Xennials: How They’re Different for Marketers

Generational differences in attitudes can be helpful to marketers, but the line between generations can’t be defined by a single point in time. It’s fuzzy. Does the recent buzz about the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983, the Xennials, create opportunities for marketers to target this demographic?

Xennials
“Xennials,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ron Mader

Generational differences in attitudes can be helpful to marketers, but the line between generations can’t be defined by a single point in time. It’s fuzzy. Does the recent buzz about the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983, the Xennials, create opportunities for marketers to target this demographic? First coined by Sarah Stankorb in an article for Good magazine in 2014, the term Xennials refers to those who straddle the later years of Gen X (1977 to 1980) and the early years of the Millennials (1981 to 1983).

Let’s start with the size of this group. There are roughly 25 million Xennials, some 8 percent of the U.S. population, less than half the size of all of the named generational segments — except the oldest. Embracing this named generation would also reduce the populations in the segments it cannibalizes. Removing the number of births from 1977 to 1980 reduces the Gen X cohort from 55 million down to about 42 million, and removing the births from 1981 to 1983 reduces the Millennial number to about 55 million. Note that these numbers are based on births only and don’t account for deaths and immigration.

There are actually more Millennials than Boomers now — 75.4 million vs 74.9 million. And interestingly, embracing this new micro-generation would negate the Millennials claim on the largest generation — at least for the time being.

Xennials chart
Credit: PewResearch.org by Pew Research Center/U.S. Department of Health

The vanguard of a new generation and the rear guard of the old will always create some heterogeneous space between the arbitrarily drawn generational lines. The rise of technology as the defining moment between Gen X and Millennials is a fuzzier line of demarcation than the end of World War II, the moment that defines the line between the Silent Generation and the Boomers. Yet based on my personal experience, there were certainly members of the early Boomer generation who clung to the values of the Silent Generation as others embraced the counter-culture of the late ’60s. Some opposed the Vietnam War, while others found antiwar protests unpatriotic. Some went to Woodstock; others eschewed the rock music played by long-haired hippies in favor of more mainstream artists like Frank Sinatra and Brenda Lee.

The key distinction attributed to Xennials by Professor Dan Woodman is that they had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. But does this distinction change how we, as marketers, reach them? Does it affect their media consumption habits? Consider that the median number of Facebook friends for a Gen Xer and a Millennial is not all that different — 200 vs. 250. So while Gen Xers came to Social Media later in life, they’ve embraced it nonetheless.

While the idea of the Xennial micro-generation is an interesting one, the implications for marketers are limited — in my opinion. Crafting creative appeals to them would be problematic. Surely, there are Xennials who demonstrate the characteristics of one generation or the other just as in the early transition between the Silents and the Boomers included the vanguard and the rear guard. And no one has put forth the idea that Xennials demonstrate any marked differences in their media consumption habits.

For marketers, the differences among the members on either side of the generation dividing line become less important as the line moves farther into the past.

Consider what Xennial coiner Sarah Stankorb, born in 1980, wrote three years ago for Good magazine:

“When I was a young teen, I desperately wanted to be a Gen Xer like my brother, with all their ultra-chill, above-it-all, despondent counterculture. (Of course, wanting to be counterculture makes you anything but.) With the rise of Millennials and the sheer tonnage of articles on their character, their trophies, their optimism, their creativity — a little part of me hoped I could consider myself a Millennial, to be so shiny, so new. But the label fit about as comfortably as a pair of skinny jeans.”

Gen Xers were counterculture? I thought the Boomers owned that.

I think as a named generation, the Xennials are a short-lived phenomenon. What are your thoughts, marketers?