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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Generation X and Marketing

Generation X is largely forgotten by marketers. Sure, we are a small group.

After all, it's why we're being pinpointed as a generation: those being born during the plummeting of the birth rate between approx. 1960 and 1979.  There are almost 4 times more Baby Boomers or Millennials. Targeting Generation X might be less profitable.
 
But there's something else: we X'ers are quite difficult to tune into. Almost only another X'er can. For who else shares our collective schizophrenic experience and taste?
 
On one hand we are the first generation to grow up in very good and stable economic times. On the other hand our childhood and adolescence was one of 'waiting for the bomb': the permanent, strange and tense atmosphere of the Cold War.  It has turned us into Punks AND Yups. You could call us slightly anarchistic Wall Street sharks with a conscience.
 
Just how many artists do we have in our ranks?  Basically everybody who organised a note or dance step in the 1980s. Sometimes it seemed that half of our classroom went on to become fashion designer, hat designer, choreographer, photographer or movie director. Courtesy of the booming economy: "Is that a safe profession"? was not that important a question.
 
For first of all, the economy was - and would obviously always remain - great. And secondly no day went by without a mention of a nuclear war so we could better fulfil our potential before tea time.
 
'No Future' as well as 'Always look on the bright side of life'.
 
It was that sense of danger, of futility, of seizing the day - and the melancholy - that made these artists good. And caused the cultural boom that was so much like today's technological one.
 
Minimalistic music, repetitive music, Punk, New Wave, Rap, Hip hop, Synthpop, Electro, Techno, House, New Beat... and that was just the music. All born out of a friction between comfort and pending doom, leaning more towards one or the other.
 
Do you spot a very classy and expensive store - with a subversive undertone? For sure the owner is an X'er. A wildly anarchistic online platform wrapped up in gloss? X. The group that is most critical at times of purchases but spends most on charity? X.
 
So, mister marketer, how do you target that? Unlike the Baby Boomers, you don't have the choice whether you want to speak to the progressives (hippies) or the conservatives. Generation X is both, at the very same moment.
 
Entrepeneurs with a heart, hearts with a capitalistic tic, anti-establishment politicians, housewives who read Nietzsche, Presidents with a Che Guevara T-shirt, CEO's of Apple coming out as gay or founders of Google having as motto: 'Don't be evil'.
 
So, marketer, good luck with that. Targeting Generation X means having a crack in your message. Your product must be glossy but not perfect (oh, god, we can't stand perfection, we grew up with the gently crackling LP, that wonderful black disc we had been saving for for so long, until we could finally and carefully lay it down on the felt and let the first note crush the lily in our soul - no instant gratification please!).
 
We need that crack. It's our womb. Our collective bell jar. Always hoping that the Russians love their children too.
 
Ben
 
 
 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Are you a Baby Boomer, Generation X or Millennial?

This is a little story about generations, at least those 5 that are still alive and shaped the 20th century - and thus also today. 

First there was the Greatest Generation. The ones who survived it all, fought it all and built it all. 'The Right Stuff' so to speak. The generation half the movies are about, be them about WW2 troopers, great entrepreneurs or strict, conservative fathers. Admired and maligned, we could call them the backbone of the 20th century, the generation we all still have a - real or emotional - link with. "Let's roll up the sleeves".

They were followed by the - smaller - Silent Generation. Born between 1920 and 1940, they grew up in the aftermath of WWI, during the Great Depression and the unrest of the 1930s. The name comes from the perceived collective focus on security and careers rather than activism. "Let me just do my job".
 
And then... the great, big, unprecedented Baby Boom 

It's the time of the large families: between 1945 and 1960 the birth rate skyrocketed, in the USA as in Canada, in the UK as in Australia, Germany as in France and anywhere in between.

Resulting in the largest generation in history: the Baby Boomers.

WWII was over, the western world was in the grip of enthusiasm, relief, hope,  belief in the future... destruction was followed by construction and thus intense economic activity... central heating arrived, pastel coloured candles... whatever the reason, anyone anywhere who could or wanted to have children, jumped to the occasion. 

Its babies grew up in stability (often even too much to their taste) and saw the world around them evolve from poverty to abundance. There was time for reflection, self-improvement, questioning... we could also call them the Hippie Generation. What was wrong with those previous generations, all that materialism and all those wars. 'Make love, no war'!

Obviously, those previous generations had a reason for embracing 'normality', cheer the arrival of the washing machine, and be so content for just having a TV. Being so large in numbers though, the Baby Boomers were able to create the first separate 'youth culture' and become a serious pressure group questioning all holy cows.

Next... the birth rate plummeted

And plummeted very much. All the way from - roughly - 1960 to 1980. Firstly because one can only make so many children, secondly because it was up to the rather small Silent Generation to become parents and thirdly - well, the world was not that safe a place after all:

The Iron Curtain. A rather strange, new sort of war, the Cold War, resulted in a sense of tension and insecurity. A president got killed. More leaders got killed. Vietnam. An oil crisis followed by an economic crisis. It was a time of wealth and insecurity.

All this resulted in a small generation: Generation X.
A rather noncommittal name? Yes, they are Generation Question Mark. Punks and New Wavers, Anarchists and Yuppies: a mishmash. For unlike the Baby Boomers they had no offset, no benchmark. "I am myself". 

For many a Baby Boomer it was simple: the previous generations were the enemy. No such collective determination for the X'ers. Who were they? They didn't know. One thing we do know and it's quite surprising: of the 3 most recent generations they are the largest contributors when it comes to donations. They are the geeks and artists, the more anarchistic fashion designers, the intellectual musicians, dancers, writers, movie directors. Or Wall Street wolves. Once an X, always an X.
 
When a very large generation is followed by a very small one... 

... it can cause quite a disruption in the economy. At least according to the economic fore-caster Harry S. Dent, it's this succession that lays at the heart of the current financial crisis in western countries.

For the Baby Boomers have all gone through the main spending cycle. And the X'ers just can't fill up all the houses there are. As H. Dent puts it in his work 'The Demographic Cliff': "There are more dyers than buyers".

And up we go..

For here are the Millennials, also dubbed 'Echo Boomers' because they are the children of the Baby Boomers. 

Compared to birth rates of any other century they are of course a massively large generation - only surpassed by the Baby Boomers. The latter thought longer and harder than any previous generation about having children, so their 'echo' arrived later and also not in equally big numbers.
 
Born between 1980 and 2000, the Millennials have a bit of the opposite experience of their parents: being born in the greatest wealth, and slowly having to learn to make do with less. 

They have to reformulate the world (once again) and polish or rethink all systems and plans ('What to do with pension plans if the average life expectancy has gone up from 72 to 82').  

They are the techies, the online wizzards, the big online entrepreneurs: the pause button for all things cultural, the fast forward button for all things technological - the reversal of the points of interest of the Xers. 

The eldest being only 34 right now, this generation did not arrive at the peak of their spending yet. What with (again according to Harry S. Dent) the peak of spending being pinpointed at age 46, it can still take another 12 years before the economy would bounce back to the astonishing levels of 1990-2006. In the mean time it all comes down to mass immigration.
 
Maybe, just maybe, the main and massive task of the Millennials will be to find an alternative to Growth being our holy cow. If anyone can, it's them.  

Ben
(X'er)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The generation of 2015

This can seem to be a depressing post. It's not. I'm in awe for the change that is taking place. 

The 'crisis' as some call it. The 'transition' as others say. The 'change in online behaviour of Generation Z' as studied by marketers. 

We humans are definitely on a course to something new. We used to be producersOnly some 60 years ago we slowly turned into consumers

Today we are products. Placing ourselves in the market just as any Brand does.

We market ourselves and protect our image all day long. From carrying the 'right' smart phone to check-in at the 'right' places. For it's our image that lands us our 'Likes', '+1s', social contacts, the client or the job. 

Snappy, catchy, and instant memorable we've become. Summarizing ourselves into that one single image. A shift from a focus on character to personality to packaging in one single century. 

For sure this is partly a result of the hourly continuing growth-avalanche of the world's population. The more people around us, the less their value, the stronger the competition in still being seen

We can only wonder what the next step could be. It might be: disposable products

Which isn't the strangest of thoughts, if you picked up on the news that the new laser weapons of the American Army can now 'zap' people away. Delete, and done. 

If for corporations we're already largely 'data' today, imagine what this will be if in this century our population will double once again, as it has done a few times over the past century. 

Until we're only what for example Google already is: some sort of collective consciousness. Flocks of birds that shape gorgeous and forever changing patterns in the sky. Following the Pied Piper, the one we want to be associated with most, and do so for he's got the best, deepest and most advanced knowledge of us. 

For sure we humans can be happy in every shape, form or organisation. It might even near an overwhelming religious experience, to be part of something so big. 

In my line of work I know it takes 10 people to create a good website. We need the collective. Studies forever show we're also at our happiest when being part of something. 

It may seem strange to us how Generation Z seems to be in permanent contact, not with an inner circle but with the whole world and all the time, collecting 200 Likes on a post whereas Generation X is happy with 20 and the Baby Boomer prefers private one-to-one communication on the side - but was there ever any generation that understood the next one?

There's nothing bad nor depressing about how we humans evolve. It is what it is and nothing and nobody can stop the twirling of the patterns.

It can go this way, or that way - or a thousand other directions and shapes.

Human life, as always, keeps being fascinating and personally I think that the generation of 2015 might well be the next Great Generation, just as much as the one of 1968 and the GI Generation, if not, greater.