In a society obsessed with millennials, I’ll just say it -- I’m a Gen Xer.
All gasps aside, there’s good reason why you should be paying closer attention to me. First, some reminder math: Gen Xers are the 37- to 52-year-olds in your life, born roughly between 1965 and 1980. We grew up on Three’s Company and Growing Pains, knew MTV as the original music curator, solved the Rubik’s cube well before Candy Crush and understood what going viral meant before it was even a thing (e.g., that urban legend that Mikey from the Life cereal commercials died mixing Pop Rocks and Coke. Spoiler alert: he’s still alive).
No question, today’s brands have a myopic focus on millennials. I don’t dispute their importance or that they’re changing how we must communicate to grow our brands. Couple that with a renewed interest in boomers, and where does that leave Gen X? In the proverbial corner (yes, my fellow Xers, that was a purposeful reference to Dirty Dancing).
The truth is we have become an ignored generation when it comes to target segmentation. But, here’s fair warning: If you keep ignoring us, you’re probably going to regret it.
Why? Because we’ve come of age. We represent something that marketers can no longer afford to ignore: We are today’s most ambidextrous generation.
We’re in our forties and fifties and in the prime of our earning years. We’ve stepped into leadership roles and have become the decision makers. We’ve got elevated spending power, and we’re also important influencers -- to millennials in the workplace and to our boomer parents who continue to navigate today’s digital culture. Whereas millennials grew up digital natives and boomers continue to learn and adapt to new technologies, as Gen Xers we found our way by being in between.
When we left college, we entered a workforce that was on the cusp of digital transformation. We learned to cross the bridge from analog to digital in our early twenties. Gen X was the first generation to use email in the workplace. We didn’t have collaboration tools like Basecamp and Slack to fuel working together; instead, we relied on early format instant messenger chat programs. The only emojis that existed were hand-drawn smiley faces on physical documents. Texting wasn’t even a thing; instead, we spoke to each other in person. As a result, something magical happened: We became ambidextrous communicators without really knowing it.
Next time you’re in a meeting with a Gen Xer, stop and take note. We know how, when and why to turn on the interpersonal communications switch and turn off our digital mindset. No other generation today can traverse the art of communications quite the way that we can because we were forced to be fluent in old versus new. Notice how we can read a room and quickly address different audiences. If you take away our technology you won’t scare us; you’ll just annoy us. But, we’ll still be able to provide input and deliver on our outputs without flinching.
So, marketers, if we’ve got the skills and dollar bills to be a huge growth opportunity for you, what’s the best way to re-engage Gen X? It’s simple -- stop ignoring us and do this instead:
Sell it to us straight
Like millennials, we want direct and expect definitive. When engaging us, get straight to the point, skip the abbreviations and never rely on jargon. We want to know who, what, when, how and, most importantly, why. You’ll win with us by realizing that we were taught to multitask -- in fact, multitasking is our why because it’s how we were taught to get ahead before trophies were handed out just for participating. Be sure to deliver your message succinctly and with clear next steps so we can tackle it and move onto the next challenge.
Tie your message to results
Gen Xers are entrepreneurial, highly educated and have lofty job expectations, yet we seek work-life balance in ways other generations do not. We learned to work autonomously using our best DIY skillset. So, it takes a lot for us to delegate because, as former latchkey kids, we were forced to think and do for ourselves. For us, tying your message to results will win every time.
Engage us as you would millennials
Just because we didn’t spark the experience economy doesn’t mean we don’t want to be a part of it. According to the Futures Company, over half of Gen Xers (54 percent) are frustrated by brands treating us as an afterthought. Show us you care, understand where we are in our lives and careers, and treat us as if we’re worthy of a conversation. We’ve got the most disposable income to spend right now, so show us why we should spend it with you.
In the end, we Gen Xers hold fast to our belief that we’re the original work hard, play hard generation, and we never stop looking at ways to connect the communication skills we learned growing up with what we know we need to embrace for the future.
Yes, I’m a Gen Xer. Come and knock on my door; I’ll be waiting for you. If you continue to ignore me, I’ll just find somewhere else to invest my attention, time and money. It’s what I was taught to do.