Gen Xers Reputation as Slouchers Not True

December 07, 2014

Gen Xers Reputation as Slouchers Not True

At Weber Shandwick, we just issued a report on Generation X (Gen Xers) and their concerns about retirement. This is a segment of the population that is far too overlooked.  Their reputation needs management. Why is it that they are so neglected by the media and many Fortune 500 companies?  An audit we did of leading U.S. financial company websites found that only half segmented their messaging by generation, and those that did focused mainly on the favored Boomers and Millennials. None focused on Gen X.  Even more startling to us was that the oldest Gen Xers are turning 50 in 2015. Their AARP notices are probably in the mail now.

What do we know about them? The Gen Xers’ formative years were shaped by Madonna, John Hughes films and the presidencies of Ronald Reagan through Bill Clinton. This group, ranging from their late 30s to late 40s, were initially characterized as the “slacker” and “grunge” generation, yet went on to shape the dot-com and Web 2.0 eras, unleashing their far-reaching entrepreneurial talents. As a result of skyrocketing divorce rates among their Boomer parents, Gen Xers are known for their focus on family, striving for work-life balance and career-postponement in favor of stay-at-home, sustainable lifestyles. 

Unfortunately for them, the Great Recession marred the Gen X experience. Not only did Gen Xers face difficulty in securing jobs upon graduation in the early ‘90s, subsequent economic downturns contributed to an unstable financial footing for this market segment. In fact, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, Gen X took the largest hit in our most recent recession, losing nearly half (45%) of their wealth totals, an average of about $33,000, in just four years. Impacted by a slump in stocks, bonds and property values, the damage to Gen X portfolios exceeded all other age groups by at least five percentage points, Bloomberg recently reported. For these reasons, the Gen Xers in our study reported being intensely worried about how their retirement plans will intersect with their healthcare needs in the future. As one Gen Xer said: “Staying healthy — I think about this all the time. It’s a constant concern. If something happens to me, I have a few savings accounts to assist my children, but I worry about doing the right thing for my health and seek out help where I can to address my concerns.”

As a market opportunity, Gen Xers are often overlooked for several reasons: they are sandwiched between two very different and attention-grabbing generations (Boomers and Millennials), have a relatively short generational span (approximately 16 years vs. roughly 20 years for other generations), and represent a smaller share of the population (65 million, vs. 77 million Boomers and 83 million Millennials). Given the financial security that this generation will require to sustain itself during its retirement, Gen Xers present an opportunity that financial services companies should not overlook. Our research found that this “middle child” cohort has financial issues and communications needs that are unique to their experiences and their place in history, and deserve a closer look.

Reputation-wise, this generation needs help figuring out what makes them distinctive. Looking at the Pew research in the chart below shows how their own perceptions of what makes them unique is already claimed by their cohorts – technological-savviness, intelligent and hard working.

Despite their hard work, our research found them to be happy amidst all the chaos and anything but slackers. You might want to call them the heads-down generation. Clearly, they need to be spoken to in language that resonates with their hopes and dreams and calms their fears. Although this is a generation whose reputation was closely tied to being slouchers and couch potatoes, the media and those companies seeking their business might want to pick up on their first-hand experience with being prepared for financial volatility.

[I posted this on LinkedIn today as well.]

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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