Marketing to Generation X: Get Lucky With the 13th Generation

They’re self-reliant, highly educated, and fiercely ­independent. Don’t ­overlook the latchkey kids.

Full disclosure: This reporter is a member of Generation X. And if there’s one thing that’s woefully apparent, it’s that this group is the least talked about generation on the planet. Much more dazzled by the larger-in-numbers millennials and baby boomers, the media, marketers, and retailers have swept Gen Xers under the carpet. We are, indeed, America’s neglected middle child.

But should we be? A Yahoo study published in November, “Gen X: America’s Most Influential Generation,” pointed out that ignoring us is a critical error. 

The reality is that there are some 81 million adults ranging in age from 34 to 49, and they are in their prime earning years. Gen Xers represent 31 percent of total income dollars, hold 29 percent of net worth dollars, and make between $67,000 and $71,000 on average per household, according to the study.

What’s more, they’ll soon be entering a phase of life without child dependents and with inherited money, which means they’ll have beaucoup discretionary income. 

Tougher-than-leather ’80s hip-hop trio Run-D.M.C.

Denise Dahlhoff, research director at Wharton School’s Baker Retailing Center and coauthor of a joint study with the NPD Group on buying behavior, says Gen Xers are currently in the middle-age phase of family and home and spend more money on necessities rather than jewelry, watches, and travel. But as they enter the empty nest phase of their lives, they will have money to burn.

More interested now?

Most define this generation as born between the mid 1960s and early ’80s. Their parents ranged from hippies to Goldwater conservatives, some didn’t enforce seat belts, and many worked, meaning their progenies were latchkey kids. Gen Xers came of age against a backdrop of Madonna, hip-hop, AIDS, the Cold War, and John Hughes movies. Later, they were branded slackers, thanks to movies like Reality Bites, a 1994 film about college graduates who flounder as they try to forge careers. The movie perfectly captured the Gen X mood: cynical, pragmatic, anti-authoritarian.

Singer-dancer-actress-fashionista Jennifer Lopez; Twitter cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey

Hamilton star-composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda; comedian/late-night host/lip-syncher Jimmy Fallon

Pessimism & Entrepreneurialism

Today, many Gen Xers lead traditional lives; others, however, eschew tradition altogether and have chosen not to start families. What’s true across the board is that they fall smack in the middle—between the traditional baby boomers and the liberal-minded millennials—on a wide range of topics, from technology to social issues. On retirement? They are the most pessimistic of the bunch, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. And there’s another thing that can definitely be said about Gen Xers: They are fiercely self-reliant and entrepreneurial. According to Yahoo, Xers make up the highest percentage of startup founders: 55 percent compared with 29 percent of boomers and 17 percent of millennials.

“I would say they’re fairly conservative and humble next to the boomers, who were a very bombastic ‘we are going to change the world’ [generation],” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the New York City–based Luxury Institute. “They have a good work ethic, have a great deal of humility, and tend to make good decisions and be less materialistic than boomers.”

One of the many fashion trends Madonna inspired: rubber bracelets!

Let’s unpack Generation X and pinpoint what fine jewelers need to know. For starters, what’s the best way to reach them? 

Next to millennials, this is the most tech-savvy generation. They remember a time when they didn’t own cellphones, but they are tuned in nonetheless. Not far behind their younger counterparts, according to the Yahoo survey, 79 percent of Xers are smartphone users compared to 84 percent of millennials. And what are they doing with their phones? Visiting social media sites, consuming news or information posted by brands and companies. The Yahoo survey found that nearly 8 in 10 researched products online. 

When it comes to luxury, the numbers are even more enlightening: According to the Luxury Institute’s 2015 Wealth Survey, “Consumer Attitudes Toward Luxury Purchases and the Luxury Digital Space,” 38 percent of Gen Xers prefer shopping online while 36 percent prefer shopping in-store. When asked what they’d like to see on websites, 67 percent of them said free delivery and free returns. Slightly more than half said they’d like to reserve a product online for purchase in-store.

Fendi baguette with crystals and studs; $4,500

Nexus Galaxy ring in 18k gold, silver, and black rhodium-plated silver with 3.2 cts. t.w. cognac, champagne, white, and gray diamonds; $7,000; Spinelli Kilcollin, Los Angeles;;

Income & Interest

So this is the takeaway: Make your business omnichannel because this group wants to have its cake and eat it, too: They want to shop and gather information online and have a positive in-store experience. 

“Offer suggestions or give advice, make it easy to find a store,” Dahlhoff says. “Keep track of what they bought and make suggestions. Make a wish list, and give them an option to make an appointment to see [items they might like]. The integration of offline and online is something to keep in mind. People know a nice experience.”

The truth is, this generation is low-hanging fruit, and anything you do to acknowledge them will be noticed. Because Gen Xers have gotten short shrift in the media next to their attention-grabbing generational cohorts, they feel as if they’ve been forgotten by advertisers. They say they would respond to ads that targeted them and would be more likely to purchase a product from a brand whose ads targeted them. 

Jewelry retailers and marketers have a great opportunity. “This is a wonderful market to address,” Pedraza says. “They have the income and the interest in consumption.” 


Marketing to Boomers: Why You Need the “Me” Generation
Marketing to Millennials: Or Gen Y, As They’re Also Known
Marketing to Generation Z: Living a Teenage Dream

(Top: JPM/Getty Images; Madonna: Michael Putland/Getty Images; Run-D.M.C.: Ebet Roberts/Redferns; Reality Bites: Universal/Everett Collection; Lopez: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic; Miranda: Bruce Glikas; Fallon: James White/NBC/Getty Images; Dorsey: Jack Dorsey/Newspix/Getty Images)

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