Flow Communications

We’ve all heard it ad infinitum – Generation X, the “latchkey kids” who are used to being ignored (that one’s a real cliché) and, as kids, had to drink water from a hose – is used to being ignored, especially by marketers.

Well, not any more. Global marketing network Wavemaker has produced a report that expressly focuses on why not marketing to this ”sandwich generation” is misguided. As Vivian said to the snooty shopkeepers in 1990’s Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

They represent a well-heeled market. Gen X, born between 1965 and 1980 and now aged between 45 and 60, is on track to be the most affluent generation of all time, as $70-trillion is passed to them from Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), according to the report.

“In overlooking this group, brands are overlooking a multi-trillion-dollar market. Gen X is responsible for 27% of global spending and with rapidly rising earnings and savings, entering the most financially rewarding stage of their lives. Gen X is also more brand loyal, making them more valuable than younger consumers,” says Wavemaker in its report, Finding the Gen-X Factor.

Recognising its own bias, Wavemaker decided to connect with 200 000 Gen Xers worldwide to find out what makes them tick, especially on social media.

Wavemaker found that 92% of Gen Xers use social media every day, and half of them use TikTok, that platform so associated with young people. However, only 13% of Gen Xers feel represented in the social advertising they see. What’s more, when they do see their generation represented, it doubles their preference.

All of this means that as surely as former US president Ronald Regan, standing at the Berlin Wall in 1987, called on his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, marketers must take sledgehammers to their biases and find ways to capture Gen X’s attention.

Gen X, who are they now?

As with any other generation, then, marketers have to take a good look at Gen X and understand their behaviour, their needs and their aspirations, Wavemaker says in its report.

That’s not easy with this sector of society notorious as sceptical, fiercely independent, resilient and individualistic. They’re busy, too. These are people who are supporting children in high school, in post-school education or newly joining the workforce. They’re also increasingly having to take care of their ageing parents.

Added to the turmoil, this is the generation with the highest likelihood of having to deal with divorce and the intricacies of a second marriage.

How Gen X uses social media

This is a generation that spent its teen years being yelled at by its parents while having long phone (on a landline) conversations with friends. Gen Xers crave connection. It’s the top reason they use social media, says Wavemaker.

“Of course, this desire for connection isn’t unique to Gen X. It’s a universal driver to platforms and underpins their success. The difference is that Gen X limits that connection to their close circle where younger generations are keen to engage with people farther removed from them,” Wavemaker says.

That’s the first lesson for marketers: Gen X uses social media as a town square. It’s where they come to connect with their chosen social circle, serve their community, chat about the things they are interested in, buy and sell, and find entertainment. But, be aware: Gen X prefers to use social media to connect to close ties.

The next one is that Gen Xers use platforms to support the real-life roles they inhabit – friend, parent, entrepreneur and so on, says Wavemaker.

Here’s another. While nostalgia is a pull for any generation on social media, for Gen X social media is a “super-sized and supercharged” filofax from where they can get hold of memories from a time when there was no social media, back when a mixtape was the ultimate expression of love.

This generation uses social media the same way they used a digital personal assistant when it was starting out in the world of work in the 1990s. It’s a phone book, an address book, a photo album and more.

Finally, social media, for Gen X, is more about enjoying scheduled time out than relieving boredom any time it strikes. This generation sets aside time to use social media to check in with friends and family, usually at the start and end of the day.

What does this mean for marketers?

Trust what a brand says on social media, however obliquely? Urgh, as if!

Wavemaker found that this generation, which grew up being warned of “stranger danger”, won’t take what is said on social media at face value. Trust is about 30% more important to Gen Xers’ buying decisions than it is for younger generations.

Trust, for this generation, is never simply granted. It’s earned.

This can be an advantage for established brands that Gen X already knows. New or less well-known brands will need to invest in building trust, for example, through influencers. Chosen carefully, an influencer can help brands bypass the additional steps Gen X goes through to validate a less familiar brand.

That said, this generation is open to change and applauds the fact that social media has allowed it to discover brands it otherwise would not have.

Posts from Gen X creators are, on average, at least 75% longer than those from younger generations. What is said is more informative, and in less “salesy” language. Marketers should take note.

For Gen X, social media is just step one in the purchase journey. Marketers should expect them to investigate, and provide a high-quality ecosystem for Gen Xers to discover, one that underpins the sale.

On the upside, win this generation’s approval and they are more likely to stick with you than younger generations. They consider fewer brands than younger audiences, and their purchases are more driven by need, but win them over and they may just be yours for life.

Go get ’em.

Access Wavemaker’s report here.

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