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    GETTING TO KNOW GENERATION X

    93 million Americans born between 1961 and 1981; age in 1996, 15 to 35.
    This number is extremely large because I have combined Baby Busters and part of a group called Baby Boomlets together, as have Howe and Strauss. Demographically, Busters are a small group which is followed by a large group called Boomlets, but personality-wise,they seem to fit together. Take note: Xers may have less money than Boomers, but this often overlooked group is EVEN LARGERthan Boomers! (If your business needs to separate Busters from Boomlets, see recommended articles listed at end.)

    Street-Savvy Survivors--
    Above all, remember that this group has survived psychedelic parents, divorces, one-parent families, step families, both parents working, razor blades in their Halloween candy, latchkey lives, violence on television, on the streets, and in the schools. Probably the toughest generation since the G.I. Generation.

    Pragmatists--
    My Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines pragmatic as "relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters:practical as opposed to idealistic." They've had to be. Sidebar: Where Silents had G.I.s as adult role models, Xers see Boomer adults as out-of-control and Silent adults as lacking in decisive leadership. Don't expect them to imitate either generation too strongly.

    Xers are group oriented.
    Friends have taken the place of absentee aunts, uncles, cousins,parents, and even the presence of enough warm adult bodies in schools. Going in groups to the malls, group dating, etc., all are very natural to this generation, and Xers are particularly protective of their groups. The rise of gangs among the most neglected groups of children could be the extreme version of this.

    Great shoppers--
    They've shopped for working parents, they've shopped over television, and they've shopped at the Mall as part of their social life.

    Environmentalists--
    The Love Canal, Chernobyl, the Valdez oil spill, and an awareness of endangered species, all were vividly etched in their memory banks via TV news. Xers seem to have a sincere interest in protecting Mother Earth in general and animals in particular. Remember, this is a generation that likes PETA, Green Peace, anti-fur coat demonstrations,
    "This product has not been tested on animals," Project X, Free Willy, and toys called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Toxic Crusaders.

    Karen Ritchie in Marketing to Generation X makes interesting fine points. She notes that Xers are as pragmatic about the environment as they are about other aspects of their lives. Where Boomers value environmental ideals, Xers value what they can realistically control, i.e. recycling, driving smaller cars, products that help one cope with environment pollution. Unless a company sincerely shows how its product helps improve or cope with our environment, cynical Xers are not going to take an environmental-friendly advertising claim at face value. Ms. Ritchie stresses that Xers want information, not hype.

    Xers are diverse--
    We're talking male and female, heterosexual and gay, European-, African-, Hispanic-, Asian-, and Native-Americans, and any other groups you can think of. Xers have grown up with the reality-oriented version of how it is for diverse groups to live together. If your business targets Xers now or as they age, you can get a quick but excellent snapshot of America's increasing diversity by reading Chapter 4 in Karen Ritchie's book Marketing to Generation X.

    One personal opinion I want to add: At the time the book was written, the political climate was changing. Points made by Ms. Ritchie about affirmative action benefits and disadvantages to various groups might need to be reconsidered for a society that now seems focused, legislatively, on becoming color- and gender- blind.

    Xers you would know:
    Michael J. Fox, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Eddie Murphy, Jon Bon Jovi, Tom Cruise, Michael Jordan, Whitney Houston, Andre Agassi, and Brooke Shields

    My favorite Xer commercials:
    The Microsoft Windows 95 commercial has just the right amount of "MTV- type" music, visuals, and pace. Using "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones strikes immediate identification with both Xers and Boomers, the two most computer-literate generations. Also, Saturn Car has two great Xer commercials-- one about a young woman buying her first car. She is handed the keys and given a round of applause and warm congratulations by the sales force (at one time, a possible family tradition); another Saturn commercial is about a young woman walking into an automobile agency where no one gives her attention, so she ends up at Saturn and likes the dealership so much, she becomes a Saturn salesperson..



    We love to hear from you and welcome your feedback.


    A FEW MARKETING TIPS ON HOW TO REACH THE XERS
    1. Be visual, be musical, be dynamic.

    Xers grew up in front of "Sesame Street" , the pace and tempo of which evolved into "MTV". They expect great graphics, a lively pace, and good music with the message.

    2. Give it to them straight.

    This group can spot phoniness at 20 paces. They are smart, savvy consumers, and if you burn them once, you've lost them. Brand loyalty will extend only as far as brand quality does.

    3. Offer value, quality and occasional name-brand recognition (see #2).

    Xers have been shopping for an awfully long time, either as a social pastime or to help out working parents. Silents and Boomers have been generous in dispensing funds to this group, possibly out of a sense of guilt, and Xers want value and quality for their money. Sidebar: Designer items are sometimes seen as the norm. Remember, this is the generation of school children who needed designer jeans and Nike tennis shoes as well as pencils and notebooks.

    4. Don't underestimate the value of home and hearth.
    Although late to enter the work force and start families, Xers seem to value home life and all that goes with it. Televisions and telephone answering machines are considered necessities. Good sound systems are important. Comfortable, reasonably-priced but attractive furniture is preferred. Someone rightly observed that you're not going to walk into an Xer's apartment and find the fruit crate end tables and "wooden spool" coffee tables that Boomers cherished. This "home and hearth" trend should continue for quite a while. As Boomers move on to their next age-appropriate housing, they'll leave ample, cheap housing for the small "Buster" part of the Xers. Another idea---look at the success of Blockbuster Video, catching the wave of both Xer and Boomer "cocooning." Xers like to go out, but a good video is cheap, safe, and fun to share either with friends or alone.

    5. Stress the environment.
    Localize the success of businesses like The Body Shop which is the ultimate environmentally-oriented corporation. Giving something back to the planet is important to Xers. What if a New Orleans business "adopted" an animal at the zoo and used it on envelopes, advertisements, and commercials? Remember Sunbeam the elephant? If the zoo is willing, you could use Tony the hippo, Suri the white tiger, or even Ruby the pig, if it's business appropriate; or help them buy an animal and name it after your firm. Warning: Showcase animals humanely or this will backfire!

    On a grander scale, Ralph Lauren ought to do something for "over-the-hill" horses, and LaCoste ("alligator" shirts) could give a donation for wetlands protection. The "wetlands" message could be highlighted in a commercial that shows a group of Xers, all wearing colorful "alligator" shirts, as they take the Honey Island Swamp (boat) Tour. For a tough generation that loves great visuals, just imagine alligators swimming over to the boat to view and be viewed, all against a colorful background of wild purple irises, snowy egrets, and cypress trees and knees. Add the right music and a catchy phrase, and you've got yourself an Xer winner.

    Locally, a drugstore near a college or high school could set up a display case near the front door that showcases various products that have not been not tested on animals. An ad in college newspapers that promotes a whole group of these products might work really well. This list could go on and on, but you get the idea.

    LAGNIAPPE
    Employment Agencies, Headhunters, Temporary Help Companies, Colleges, and Dale Carnegie:

    I've heard that the average age this group finds a "normal" job (a company-type job with benefits) is 27. Focus on how you can help them. It's tough out there, and Boomers aren't giving up an inch of turf. How to network, how to acquire interviewing skills, how to find the right job, how to write great resumes and cover letters, etc.--you should promote your strengths in these areas to this generation. Important point to remember, however, with this savvy group:
    Don't offer if you can't produce first-class results.

    Home & Entertainment Companies:
    Be it ever so humble, home is important. Offer quality and value in furnishings. Begin cultivating this huge, next wave of home buyers! For video and CD businesses, a trade-in policy would hit the target. MCI just came out with a fantastic Xer idea--By dialing a toll-free number on the phone, you can hear any of several thousand songs and select those you want made up on a personalized CD. This product combines the Xer's interest in music, shopping, and technology. However, a computer-savvy Xer pushed the envelope even farther. He made the personal observation that eventually technology should enable MCI to download that music onto a computer user's CD at home, thus producing a truly exceptional product.

    Beauty Businesses:
    Advertise products that have not been animal-tested, particularly sun screen, cosmetics, skin care products, and after-shave lotions.

    Computer Companies and Retail stores:
    Xers should be your targeted group. Technology comes naturally to them, and they will be your best consumers of new products, particularly as they age and make more money. (Even now, they not only buy for themselves but often advise parents on what to buy.) Interactive technology will be of particular interest to them. Banks might take note that Xers will be the first to try interactive banking, then teach their parents how to do it (a corollary of the "Who-can-set-the-VCR-clock?" theory).

    Video Stores:
    Blockbuster Video offers a promotion called "Good Grades. Free Rentals." Students, kindergarten through 12th grade, get a free rental if they bring in a report card with a "B" average from the current grading period that's been signed by a parent. Generation Xers (both as parents and students) like this concrete way of showing community support.

    Back To Generational Marketing Page

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