Greg Power is president of Weber Shandwick Canada
Coming of age in the early 1970s, I was held enrapt by the Watergate scandal and cut school regularly to watch the Senate Watergate Committee hearings. The events leading up to Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 were more than riveting political history; they were also a defining moment in the power of media to change that history. Woodward and Bernstein’s heroic investigation of a sitting president fired the ambition of many socially committed youth to follow their path and become journalists — and I was one of them.
It was an ambitious goal and a tough challenge for a shy kid, but it was still a few years before the word “ambition” became a term that would plague young people all across North America. The American Dream faltered a bit after Watergate and the youth who grew up in its wake became stereotyped as lacking motivation and drive. They were called slackers. They were said not to have the devotion to success that the baby boomer generation had.
They were labelled Generation X — children born between 1965 and 1980 — and while they may not be a marketer’s bulls-eye, the first wave of them will be turning fifty years old in 2015, and it’s a milestone not to be missed.
When Douglas Coupland popularized the term in his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, he could scarcely have predicted the kids who were seen as failing their country would later have to put up with their countries failing them, and when they needed it most.
But new research by Weber Shandwick in the U.S. has brought Generation X to the fore as a forgotten demographic in a communications industry still tailored to millennials and boomers. We found that the latest recession hit them hard — the hardest of all demographics — and as a result, in the years when they should be in peak accumulation, they’re struggling to reach their savings goals. They represent a wealth segment of $3.9 trillion in the U.S., and as they approach retirement, they are looking for help from financial services providers to resolve their uncertainty about the coming years, an uncertainty that includes concern about their long-term health.
And therein lies an opportunity for everyone.
Financial and healthcare marketers have a chance to reclaim what we call the “middle child” demographic, to speak to an undervalued group of millions about what matters most to them: the future. In return, we have the ability to inform them and help them feel more secure as that future becomes the present.
Our wealth management clients have the potential to guide them toward a secure retirement by educating them about the right choices and creating the investment tools that they can use to do it. Our job is to recognize them as distinct from their elders and their children, and to treat them as unique individuals.
Most of all, they’ve travelled a hard road through periods of social and economic change, and after losing so much trust in those at the helm, they will respond only to transparent and authentic leadership from brands that step up to serve. They want — and deserve — the compelling and relevant storytelling that will inspire them.
In the 1976 film All the President’s Men, Woodward and Bernstein’s anonymous source ‘Deep Throat’ told the reporters to “follow the money,” the paper trail that would lead them to the masterminds behind the break-in. That line taken at face value is as good advice for marketers as it was in euphemism for those reporters.
Millennials may have the cultural influence and boomers may have the staying power, but it’s Generation X who has the money in search of a home. They just need to know how to help it work for them. As marketers, we shouldn’t forget that.