Numbers Don’t Lie: Gen X, Can You Handle the Truth?

If you’re a Gex Xer, chances are since you’ve been in the workforce, for better or for worse you’ve lived in the shadow of the Baby Boomers. They’re the ones who have hired you, fired you … and most certainly always held the best jobs. The more I think about the marketing world, the more I realize that there’s an important undercurrent here, one that will have a tremendous impact on Gen X, and quite possibly Gen Y, as well.

If you’re Gen X, that means you were born in the ’70s, grew up in the ’80s and came of age in the ’90s, or something like that. You grew up listening to music like Van Halen, Run DMC, The Smiths and Nirvana. You went to school, and probably began working sometime during the second Clinton Administration, beginning to pay off your student loans. It was an exciting time to enter the labor force, just as the digital revolution was beginning to take hold.

Like many others in my generation, I entered the labor force in the mid-’90s. My first job was with a marketing firm. I was hired by a Baby Boomer, a nice woman named Stephanie about 20 years my senior. Marketing at the time was still pretty old school, but it was there where I was given my first work PC, set up with my first email address, and taught to surf this new thing called the World Wide Web using what was then the state-of-the-art browser called Netscape.

If you’re a Gex Xer, chances are since you’ve been in the workforce, for better or for worse you’ve lived in the shadow of the Baby Boomers. They’re the ones who have hired you, fired you … and most certainly always held the best jobs. The more I think about the marketing world, the more I realize that there’s an important undercurrent here, one that will have a tremendous impact on Gen X, and quite possibly Gen Y, as well.

You see, last time I talked about a transition that’s taking place in the marketing world, as an older generation of brand stewards gives way to a new generation of digital marketers. I explained this trend was set to accelerate in coming years due to the rapidly changing nature of marketing itself, which is becoming more data driven, technology focused and operational in nature. In case you missed it, you can read about this topic in “3 Ways Rank-and-File Marketers Matter to the C-Suite in a Brave New Marketing World.”

In the marketing world (not in tech, but most definitely in the rest of corporate America), most high-level roles are still staffed by Boomers. What I find very interesting is that for the most part, the vast majority of Baby Boomers (with some notable exceptions, of course) are not especially digital people. Many have learned to live and work in the digital world and quite well, but when I see my dad fumble around on his feature phone I most definitely can see a huge gap.

So the transition I mentioned above will essentially be a passing of the baton, as the Boomers recede from the picture and are replaced by the next generation of marketers. Now here’s where it gets really interesting. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a Baby Boomer is someone who was born between 1946 and 1964. Ranging in age from 48 to 66, Baby Boomers aren’t getting any younger. Generation X spans the years 1965 to 1983, more or less, while Gen Y is from 1985 to 2003. Now let’s take a look at the size of these three generations:

  • Baby Boomers: 79 million
  • Gen X: 41 million
  • Gen Y: 85 million

What this means is that in the marketing world if you’re a Gen Xer, your time to lead is coming. If you look at the numbers above, you can see there will there be a huge leadership void that will need to be filled as the Boomers retire during the next few years … as a small generation replaces a huge one. The economic crisis during the past for years may have postponed their retirement. But any way you slice it, the Baby Boomers will soon begin retiring more or less en masse during the next few years. When they go, they will leave huge leadership vacuum behind.

But that’s not all. In today’s marketing world, playing a leadership role will require both digital and managerial experience. This means that if you’re a Gen Xer with digital marketing and managerial experience, you’re literally going to be worth your weight in gold in coming years as the generational transition accelerates.

Don’t believe me? Just wait and see. And if you’re not ready to rise to the occasion, guess what? There are 85 million hungry and talented digital natives in Gen Y itching to move up ahead and take your place. If anything, they are the most digital generation yet. At this point, they’re still young and have yet to acquire the years of on-the-job experience it takes to succeed in a high-level marketing job. But give them some time and that will certainly change.

So, Gen X, are you up for the job? To quote Jack Nicholson is the classic 1992 movie A Few Good Men, “Can you handle the truth?” If not, Gen Y will be there waiting in the wings, happy to swoop in and take your place.

Any questions or feedback, as usual I’d love to hear it.

—Rio

Author: Rio Longacre

Who’s Your Data? is a blog that aims to disseminate thought-provoking tips and techniques involving the use of data and database marketing to direct marketing professionals. Why should you care? Because implementing data best practices has been shown to lift response rates, improve analytics and enhance overall customer experience. Reader participation is encouraged!

Rio Longacre is a Sales & Marketing Professional with more than 10 years of experience in the direct marketing trenches. He has worked closely with businesses across many different vertical markets, helping them effectively leverage the use of data, personalization technologies and tracking platforms. Longacre is currently employed as a Managing Consultant, Marketing, Sales & Service Consulting at Capgemini Consulting, a premier management consulting firm. He is based in the company's New York City office, which is located in Midtown Manhattan. He has also previously worked as an online media buyer and digital marketing strategist.

Email Longacre below, or you can follow him on Twitter at @RioLongacre. Any opinions expressed are his own.

10 thoughts on “Numbers Don’t Lie: Gen X, Can You Handle the Truth?”

  1. Unfortunately you fail to point out that hard economic times and destruction of retirement investments (and inevitable problems with medicare and Social Security) will lengthen this horizon considerably. Don’t get your hopes up of this happening wholesale anytime soon! In fact if Boomers stick around long enough (say 70-75) X’ers may get passed over completely as they will also be seen as too old and staid when the opportunity comes. Fun stuff…

  2. I shared your optimism until I heard the Chief Talent Officer for one of the largest advertising conglomerates tell a room of HR folks that we should all forget about Gen X as the C-Suite talent pool — instead look to Gen Y. I challenged her on the statement and her reasoning was that Gen X’ers "don’t want those jobs. They care more about work-life balance". At the risk of upsetting my Boomer boss who was sitting right next to me, I told her that I disagreed and that I was Gen X, I want that job and that all the Gen X friends I know want those jobs as well. She dismissed my statement and kept spewing the idiocy to the audience. It was all very depressing.

  3. You have to chuckle when some X-er pontificates about BB’s not especially being ‘digital people’. You are confusing the means with the end (or the medium with the message). It depends on what you mean by ‘digital’. Facebook, where the wheels are coming off that Ponzi scheme? Twitter? Or something else that will be the rage next year? What does that mean when you are a marketer? THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MESSAGE AND HOW IT RELATES TO THEM. Yes some BBs fumble with feature phones, –instead of condescending to your dad, that’s a sign of bad design or a poor choice of phone for his needs. BBs also consume their digital differently (like on desktops and laptops), for reasons you really should learn because of the demographics you so carefully note. (Not my supposition, MIT Age Lab’s) What is really surprising is that BBs and Silents love tablets, probably because of the form factor, ease of use and the fact that they run on Wi-Fi not on expensive data plans.

    Gen X and Y forget that the heart of marketing is knowing that people do things for their reasons, not yours, and you’d better get to know them and how they want to spend time and money, rather than closing their ears to hard-one experience and wishing BBs would just retire. (The same goes for BBs who are marketing to X and Y) This is from one senior mid-BB who isn’t going anywhere until Gen X and Y learn some hard lessons about behavior.

  4. I have been saying this for YEARS and YEARS thank you for making it into an article…."So the transition I mentioned above will essentially be a passing of the baton, as the Boomers recede from the picture and are replaced by the next generation of marketers. Now here’s where it gets really interesting. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a Baby Boomer is someone who was born between 1946 and 1964. Ranging in age from 48 to 66, Baby Boomers aren’t getting any younger. Generation X spans the years 1965 to 1983, more or less, while Gen Y is from 1985 to 2003. Now let’s take a look at the size of these three generations:
    Baby Boomers: 79 million
    Gen X: 41 million
    Gen Y: 85 million"

  5. Great article, and great stats. As an GenX’er myself, I am poised and ready to go! I believe Boomers need to also help by creating an environment where a succession plan can flourish and the transition is a flawless as possible.

  6. as a Baby Boomer I can assure you that Gen X is facing an extremely difficult environment and not as glaamorous as you make it sound. Worth ones weight in gold…explain what that means. Many BB have been forced to retire earlier than expected. Even though technology was new to us and yes it is a struggle to figure it all out, we have a wisdown and know how in working with people and knowing what sells that the tech world does not really understand. Look at Facebook..all hype but vapid and unreliable as a sales – money generator.
    The retiring generation use to offer an extremely valubale transition tool which was mentoring the younger generation. With so many early retirements, this valuable knowledge is gone and will not be passed on to Gen X. I see it in the advertising business, the revolving door of ceos cfos, presidents etc last less than 1 year. Here is their big opportunity but they are not delivering like much like technology. Sure Gen X is connected but does that translate into business success?

  7. Great article. I had no idea of the deep population gap between Baby Boomers and Gen X. This very timely for me because I am facing a career change. I have worked in technology and sales. Combing those two has always been a goal of mine. Its great to see I’m on the right track.

  8. Great article Rio, "old school" disciplines such as geography, demography and sociology still matter and most people from ALL GENERATIONS don’t seem to pay very much attention to some of these basics. I’m a Boomer who loves to work and may never retire but the whole company I work for is getting grayer and is not planning, manageing or recruiting for the future. My advice to Gen X and Gen Y is to be aggressive and start selling yourselves now in the companies you are currantly in…and knocking on doors of target companies you would like to work for. You ae a valuable asset!

  9. I am a proud GenX’er…I do seek to live a successful balanced life, it’s true that there are days where its 60/40 or 30/70, I enjoy both my in-office and out-of-office life. I do want to comment on a couple of things that I see has a few distinctions in the three generations. While (not all) but most BB worked from the ground up and didn’t really "choose" the career/job they are currently in as a lot of today’s jobs have been newly created in the last two decades or have transformed and morphed from two or more positons, company changes, etc. X’ers on the other hand were told to dream that there were so many more options available now than before that we should choose the right career path, take career/aptitude/personality testing, choose a college with the best program to get into the "right" career path. Once we got into the workforce we may not have liked it but we understood the need to put in the time and start at an entry level position and work our way up. Y’s (not all, but most) on the other hand don’t really believe in all that entry-level crap. They are impatient, they are the instant gratification and entitlement generation…they know it all and they want it now! Their frame of mind is that if you don’t like your career options, make one up…create one for yourself and if you absolutely MUST get an entry level position, it better be working around your quirky personality and busy social schedule. But know that they won’t stay there long. If a better opportunity knocks, they are gonna open the door. If you look at the time spent at a company, years of service at ONE company between BB, Gen X’ers and the beginning of the Y’s there will be a big change.

    The other thing to note (IMHO) is that while I am ready to "step up" and have the metaphoric baton passed, I am sensitive and deeply aware that (for my industry – Travel) BB are my BIGGEST and BEST market segment. I’m sure several other industries like Entertainment, Retail…I mean look at the demographics for Pinterest…it’s mostly female BBs. Boomers do and will have the most discretionary time and money to travel and buy things. Thus, a smart and wise Gen X’er would definitely need to pay attention to their BB leaders as those will be the people that we will be marketing to…so understand them we must!

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