For decades, we've been taught that reaching the right audience
with the right message at the right time is the holy grail of
marketing. But is it? And even if it is, do we have the tools we
need to achieve such a lofty goal?
The problem is that Generation X is the unsexy cohort stuck
between the much larger (and wealthier) Baby Boomer generation and
the super-cool, market-making Millennial crowd. In 2014, Pew
described us as "America's neglected middle child." And if I needed
any more evidence, Google search data confirms how infrequently my
generation shows up in conversations. It's sad.
But is it? Are brands missing something? The answer is
unquestionably yes. Seventy-five percent of Gen Xers earn more than
Baby Boomers did when they were the same age. We earn more than
Millennials per capita, and we will enjoy the highest increase in
share of national wealth over the next decade.
With this in mind, here are five lenses through which marketers
might look at Gen X to find growth.
1. Examine per capita performance: First, note
that Gen X is a smaller group than either of its neighboring
generations. For this reason, a brand should consider not only the
absolute number of buyers and total sales potential, but also per
capita measures. In a recent analysis for a CPG client, I found
that the 35 to 54 age group spent 17% more per household on the
brand than did the average household. Depending on your cost to
acquire a new customer, campaigns that exclude Gen Xers could be
leaving profit behind.
2. Take advantage of favorable economics: Gen
Xers are now entering our peak earning and spending years. The
Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Gen X has the highest
income and retail expenditures of any age cohort, and Goldman Sachs
says Gen X accounts for 31% of total consumer spending versus its
20% share of the U.S. population. In other words, Gen Xers are
making money and spending more than their fair share.
3. Look at your brand's category: Gen Xers
prioritize spending on housing, education, childcare, and family
travel. We lean away from buying new automobiles. Older Gen Xers
will soon begin to consider retirement planning, which bodes well
for healthcare and financial services companies. In fact, once the
Baby Boomers make their way through the system, Deloitte notes that
Gen X will account for 31% of total U.S. net wealth by 2030,
becoming the big new fee opportunity in the financial services
4. Disaggregate: Driven in part by declining
birth rates and an increase in immigration in the 1960s, Gen X is
an ethnically and racially diverse group. Forty percent of Gen Xers
are non-white, for example, and we are the most dispersed cohort in
terms of income and wealth distribution. A one-flavor approach will
not work. My recommendation is that marketers apply a data-informed
behavioral targeting strategy that enables "always on" measurement
and refinement of advertising placement and messaging. WPP and
Spotify have a partnership, for example, that uses listeners'
moods, activities, preferences, and purchase behavior to fuel
better campaign planning and more relevant creative delivered at
just the right moment.
5. Plan for long-term success: Some experts say
that brand loyalty among Gen X is high. This could be because they
are time-starved, active professionals who seek to minimize search
and transaction costs. Whatever the cause, the fact that many of us
are the decision-makers for both our parents and our own children
indicates that brands that ignore us are missing out. Brands that
earn the Gen Xer's trust today-with values that matter deeply to
us, such as authenticity and sincerity-will reap the benefits for
years to come.
In summary, we Gen Xers are practical people at the peak of our
careers. We are making money, spending money, and influencing the
decisions of the generations both before and after our own. We
might just be the "x factor" that brands need-and it sure would be
nice to be talked about again.
Article was originally published on CMO.com, April 28, 2017.
Sriram "Ram" Padmanabhan has more than 16 years of
experience in market research and analytics. He is currently a
senior partner-business science director at MediaCom in New York,
where he works across multiple client accounts.