We’ve been called the forgotten generation, the latchkey generation, and the MTV generation. We came of age as crack, AIDS, and Prozac were making their meteoric rises, and we watched as the Challenger exploded and the Berlin Wall came down on live TV. We are the last generation born into an analog world.
They called us slackers and misfits, and we loved it. Now, they call us cynical and disaffected (eh, whatever). But here’s the deal: Gen X finally has some money to spend, and brands that don’t market specifically to this generation are missing a huge opportunity.
If you haven’t given much thought to marketing to Gen X—and really, that doesn’t surprise us—now is the time. This guide shows you how.
What is Generation X?
Pew Research Center is the unofficial arbiter of all things generational in this country, and they define Gen X as those born between 1965-1980. Gen X is the smallest generation by population, sandwiched between the larger (and noisier) baby boomers and millennials.
Source: Pew Research Center
Today, Gen X is in the 42-57 age range, widely regarded as the prime earning and spending years. And overall, Gen X’s financial health looks pretty good:
- In 2020, Gen X produced 31% of total U.S. income despite representing just 25% of the population (Forbes)
- The average Gen X household earns $113,455, more than any other generation’s household does (Business Insider)
- Gen X outspends all other generations when it comes to housing, clothing, eating out, and entertainment (U.S. Department of Labor)
Aye, here’s the rub – these optimistic stats were collected before the economy tanked. Every generation is feeling a collective financial pinch right now, and if a recession officially hits, it will be the second one of Gen X’s adult lives. When you add our children’s college expenses and our aging parents’ living expenses to the tab, life is looking a little scary for Gen X right now. Market with caution.
Gen X, technology, and social media
Gen X is a high adopter of new technology, which isn’t surprising—we grew up during the switch from analog to digital, and at-home gaming consoles owe their industry to our very sore thumbs. Here are the facts you need to know about Gen X, technology, and social media:
- 90% of Gen Xers own a smartphone (Pew Research Center)
- 91% use the internet (Pew Research Center)
- 76% of Generation X use social media (Pew Research Center)
- 74% of Generation X use Facebook (Pew Research Center)
- 70% of Generation X watch YouTube (The Shelf)
- 52% of Gen X say their social media use has increased over the past year (Harris/Sprout Social)
- 29% believe their social media use will continue to rise over the next three years (Harris/Sprout Social)
- 74% of Gen X say that social media is an essential part of their life (Harris/Sprout Social)
- 46% of Gen X research local businesses online every day (BrightLocal)
Tips for marketing to Gen X
Gen X values individuality and authenticity
Gen X is fiercely independent, and your brand messaging should be personal and authentic. We also don’t like being sold to, so don’t hide your agenda, even if it’s just to get us to click “buy now.” Be honest and transparent. No time-wasters. Gen X will appreciate you.
Gen X feels overlooked by brands. You’re not hitting us where we live. To better connect with what Gen X values:
- Focus on nostalgia. TV’s “Family Guy”—created by Gen Xer Seth McFarlane—capitalizes on this beautifully. The show is peppered with references to the ’70s and ’80s, including a three-episode “Star Wars” homage.
- Cut out the gimmicks. We don’t like anything that even hints of being contrived, so don’t be afraid to address issues head-on. Avoid super-slick, overly polished brand messaging. It screams “establishment” at us.
- Take a stand. Like the younger generations, Gen X values corporate social responsibility. Gen X cares about such issues as violence, the economy, gender and racial politics, poverty, and access to health care. Let us know you do too, and we’re likely to become repeat customers. For more on this, read Examining the Socially Responsible Social Campaign.
Reviews are vital
Studies show that 93% of shoppers say that online reviews have an impact on their purchase decision. In researching spending habits by generation, one thing is clear: Gen X has no plans to take ANY brand’s word for their product or service, as their more trusting boomer predecessors did. Boomers have brand loyalty. Gen X – not so much.
Gen Xers research their purchases very, very thoroughly, and brand reputation matters to them a great deal. They’re hesitant to spend money in murky economic times, and so they scour Google, review sites, and social media before making purchases.
To boost the power of your reviews:
- Place them front and center. Feature a few stellar reviews on your homepage, and if you have reviews for specific products, make sure those make it to their product pages.
- Encourage customers to leave reviews. Follow up with every review, especially negative ones. if they have a valid point, acknowledge it publicly and make it right.
- Focus on Facebook Reviews. If your resources are limited, keep a keen eye on your Facebook Reviews. According to BrightLocal, people use and trust Facebook reviews more than Google reviews.
“Going live” increased during the pandemic. Globally, live streaming shot up 21% from 2020 to 2021. Facebook and YouTube are the top two social platforms used by Generation X, so it follows that Facebook Live and YouTube Live are your best bets for live streaming services (Twitch and Instagram Live are two other options, but leave those to millennials and Gen Z).
- Push it a little. If you can conceive it (and it’s not illegal or otherwise a bad idea), give it a shot. Go live from the office, hire an influencer, live stream your launch-day celebration—Gen X is here for it.
- Use live shopping. “Live shopping” is a single live session in which brands and/or influencers introduce viewers to a host of new products and facilitate product reviews and purchases. According to Restream, Facebook and Instagram plan to expand their live shopping/live purchasing functionalities.
Provide customer service through your social channels
Email is Gen X’s preferred channel for brand communications. But, for more urgent customer service matters, Gen X begs of you – staff your social channels’ instant messaging platforms with customer service reps. It’s faster, and to Gen X, speedy service means you care about their time.
- You don’t have to be everywhere. Focus on the platforms that make the most sense for your brand. To connect with Gen X, Facebook and LinkedIn are good bets.
- Customize. Create a dedicated handle and/or hashtag for customer support.
- Take matters out of public view. If you have social customer service set up, it’s that much easier to move a frustrated customer to a private chat (and stop them from potentially negatively impacting your reputation).
Offer discounts and loyalty programs
According to a report from Oracle, Gen X is the biggest group of bargain hunters among the generations. We’re also in debt. This Morning Consult survey found that more than half of Gen X carry credit card debt, and our average balances are higher than those of the other generations. Like much of the nation, we’re stressed about the current high cost of living, and we need to save a buck. Help us.
- Offer a loyalty program. In the same Oracle survey, 71% of Gen X said that a loyalty program influences their brand selection. Gen X wants free shipping and members-only sales and events.
- Ask them to check in. Gen X is more likely than any other generation to check into a restaurant or store to earn points—take advantage of this if you have a storefront location.
- Go real and personal. Make use of real-time notifications and personalized messaging in your communication with Gen X.
How did Generation X get its name?
- 1964: The book “Generation X,” which examines British teen culture, hits stores in the UK.
- Late ‘60s: A British mum picks up a copy at a yard sale. Her son, later known as Billy Idol, finds it, and the name sticks with him.
- 1976: Billy Idol debuts his punk rock band, Generation X.
- 1991: Douglas Coupland’s first book, “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture,” hits the shelves. The tale of three friends adrift in the California desert perfectly captures twentysomething angst in the early ’90s.
- 1992ish and on: Coupland says he took the moniker from Billy Idol’s band; later, he says he got it from a 1983 book on the American class system. No matter, though; it caught on, and even though its oldest members were closing in on 30, this generation finally had a name.
“We are known to be anti-authoritarian, anti-institutional, and notoriously anti-religious—more likely to quote Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Monty Python, or Star Trek than the Bible.”
– Gudjon Bergmann, More Likely to Quote Star Wars than the Bible: Generation X and Our Frustrating Search for Rational Spirituality
Gen X is:
- Resourceful, self-sufficient and no-fuss
- Independent, individualistic, skeptical and anti-establishment
- Tech-savvy (at-home computing and gaming made their debut in their childhood)
- More informal and liberal than boomers
- More educated than their parents
- Prone to cynicism and a love of irony
What events shaped Gen X?
- Cold War
- Crack epidemic
- Space Shuttle Challenger explosion
- Fall of the Berlin Wall
- Increased focus on higher education
- Rise of at-home computing and gaming
- Mass access to a class of antidepressants called SSRIs (Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.)
- Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots
- dot-com bubble bust
“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
– Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Terms popularized by Gen X:
- Anything “to the max”
- Chill out, chill pill
- Trippin’ (as in, “quit trippin’”)
- Get a grip
- Bad, wicked & sick (to mean good)
Gen X’s favorite brands
Source: Brand Intimacy 2022 Study
Stellar content attracts every generation
Google has been saying for years that regularly publishing high-quality content that addresses readers’ concerns is its top ranking factor. And really, this is what Generation X wants. We have a lot of spending power, but we’re skittish in the current economic sludge. Help us trust you by producing excellent content that we want to read and share, and we’ll reward you will our dollars and loyalty. Eventually.
If you want to talk about how we can help you run your content marketing efforts, use the form below to reach out to ClearVoice today.