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The Future Belongs to Gen. X

The Future Belongs to Gen X | Marketing Horizons

As marketers, we spend a lot of time talking about Millennials. We target them as consumers, employees, and donors, to the point of obsession, as the next cohort after the Boomers. But wait! We are overlooking Generation X, not surprisingly called the “Forgotten Generation.” This is the 65 million people in their 40s and 50s sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials. They represent a $2.4 trillion market. Ignoring them could prove a costly mistake for both businesses and nonprofits.

In this episode, we speak with Alicia Lifrak, who is a Gen X member herself, and has spent the past 25 years leading strategy in the nonprofit and higher education worlds. She explains why marketers ignore Gen X at our own peril, and what we should be doing about it.

Pop Quiz: Can you name at least 3 Gen X leaders of major transformational companies today? Listen to this episode for the answer.



Ruth Stevens: Why do we call Gen X the forgotten generation?

Alicia Lifrak: I think if you look back from a historical standpoint in the 90s, there was a lot of demographic data that came out talking about this next generation, the millennials. And it was a lot. It's a large generation of 80 million people and there was a lot of dialogue around; how do they spend? How do they think? How do we market to them? And we just sort of ran with it, and so, for the last couple of decades, that has become a huge focus in all sectors of consumer nonprofit, even governmental. The Gen X population is 67.5 or 65.2 million members, it's actually poised to take over the Baby Boomer population in 2028. It’ll be larger than the Boomer generation, they were smaller, and so I think they sort of got squeezed out because there was these two very large population sets. That became kind of the focal points. On a more lighter note, it's fitting for those in Gen Xers because they kind of have been the middle generation. They were forgotten about, even as they were growing up. They were often the latchkey kids. They made their own TV dinners, they were babysat by the TV and they often had two parents working, so they were very independent or they were probably the first full-fledged generation of divorced families. They were really kind of on their own and being raised, I guess, as young people in the 70s, teenagers in the 80s, kind of ballpark. Just sort of set their own path and have stayed on that independent path for a long time, but obviously they're now moving into a period of leadership opportunity and leadership existence. I do think it's important that we not forget that they're still out there is still a pretty significant population.

Cyndi Greenglass: So, let's break that down a little bit. We're saying that this is a generation of highly independent thinkers. Independent in the way they live their lives and in the way that they think. They're not as much of joiners, right, they got a little bit of that middle child syndrome it sounds. What does that mean when you look at that from a marketer's perspective and an employer's perspective? How does that impact the way we engage with Gen Xers?

Alicia Lifrak: So, I think the idea that Gen X is not joiners is probably a misconception. The reality is the Gen X population is currently owns or sits in about 51% of leadership roles, both corporate and government, all around the world. They are in those leadership seats, they have the majority of those leadership seats right now and I think they tend to be very engaged but they can be a little cynical. They're a little skeptical of institutions because they've been independent learners. They might not just jump on any given bandwagon, so I think, as we look at them from a consumer market or even an employer or employee market, recognizing that they have characteristics, they have a set of value systems, they have things that they prioritize and they have ways that they make those types of decisions. I think you must take all of that into context as a consumer market. Gen Xers spend more money than millennials on an annual basis by one third, so they're spending power per annual on is $2.4 trillion. There's a lot of engagement that's taking place. We're just not marketing to them. We're not paying attention to them and those companies that do I think are seeing tremendous yields because they are. They are spenders and they do get engaged and they are taking leadership roles, we just don't talk about them.

Ruth Stevens: So, now that they're in this life stage and we have an opportunity to market to them and we're not going to ignore them anymore, what should we be preparing for as they enter their older years? How should we as marketers prepare for that?

Alicia Lifrak: Well, I think it's a unique generation and I'll speak from my own personal experience because I am a member of the Gen X population. I would say, first and foremost, there's some really interesting dynamics and things that are going on. They are still caring for children, even if their adult children, they still have an active parenting role, and they are also caring for, at a greater and greater degree, their own aging parents. They are in this middle space where they have an immense amount of responsibility, expectations and accountability to a lot of others. The baby boom generation will be and it has already been done. But there'll be a massive transfer of wealth that's going to take place over this next decade and so being cognizant of how this generation, where the generations pain points are, where their needs are, all of the people that they are responsible for. It’s a pretty heavy weight to carry, paired with the fact we don't consider ourselves old. We feel like we're still very youthful. We're still very engaged. You know, 50 is very different today than it was in the 70s. There's, you know, socially speaking, a consumer power. Things that they do, there's 50-year-olds who are out there rock climbing and rappelling and going on vacation, so they're not an old group, and yet they have a disposable income. They have the ability to make luxury choices. Recognizing them with this dichotomy between having all this responsibility and they're in leadership seeds and they have disposable income, but they still consider themselves very young. I think they still consider they still see a lot of that youth and independence in themselves. So, recognizing and communicating with them in that vein and also understanding the channels with which they expect to be communicated, they're very tech savvy so they're fine with email, texting and social media. They're very prominent on all of these types of channels, they probably don't get a lot of mail in their mailbox and I think historically were ruled out 20 years ago as being non-responders, but they might be moving into a space where having that tactical experience of something in the direct mail realm would work really well for them. There's not a lot of real estate in the mailbox, so to speak, so that's a place where you can kind of connect with them, but it's got to be meaningful. They're probably more environmentally focused, they've been raised in a time where climate change is a very key point issues, so they want to see resources used well. They don't like waste, but at the same time, if they're like me, their email inbox is a place to have a mass delete of hundreds a day because it's just spam and they're not going to open it. I think you need to be very deliberate and thoughtful with them.

Key Takeaways/Three Little Piggies

  • This market segment is amazing and we need to quit ignoring it. There’s an opportunity for us to stary paying attention to them and build relationships to pull them in.
  • They have an awareness that they have been ignored, so there’s a potential appreciation for companies that do speak to them in their language through media, with messaging that resonates with it.
  • They are high potential targets for nonprofits, as they are moving into leadership positions and onto boards. There’s a huge potential for fundraising focused to causes they care about.

Marketing Communications Today presents Horizons, it’s forward-thinking, looking ahead, through the front windshield and beyond, into the marketing future. Join Cyndi and Ruth bi-weekly for new ideas, technologies, tools and strategies that are emerging to help marketers navigate over the marketing horizon.

Meet our guest

 Alicia Lifrak

With more than three decades of experience in the philanthropic sector, Alicia M Lifrak is a Certified Fund-Raising Executive with demonstrated success in leadership, strategic planning, operations, budget management, board leadership, membership, program, marketing and all forms of fundraising. She is driven by a focus on developing and implementing strategic solutions that yield the best possible results in pursuit of mission achievement.

She currently serves as Executive Vice President for the Gabriel Group, an OSG Company, leading the nonprofit division in offering full-service fundraising, marketing and strategy consultation to clients. Prior to joining Gabriel Group, Alicia spent 25 years leading teams to achieve exceptional results in nonprofit and higher education.

Alicia also serves in several key leadership roles as a volunteer and active member in organizations including The Nonprofit Alliance, NonProfit Pro, Rotary International, the Meridian Society and the Washington University Women’s Society. After moving around the U.S. for most of her life, Alicia now lives in Illinois with her four kids, a cat and a dog. She travels frequently, for work and for fun, is an avid reader and loves to see live music.

To connect with her directly or learn more, contact her at Alicia.Lifrak@osgconnect.com

Meet the hosts

Cyndi Greenglass

Cyndi W. Greenglass is a founding partner and president at Livingston Strategies, a data-informed, strategic consulting firm that helps clients develop, execute, and measure their customer communications with a close focus on results. Cyndi has razor-sharp strategic skills matched by impeccable on-the-ground savvy and tactical abilities. She is an Adjunct Instructor in the Data Marketing Communications online master's degree program from West Virginia University.

Greenglass has twice been named into the Top 100 Influential BTB Marketers by Crain’s BtoB Magazine and was the 2012 CADM Chicago Direct Marketer of the Year. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for BRAND United and has taught, trained and presented at over 50 conferences throughout the world.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City.


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