They aren’t the largest or wealthiest age group. They don’t lust for luxury and are immune to slick ads. But Gen Xers are wired to family and peers, making their influence hard to ignore.
They were the original latchkey kids. They witnessed the birth of the home computer, Pac-Man, cable TV and the Internet. Left alone by parents who worked long hours to give them all the luxuries of life, they grew up self-reliant – and cynical. Beavis and Butthead were their heroes. The show helped fill time as they waited for mom and dad to come down off the corporate ladder. From the moment they learned to set the time on the VCR, they embraced technology, and with it the skill to process megabytes of information at warp speed.
They are Generation X, the individuals born between 1965 and 1980. Also called the Why Me Generation, MTV Generation, and the Baby Bust, they were tagged Slackers early on. They are far from that today. Gen X is today’s Sandwich Generation, a group caught in the middle, supporting both aging parents and young children.
Thanks to that heavy responsibility, Gen X doesn’t have the financial padding of the Baby Boomers. Nor do they expect to. These 33 to 48 year olds are not focused on working longer hours. They saw their parents do that and prefer to spend a greater amount of time with family and friends. And as was proven to them during the recent Great Recession, they do not believe they will be rewarded for their loyalty to their employers. Disdainful of the values that drove their parents to sacrifice family for luxury, they don’t live to work – they work to live. They are price sensitive, skeptical of slick sales pitches, and demand value. Don’t try to sell them on the joy of owning an expensive bauble just for the sake of prestige. They won’t buy it… figuratively or literally.
According to Dave Wencel in Marketing to Generation X, there are fewer than 50 million Gen Xers in the U.S., just 16 percent of the population. So why bother with them, you’re thinking? Why waste marketing dollars and effort trying to draw these iconoclasts through the door? Let’s start with the fact that they have reached their peak earning years—and they are connected.
Gen X is the most extensively wired generation in history. According to a recent Forrester Research study, 95 percent own mobile phones, with 49 percent of those possessing smartphones. More than 11 percent own tablets. Over 74 percent use the Internet for banking, 72 percent to research products and services, and 81 percent to purchase products online – spending an average of $311 online every three months. While many younger generations are reading less, Gen X is reading more, but they are doing it online. Then they share what they learn with peers and ask their opinions. Where? You guessed it. Online.
These are consumers who do their research on products and services (often to the point of excess), absorb what they learn like a sponge, and squeeze it back out to everyone they know. The Internet is a giant electronic library, and no group trolls it better than Generation X. Forget the Yellow Pages; they’re thumbing through Google and Yahoo! They’re looking for reviews on Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List and more. Family, friends and peers are major influencers – and they reach out to them regularly via social media. Forrester reports that 95 percent of Gen Xers have a page on Facebook, 35 percent have LinkedIn profiles, and 25 percent post regularly on Twitter. So while Generation X may not have invented word of mouth, it certainly perfected it using the technology at their fingertips. Capture their trust, and these cynics will become loyal online ambassadors. Disappoint them, and they’ll tell the world, possibly on YouTube.
In short, if you don’t acknowledge the power this tech-savvy group wields, prepare for it to broadside you somewhere down the line. Consider the following tips to make your business Beavis and Butthead-proof.
1. Provide the information they seek. Unlike other generations they will read every word of what you post on your website. Don’t try to sell them anything. Be their consultant. Give them the facts, clearly and concisely. Show them the value of your products and services, and they’ll make their own decision. What? You say you don’t have a website? You’ve lost them already.
2. Avoid slick sales pitches, hype and overstatement. Skip cute and overly flashy ads. Remember, this is Beavis and Butthead you are talking to. Outline the things that make you better and your products a greater value. And be prepared to back up your claims. If one Gen Xer thinks you’re offering a good deal, others will learn about it and think so, too.
3. Make service king. These customers demand it – perhaps even more than value. They consistently seek a connection with people, as well as the businesses they patronize. Be warm, pleasant. Talk to them as a peer not an authority. They’ve done so much research, they probably know as much about your products as you do. Over-deliver on your promise of service; it will get around. Fast.
4. Offer money-back guarantees, lifetime trade-ups, free cleaning and inspections for the life of the product, etc. These shoppers are skeptics. Value means more to them than just the price; it means commitment for longer than the hour they spent making the purchase.
5. Marketing education expert Jay Ehert states Gen X has a strong distrust of government and corporate America, making them less likely to favor big-name brands. So make sure you promote your status as a locally owned business in your advertising. Show off your selection of smaller niche brands – especially a store brand if you have one.
6. Speak their language in your ads, too, with themes such as “You’re different and we respect that”; “There aren’t a lot of rules here”; or “There’s nothing stuffy and formal about our store.”
7. Do use email. This group reads online, and they appreciate being connected. Just remember to keep your messages factual and value-oriented. You’re not selling to Gen X; you’re informing them, so they end up selling themselves. Keep the messages short so they intrigue and hold attention. Then link the email to your website so the recipient can investigate further.
8. Appeal to Generation X’s commitment to family and community. Support nonprofit and family-oriented organizations. Host in-store social events and gatherings where they can attend with their peers. Then make sure you announce what you are doing on the electronic mediums they haunt, such as Facebook.
9. If you don’t have a page on Facebook, get one. Now. A presence on other social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Pinterest is valuable, too, but these networks don’t yet pack the same wallop as FB. Bottom line: social media is the way Gen X communicates. If you’re not there communicating back, you don’t exist to them.
10. Ramp up your presence on opinion sites such as Yelp. Then encourage your customers to post peer reviews, and to “like” or “friend” you.
11. Don’t let negative online reviews fester. Respond honestly and quickly. This is a generation that values transparency. If your store made a mistake, admit it and correct it.
A quick review of these tips reveals something interesting, doesn’t it? They apply nicely to just about any generation from Beavis to the Beaver. So a little effort to pursue Generation X can pay dividends across all audiences.