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X Marks the Spot: Selling to the Forgotten Generation

1st August 2017

Peggy Carlton gives the Gen Xer's perspective on Grayling's Inside Influence research. 

When we embarked on Inside Influence, our comprehensive study about generational influence, as a Gen Xer, I was curious to see if my own purchase decision-making would align with what the research revealed. 

There are several hallmarks of Gen Xers - those born in the early sixties through 1980 - that set the foundation for who we are as consumers today. 

We were the latch-key generation, the first to grow up without 24/7 supervision, with both parents working, as well as increasing divorce rates. This led to Gen Xers being much more peer-dependent than any previous generation, which we see play out in our study, with Gen X consumers the least likely to seek out purchase advice, and if they do it is from others of their own generation. Not much evidence of this cohort asking mom and dad's opinions, even now. And maybe that's OK; after all, what many first dubbed the “slacker generation” turned out to be an entrepreneurial generation - the founders of Google, Twitter and Amazon are all Gen Xers. This entrepreneurial spirit is likely due to living through several recessions, from the oil crisis of the 70s, to the savings and loan scams of the 80s, to the Dot Com Bubble, and 9/11. 

The fact that the billionaire Gen Xers' wealth comes from tech is no great surprise, when you consider we were the generation that went from analogue to digital - the first to have computers in school - so we have equal comfort with personal and digital communication, which we also see played back to us in our research, when looking at where people go for information and advice. 

Going it alone

While there are many interesting findings throughout Inside Influence, what struck me most was that Gen Xers generally do not seek advice from other generations. Fifty-five percent speak only to other Gen Xers for purchase advice. Every other generation - their parents and children - are much more likely to consult more widely. Even after purchase, my generation mostly gives feedback to other Gen Xers. 

Whether consumer electronics, travel, financial services or cars, our former latch-key kids still rely on each other for advice. And while we use multiple channels upfront to do our research, from websites to word-of-mouth, as we go through the decision-making journey, we seem to close ranks and speak to fewer people - half the number of our millennial counterparts - and go to fewer outside sources as we speed through the purchase journey. Maybe we have trust issues! Certainly, other research has shown that Gen Xers have about 10 fewer (albeit stronger) friendships than millennials.

So back to me, since we are the 'forgotten generation' after all!  How did all this play out when I purchased a car in February of this year? Almost exactly as the research would suggest, as it happens. I only talked to about 10 people for their opinions, all of them in my peer group. I did a ton of multi-channel research upfront, then relied on company and review sites, and lastly got input from a dealer - aka “the professional” - on the day I made the purchase. The whole process only took me about a month, much quicker than my male counterparts who, according to our Inside Influence research, can take up to four-months to go through the same purchase journey. 

X marks the spot?

So, what does this mean for marketers? While millennials remain their focus for many, they should consider that Gen Xers not only still out-spend them (according to US government statistics) but are also the number one influencer of Gen Z - their children, the next wave of mass consumers. 

Maybe it’s time to remember the “forgotten generation.”

Grayling’s comprehensive Inside Influence research takes an in-depth look at the ways in which different generations influence each other at the various stages of the consumer purchasing journey, and how that varies between age groups and different categories. Download the free PDF summary below, or contact Jon Meakin or Peggy Carlton for a customized presentation

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Peggy Carlton

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