Understanding Generation X

Generation X - Marketing to the Lost Generation | MAC5 Blog

Understanding Generation X

In the third installment of our Generational Marketing series, today we’re taking a deeper look into Generation X. Often overlooked by naïve marketing types, there’s a lot more going on here than you may have heard.

Many marketers consider Gen Xers to simply be book ends, if you will, to the bigger and louder cohorts of the Boomers and Millennials. Being the smaller of the three groups, Gen X are commonly called the “lost generation”. Not so much lost as in where am i? But rather lost as in overshadowed by their Boomer parents. With the spotlight being shone so brightly and for so long on Boomers, their Gen X kids quietly went about the business of growing up. It wasn’t so much that nothing happened of note with them, but rather that no-one noticed, especially the mainstream media.

Somewhere in the Middle

To this day, common agency strategy consists of directly marketing the two larger groups hoping to “catch” the Gen Xers somewhere in the middle. Let’s read that last sentence one more time just to be clear, especially the hoping to catch part. You’re considering entrusting your marketing to someone whose strategy hinges on hoping to connect with your target audience by NOT marketing to them? Well, good luck with that!

Gen X however are completely different to all the other groups. This is a generation that grew up before the Internet, then learned to adapt to digital technology in their early adulthood. Gen X deftly bridges analog & digital with one foot in the past and one in the future making them a true conundrum for the textbook, marketing by numbers crowd.

Generation X

Born: 1966–1976
 Coming of Age: 1988–1994
 Age in 2017: 41 to 51
 Current Population (est.): 65 million

Economic pressures made it a hard necessity in many households for both parents to seek work. As a result, the “lost” Generation X became the first to grow up experiencing lots of daycare and unfortunately, divorce. This gave rise to the moniker of latchkey kids ( children who care for themselves after school until their parents or guardians return home ).

Known as the generation with the lowest voter turnouts of any generation, Gen Xers were once referred to by Newsweek as being “the generation that dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them.” Harsh words indeed!

Gen X is often characterized by high levels of skepticism, a “what’s in it for me” attitude and a reputation for arguably some of the worst music to ever gain popularity. Now in their middle age experts cited the childhood divorce of many Gen Xers as “one of the most decisive experiences influencing how Gen Xers shaped their own families”. To Gen X it’s family first, always.

Gen Xers are arguably the best educated generation with 29% obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher (6% higher than the previous cohort). And, backed with that education and now maturity, they have formed families with a higher level of caution and pragmatism than their parents demonstrated. Concerns run high over avoiding broken homes, kids growing up without a parent around and financial planning to name a few.

Historical Influences

During Generation X’s youth, they experienced many global and political events. Terrorism at the Munich Olympics, the Iran hostage crisis, the rise of the PC, Space shuttle Challenger disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm and the LA Riots were just some of the events that helped to shape the culture of Generation X.


Often depicted as cynical and even “slackers” by popular movies of the time, Gen X is in fact very well-educated and possess a clear family first mentality. Relative to earlier generations, Gen X is more open to diversity and has learnt to embrace differences such as religion, sexual orientation, class, race and ethnicity. Gen X became a crossroads generation, having to absorb and adapt to so much change. Once again, we see the recurring bridge theme in their dna.

Key Characteristics: highly skeptical, well-educated, family first, DIY, more open-minded and liberal than earlier groups.

Generation X Traits & Marketing Tips

  • Cynical highly skeptical, Whats in it for me?
  • Family first, think heartland and home values in the approach.
  • Two thirds freely admit to spending more time & money on others than they do themselves.
  • The first of the DIY’ers now boasting an 82% home ownership rate ~MetLife
  • Traditional media is still important to Gen X — 48% listen to radio, 62% still read newspapers & 85% have favourite TV shows ~Forrester.
  • Gen X get digital media — 60% use a smart phone daily and 75% routinely use social networks.
  • Gen Xers are quite active online for banking, shopping and researching products they want to buy.
  • Seek brands offering value, convenience and trust.
  • 80%+ actively look for products that “make my life easier”
  • Brands need to figure out just the right mix of old and new media.
  • 80%+ online regularly so a multi-touchpoint strategy is warranted — think omni-channel.
  • Create content to reach Gen X x-devices, x-platforms and x-content types (video, facebook, podcast, magazines etc.).
  • Show an understanding that you “get them” because they feel they have been overlooked
  • Make use of nostalgia and cultural references that are pertinent to them
  • Gen X responds very well to real, relatable and practical advice. No pipe dreams here!
  • Appreciative of tips and tools to make their lives easier
  • While only 25% of the population, Gen X accounts for almost one-third of all consumer spending
  • Preferred communication channels are Email and Facebook with 82% checking in once or more per day.

Though the oldest Gen Xer is now 50, the Gen X population will still grow for a few more years. The Gen X population is projected to outnumber Boomers by 2028 with 64.6 million Gen Xers versus 63.7 million Boomers. The Census Bureau projects that the Gen X population will peak at 65.8 million in 2018.

Notable Generation Xers :

Matt Damon, Elon Musk, Celine Dion, Will Smith, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Final thoughts

Generation X is the smallest of the generational cohorts but we think this one packs a real punch. Gen X is finally at career peak and will soon (if not already) experience even more disposable income. If Gen X is a target market for your business, then now is the time to align those ducks!

I’ve long told students that the best marketer for any generation is someone born of that very generation. No matter how “in touch” you think we are, subtle nuances are often lost in translation. We spend a great deal of time on research and if you’ve been following the series on the blog, we thank you for staying the course. Our goal is in providing value and some practical tips that you may find of benefit in your own business.

We hope you have enjoyed this third installment of our Generational Marketing series. You might also like to read some earlier articles: Marketing to Generations or Boomers & Generation Jones

Next UP will be Generation Y — be sure to stay tuned as there’s lots more to come …

Thanks for reading!

Originally published at .