Much has been written about US generations for, well, generations. Starting with the “Lost Generation” that fought in World War I right up to our present-day debates about what to call the Post-Millennial audience, Americans have an endless fascination with the differences between these seemingly distinct and roughly 20-year age groups. But as society and technology evolve at a faster rate than ever, perhaps the parameters for each generation will shrink over time?
The “Xennial” generation is a term recently coined for those stuck sandwiched by Gen X and those industry killers, the Millennials. Born (roughly) between 1977 and 1983, this group is caught between two worlds in more ways than one. They grew up as technology did, learning to use computers and cell phones in their teen and college years. Many were hit hardest by the tech bust, 9/11, and the Great Recession, which happened at critical moments in their nascent careers. And they exhibit a curious mix of the cynicism of their Xer elders and the optimism of their younger counterparts.
Recent research from GfK Consumer Life uncovers how Xennials serve as the bridge between the infinitely dissected Millennials and oft-neglected Generation X. A quick look at their outlooks on finance, technology, and the home spotlights a unique group worth taking more seriously.
Confident and driven
In spite of living through major financial instability, Xennials remain more financially bullish than their elders – and their juniors. GfK Consumer Life research shows that they’re most likely to believe that now is a good time to make purchases, feel that the US economy is fair in the opportunities it provides, and be satisfied with the amount of money they have to live on today. They also lead in the belief that the best place to put money is where it can generate income – not where it is simply the safest – and feel more strongly than adjacent age groups that being able to start your own business is still a part of the American Dream. In fact, thrift is a lower-ranked personal value for this micro-generation.
Perhaps it’s this financial confidence that makes Xennials more content in other arenas. They’re more likely to express satisfaction with multiple aspects of life, from career and relationships to health and their social lives. And in their leisure time, they’re more apt than neighboring generations to prioritize both physical and mental challenges. Brands can leverage this outlook by providing Xennials with opportunities to try new things, take a few risks, and feel even more empowered.
The technology tipping point
Full disclosure: I am an Xennial (class of 1980), and nowhere is it more clear than in my relationship with technology. I had my first email account nearly a decade before my first cell phone. Today, I take full advantage of mobile technology, social media, and streaming services, but have yet to cut the cord, still subscribe to a few paper magazines, and Snapchat recently became the first app that instantly went over my head. However, I still wouldn’t hesitate to call myself tech-savvy.
Our research at GfK Consumer Life shows a similar pattern. Xennials are more likely than Millennials and Gen Xers to see the technology they own as an expression of themselves, and you’re more likely to find innovative devices like fitness bands, VR/AR headsets, smart home appliances, 4K Ultra HDTVs in their homes. Yet many members of this unique audience still straddle the low-tech line, as they’re more apt to read magazines on a weekly basis and watch video content on something physical such as a DVD. For tech companies to effectively communicate with this group, these nuances are important to understand. “Retro releases” such as the return of the Nokia 3310 phone capitalize on this generation’s intermittent desire for simple technology – and nostalgia.
Staying close to home
Earlier in this century, young Americans began moving back in with their parents in greater numbers than ever before. And as of 2014, “living with parents” is now the most common living arrangement for 18-34-year-olds for the first time in the modern era. Perhaps as a consequence of this shift, Xennials today are more home- and family-centric than those both younger and older than they are. Compared to Millennials and Gen Xers, they’re more likely to describe their homes as a family haven, prioritize family bonding during their leisure time, and predict that they’ll be living close to family ten years from now.
Interestingly, Xennials are also most apt – out of the three generations – to enjoy advertising that emphasizes the comforts of home, a clear message to marketers on where to direct their creative energies. Xennials index higher than their immediate age peers on regular at-home activities such as cooking and meal planning, but their homes also have a modern twist. They’re most likely to pay professionals to do chores to save time for themselves, and demonstrate greater interest in new home developments such as energy-efficient appliances and open floor plans. With an audience that’s more open to thinking about the home in new ways, there’s a host of new opportunities for marketers.
The lesson for brands
Only time will tell if the Xennials continue to differentiate themselves from those just a little older and younger than them, and if our perception of generations evolves to include narrower age ranges. But in the meantime, brands can learn powerful lessons about the needs of Americans born at a brief, pivotal time in our nation’s history.