parents — or both. They devoted time and money to them.
  • They progressed in their careers and are reaching their highest-earning years — but also highest-spending years (see above).

Research tells us that like any generation, these milestones and the historical events that happened around them shaped not only the mindset and values of the Gen X generation, but also purchasing decisions. 

Gen X values could be deemed considerably different from that of boomers and millennials. They spend. And they spend a lot, when viewed statistically across the board. Gen X values the finer things in life such as a college education, having nice clothes, travelling abroad and, admittedly overall, having a lot of money. If Gen X is your target audience, hit them with a deal they can’t refuse, and wow them with excellent customer service to keep them coming back for more. 

And because several early earning years were spent rebounding from an economic crisis, this generation is less likely to have money in savings or an equitable retirement account. 

Findings show that a third of Gen Xers interviewed admitted that they have no retirement savings to fall back on. But still, Gen X is a resilient generation if nothing else, and consumer buying power has proved that. Consequently, they are becoming more conscientious buyers. Marketing to the savvy shopper who wants the finer things in life while also being able to plan for long-term wealth is your golden ticket.  

Convenience of shopping online is a huge draw for Gen Xers who value almost anything and everything convenient. Forty percent of Gen Xers buy groceries online, and the generation as a whole spends more money on food and beverages than any other generation. It’s great if you have all the right marketing jargon to reach these consumers, but if you’re not promoting it where they shop, your efforts will fall flat. Gen X shops digitally, so if your company wants buy-in, then your e-commerce presence should be competitive and easy to use. 

Convenience, luxury and familiarity are recurring value propositions that define this generation. What that looks like from a marketing perspective may determine the language and platforms that could be used to reach a Gen X consumer. 

They may have been reduced to the monikers of “the forgotten generation” or the “slacker generation,” but it’s clear that people are now paying attention. And if your marketing efforts don’t represent that, you could be missing out in a major way. Remember, Gen X may only represent 25% of the population, but they produce 31% of total U.S. income.