The changing face of consumption: Gen X

by Ago Cluytens

Reposted with permission from Brandingthroughpeople

In a recent video interview with Tamara Erickson, BNet talked about Generation X and how they are changing the workplace, with shifting attitudes towards performance, authority, diversity and the importance of work/life balance. It got me to thinking – as Generation X  increases their economic buying power and slowly but surely rise to the top of the food chain, how should we approach them ? In spite of all the talk about Generation Y now being the end-all-and-be-all for consumer brands, unless you are in the sneaker business, Generation X still packs more consumer power – and will continue to do so for some time to come.

The key lies in understanding five key statements that typify – to a certain degree – how GenX’ers think, and how they approach life.

“I want to be self-reliant”

More than anything else, GenX has an innate desire to be masters of their own destiny. As consumers, they are likely to exhibit a severe mistrust of large institutions, and prefer smaller, more nimble and – dare I say – more ethical alternatives. When given the choice, they will invariably support the underdog. They are looking for brands that speak to them in their language, and are likely to be more sensitive to corporate reputation and brand image than other generations. Communicate directly and openly, as they will see through anything else.

“I do not want to follow your rules”

Generation X is allergic to rules – that is to say, you’d better have very good arguments to back up your story, or they won’t play ball. Brands that can cater to that, for example by “being a little naughty” or challenging authority are likely to connect with them. Demonstrating flexibility, giving them options or playing to their strengths are all likely to win them over.

“I like to have options”

Naturally at ease with ambiguity, GenX favours having options over anything else. They are very comfortable with diverse perspectives, and instinctively understand there is “no single right answer”. Presenting them with a (wide) array of options and assisting them in their choice is likely to go down much better than “you can have any color, as long as its black”. They do not expect you to be right – just to be helpful.

“I work to live, don’t live to work”

More than any other generation, GenX is sometimes seen as unwilling to sacrifice themselves by putting in long hours – but why should they ? A disproportionate number of them grew up in single-family homes, experienced economic recessions and mass corporate layoffs. They are loyal to their families, not to their employers – they value being a dedicated parent, partner and friend over being a dedicated employee anytime. They see work as a means to an end – help them get more done in less time, build their skills or offer a variety of times for events. Keep in mind that unlike preceding generations, this one has a life.

“I am not looking for security”

At least not in the traditional sense – GenX are more comfortable with viewing their career as a portfolio of jobs (including entrepreneurial ventures or freelancing). They strive for autonomy more than status, and are willing to sacrifice monetary rewards for the ability to be masters of their own destiny. Sure, they’ll invest in status – but don’t expect them to make repeat purchases if their budget does not allow for it. Anything you can do to educate them, allow them to hedge their (career) bets or enable them to acquire more independence is likely to do down well.

Overall, GenX is an attractive and influential group of consumers. They are fiercely independent, loyal to their families, dedicated to learning and growth, naturally comfortable with ambiguity and able to call a bluff when they see it. They are also likely to exhibit increasing levels of influence on society as parents, consumers, managers, leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs. Sound appealing ?