Why Marketers Should Be Focusing in on Gen X

Patrick Hanavan  | 

It’s time for marketers to start remembering the “forgotten” generation, according to a new report from eMarketer. Gen X—those born between 1965 and 1980—has long been overlooked by marketers focused on reaching the larger Millennial and Baby Boomer cohorts. But with data showing that Gen X now earns and spends more than any demographic, it’s increasingly critical for marketers to understand the distinct characteristics of America’s neglected “middle child,” and to do it now while they are still at the peak of their earning potential. Here are some insights from the eMarketer report.

Flush but Far from Feeling It
Federal statistics put Gen-Xers’ yearly incomes at about $100,000, nearly $25,000 more than for total households. They spend more than average too—about $74,000 vs. $61,000. But they also exhibit the highest levels of financial anxiety. Fewer GenXers feel like they have recovered from the Great Recession. They have high debt levels and 22% don’t see their way out. And, they are more skeptical of advertising claims than either Boomers or Millennials, according to the report.

Marketing to them means giving them good reasons to spend, with campaigns that speak more to their stressed, time-squeezed lives than brand promotion. Convenience matters to them and nearly all buy online, particularly on Amazon. But not before researching the best values across all categories for bargains, loyalty programs and other deals that address their sense of financial insecurity.

Video Rules
Video—analog and digital—is one thing they consume freely and easily. eMarketer projects that 80.7% of Xers will be digital video viewers at least monthly this year. As far as how they’re watching, a poll by The Hollywood Reporter and Morning Consult provides insights: 56% of Gen X internet users said they stream content via a smart TV; 52% do so via connected TV devices like Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick; and seven in 10 Xers subscribe to a streaming service. This embrace of digital hasn’t happened at the expense of traditional TV, which remains in 88.7% of X households where 3 hours a day are spent watching.

This means cross-channel marketing is critical for reaching this generation via TV and online. Ads will have to be created, formatted and distributed to all, requiring more streamlined workflows. And, given the time spent watching TV, and their skepticism toward advertising, marketers will need to ensure frequency controls on ads and better targeting to avoid alienating them.

New Rules for Social and Mobile
Citing a broad array of studies and polls on the subject, eMarketer has found that mobile and social usage represent a significant slice of Xers’ digital activity, but they are more selective in their use than Millennials. For example, using mobile apps to keep up with brands, popular among Millennials, appealed to only 18% of Xers who clearly prefer using the channels for visiting a retailer’s website (44%). In addition, they don’t want to be overwhelmed with ads or brand contact. 56% said there are too many ads on social venues and 42% said they don’t like when brands try to connect with them there. Only 11% said they follow brands on social and just 9% say they use it for purchases. What they do like doing on social and mobile are reading and reacting to reviews posted by fellow consumers. Nearly two-thirds of respondents saying they’d try a new brand after reading positive reviews.

Interestingly, Xers are among the most sensitive to privacy issues. So while deals and loyalty programs attract these value-oriented shoppers, asking for personal information in return is not the best approach. Instead marketers should focus campaigns across all channels, using social to highlight other shoppers’ positive experiences and digital and TV video for highlighting the value proposition of a relationship with the brand.

Gen X is not as large a demographic as Millennials or Boomers, but 65 million is nothing to sneeze at. And eMarketer predicts X will overtake the Boomers in the next 10 years. Building relationships with this group now is critical in order to have that loyalty established early, before they start retiring.

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