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Digital Advertising

Marketing to Gen X: How Brands Can (Finally!) Get it Right

By April 22, 2022April 24th, 2022No Comments

Have you heard the joke about how Gen X’s favorite song is “Don’t You Forget About Me”? As the smallest generation, sandwiched between baby boomers and millennials, we’re used to being overlooked. But here’s a serious question: Why is Gen X-centric marketing still missing the mark so badly?

In our youth-obsessed culture, industry buzz tends to center around cutting-edge social content trends embraced by the youngest consumers, rather than strategies that resonate with Gen X. The problem with staying laser-focused on young shoppers is that by forgetting Gen X, marketers are leaving an enormous amount of buying power and opportunity on the table.

In 2022, the Gen X population is expected to make up 19.3% of U.S. residents, or 65.1 million individuals. Most Gen Xers are in their prime spending years, second only to baby boomers in terms of buying power, with purchasing influence over their own Gen Z households as well as their boomer parents.

While Gen X may not be as big as their older and younger counterparts, their spending power is disproportionate to their numbers. It’s well worth the effort for brands to adjust their digital outreach to connect with this generation, starting with the most important step of all: acknowledging that Gen X exists.

What Does Gen X Care About?

Generally speaking, Gen X consists of people born from 1965-1980. The trickiest aspect of understanding Gen X is the differences in age — some older members of Gen X overlap with baby boomers, while younger members are more aligned with millennials.

Despite the many unique elements in a sprawling generational group, there are still some shared traits and characteristics. Gen Xers are often characterized as resourceful, independent, adaptable, and skeptical. They’re known to be oriented toward value, information, and authenticity.

For brands that want to appeal to Gen X’s legitimate needs and interests, leverage topics such as:

  • Family time: Gen X is family-oriented, and cares about the balance between time spent at work and personal time.
  • Nostalgia: No doubt about it, Gen X loves nostalgia, and their tech-savviness offers endless opportunities for throwback-centric social media approaches. Next-level moves: nostalgia plays that appeal to Gen X’s own children (i.e., ’80s collectibles, ’90s fashion trends).
  • Health and wellness: Gen X is often comprised of both parents and caretakers of their own parents, interested in their own wellness and longevity, and looking for solutions to manage stress.
  • Value/financial security: This is a generation who may be preparing to send kids to college and/or deal with aging parents who need care. Gen X is looking for deals as well as long-term financial health.
  • The fact that Gen X exists: In this oft-forgotten group, it’s refreshing to be acknowledged!

Best-Practice Tip For Gen X: Authenticity

Authenticity may be the most important element of any Gen X marketing plan. Marketers are inundated with advice about using authenticity to reach younger consumers, but Gen X’s famed skepticism translates to a real dislike of shallow brand promises.

Eighty-five percent of Gen X says authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support, perhaps to no surprise. This is a generation that has been exposed to innumerable advertising approaches over the years.

Gen X is not likely to respond to contrived or artificial-sounding marketing content. A few tips for digital content that has a much better chance of landing:

  • Avoid overly polished social content/advertising. Try rooting brand conversations in real-world scenarios that Gen X can relate to, and lean toward realistic and genuine imagery over heavily staged and filtered (or agency-created) content.
  • Acknowledge the issues. Menopause, aging parents, health issues, moving on from parenting-centric life, kids in college, financial insecurity, reassessments of life’s purpose … midlife can be a challenging time for many, and Gen X wants to know they’re not alone. Help them feel seen and heard with real-world acceptance of these issues (and, ideally, solutions to help).
  • Partner with Gen X influencers. Instead of more brand-created outreach, why not turn over the reins to Gen X social media creators who are already strongly connected to Gen X audiences? Younger creators may have Gen X followers, but for relatability and credibility, same-age creators work better for targeted brand messaging.

Reaching Gen X In Their Digital Hangouts

Gen X came of age with the internet and are savvy digital users whose online shopping habits may be permanently boosted as a result of the pandemic. Reports indicate that over 75% of Gen Xers are on social networks, with Facebook dominating their usage and YouTube close behind.

In order of popularity, here’s where to find Gen X online, along with some best-practice tips for leveraging each platform:

  • Facebook: Gen X’s trust may be hard to earn, but their brand loyalty is second to none. Facebook’s popularity among Gen X can make it the perfect platform to reinforce positive brand associations among existing customers. Facebook can also be effective for sharing discount offers.
  • YouTube: Play off of Gen X’s independent nature by providing them with relevant how-to videos, useful tutorials and product demonstration/explanation videos that help them understand brand value propositions.
  • Instagram: Consider working with Gen X Instagram influencers, particularly for verticals like beauty, food, health and wellness, fashion, lifestyle, DIY and parenting. Prioritize authentic sponsored content that preserves influencers’ real voices and opinions.
  • TikTok: TikTok’s skyrocketing popularity holds some obvious appeal for Gen X, although this platform still skews toward younger audiences. (Interestingly, this means that Gen X’s children may be influencing their parents with TikTok-shared trends!) Aim to directly reach Gen X here with nostalgia and humor. Avoid blatant sales pitches at all costs.

Like every generation, Generation X is a large cohort made up of millions of unique individuals who defy categorization. Generational marketing is an imperfect strategy, but when done well, it allows marketers to develop targeted messaging based on thoughtful understanding—not stereotyping.

The best way to win over Gen X is with honest, genuine messaging that reflects their lived experiences. The reward for authentically connecting with this overlooked generation is a potential lifetime of brand loyalty.

This article was originally published on Forbes as a Forbes Agency Council post.

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