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The Secret Life of a “Generation X” Consumer … My Story

With all the hullaballoo surrounding Generation Studies in relation to real estate in recent Gen Y articles here, on Agent Genius (…and beyond …), I thought this would be an excellent time to share a version of an article I wrote on ActiveRain sometime in late 2006. I know it is not a Gen Y article, but I DO have a point in sharing it…

I am sharing this because I am a firm believer that the generation you are a part of plays a part in WHO you are, as a consumer. Granted, it is only a PART, but I believe it is important nonetheless.

Without further ado, here is a snapshot of MY STORY … My Story as a Gen X
Consumer.

Generation X” is comprised of all people born between (about) 1963 and 1978. Today, these people are in their early 30’s to early 40’s.

I am offering a peek into my world- what I care about, what I like, what I appreciate and what irritates me. So, here it is … No Frills. No Gloss. No Candy-Coated. No Fine Print.

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First, let’s talk about how I grew up. You’ll never know where a person is going, if you don’t know where they came from, right?

I, like many in my generation, grew up in a dual income family that was changed dramatically by divorce. I went to daycare, and learned to be independent. Independence was also learned by watching the strength of my Mom – raise a family, work full time and manage a household, all by herself. I helped raise my little brother, while my “single Mom” worked full time. Seeing my Mom (and all my friend’s Mom’s) as an active part of the work force, I never questioned gender equality. In fact, I threw a fit, and started crying when I learned that in royal England, if a girl is born first, her little brother still becomes King. (Grrr…)

I did very well in school, and continued to do well in college. I have seen drugs, alcohol and abuse destroy families, first hand and from a young age. I have also seen neglect- neglect of family and family values in pursuit of status symbols and material possessions. (I wore my “Die Yuppie Scum” shirt proudly on my first day of my Senior year in high school … yeah, I was “that” kid.) I accompanied my Mom on all shopping trips and eventually did family grocery shopping on my own. I almost always had a TV, and watched the first airing of MTV with great fascination (as Friday Night Videos were my only source of music television, previously). I was excited that cable offered an alternative to “boring” shows like 30-something, Moonlighting and Cheers. I grew up in a rather peaceful era- with no wars (to fight for or run from) to unite my generation. My trust resides with the friends I choose… and myself. (Photo from Chicago-scene.com)

What about now?  What kind of consumer did all these experiences make me (and most others in my generation)?

According to a generation article on allbusiness.com, “During the 1970’s and 1980’s over one million children were affected annually” by divorce. Experiencing divorce as a child- well, it’s tough. I am not here to judge reasons for or against divorce, just explain the “tip of the iceberg” of ramifications. (Heck! I begged my mom to get a divorce…) Some kids grow up and choose to be non-committal for as long as possible, thus avoiding a divorce. Some, like me, are bound and determined to make a marriage work, no matter what, to avoid a divorce.

Consumer terms: A major commitment (like buying a house) may take a longer decision making period, as we don’t want ANY regrets. But once we decide what we want, we go after it whole heartedly.

I bit Bobby on the back when I was 3 and had to sit on the little black chair in the corner until my Mom came to pick me up from daycare. I remember that, specifically. He was bothering me. The teacher was busy. I had to make my own decision on how to react to this boy. So, I bit him. Although I have stopped biting people, I haven’t stopped making my own decisions.

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Consumer terms: Don’t tell me what I need to know. Don’t tell me what I need to be doing, or not doing. I may be more pragmatic than those before me, but I am smart. I know value, and I pride myself in my ability to find value on my own. Show me what you offer and let me make my own decisions.

I like to call myself an “Equalist” …? What is that? Well, I’m glad you asked. I spent a large chunk of my childhood in Brooklyn, NY. I really do not have a concept of racism or “genderism”. (Did you know that we are the most ethnically diverse generation than any that came before us?)  There are too many blurred lines in my life to be an “-ist” about anything but equality. Chauvinism, racism or prejudice-of-any-type are very sensitive issues to me- as I see them as barbaric and a waste of time.

Consumer terms: I am more apt to support a business or business person who shares my point of view.

Did you know that Generation X is the most educated generation in the history of the United States, according to Karen Ritchie in her book, Marketing to Generation X? But we don’t value education for education-sake, we see it as an avenue to get a good job, or enter a better career. There has been a dramatic drop in entry-level positions since the X’ers have entered the work force, and more education is the only way to overcome that. We know this. Consumer terms: We are educated and like to make educated decisions. We like facts – clear, precise, to-the-point, no-frills facts. We see frilly froo-froo beat-around-the-bush marketing tactics as an insult to our intelligence.

I have seen family values mocked and destroyed for decades. I cringe at the thought of over-indulgence, and value my family and friends immensely. Things do not impress me.

Consumer terms: If you drive up to my house in a shiny new Beamer and wear your Armani suit with gold cuff links and sport a Caribbean tan, in hopes to list my house with your weak marketing plan, I will probably turn you down in favor of the fact-driven results-oriented marketing plan offered by the guy in the older model Toyota, sporting a pressed polo and khakis. Sorry, glitz and glamour don’t blind me.

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Shopping! I have done my share of shopping. I have seen my share of commercials. I have had my share of advertising blaring in my face and ears. Actually, it has been around me my whole life. Maybe that is why I do not watch television much at all, anymore. I have seen it all. I like to watch and look at what I choose to. I mastered the almighty remote at a very young age. I want to be in control of what people are trying to sell me. And I can change the channel (or click the mouse) the minute I decide it is not worth my time. I am not brand-loyal. Not at all. Give me the same quality with a better price, and I will switch in a second and remain loyal to my decision. Give me crap? I will switch right back.

Consumer terms: This one’s a doozy …

  1. I will pick apart all advertising that anyone sends my way. I don’t mind advertising and marketing efforts. I just don’t like charades. Why do you think my generation loves the “making of” and “behind the scenes” stuff so much? We are sick of what’s being offered- it’s all the same. Call me cynical, but I would rather know WHY it is being offered, made, etc. Give me the “meat” of what you are offering- no flowers, no sleek marketing ploys, no fine print (I will read it…). Give me what I want and I will respect that more than fancy-pantsy Hello Kitty lip gloss flavored postcards and web pages.
  2. Give me what I want in small digestible segments. Remember … I have the attention span of  … oh, look! A butterfly! My attention follows the ol’ 9/3 rule: 9 minutes of cartoons – 3 minutes of commercials/ downtime. If you cannot “grab” me right away, I will “click” -find a new cartoon to watch. Maybe it is my lack of patience? Or is it my ability to get through the “decision making” parts of my life as quickly as possible to enjoy the quality of life (which I value way over status) with my friends and family? Could very well be both. But it is what it is.
  3. We are not brand loyal, but we appreciate value. Good news for smaller brokerages and bad news for discount brokers. The “Re/Max” (sorry guys!) sign is not very persuasive to us. We will choose and agent based on the agent, not the company. We are more likely to browse agent sites online, than call the local office and ask to be connected with “an agent” –it goes back to our pride in our decision making abilities. We also understand the value of good service and discount brokers are not about good service- we understand this. We are not willing to settle for crap. We may brag to all our friends that we just bought a whole outfit for under $20 at Kohl’s, but we will also be the first to tear up a broker agreement if we feel that the value is not there. Show me the value, and I’m all yours. This is where we run into the problem of my generation asking for “rebates” and “discount” listings. Unless we know- without a doubt, that you are worth what you charge or what you get, we will assume that we did/will do more than you did/will do, and will want a reward for our efforts. So, if an agent IS worth their commission, they need to tell us why. If they don’t, someone else will, and we will give them our business, and “click” – we’ll watch a different cartoon.

For as much as these principles are true to most of my generation, for the most part we are very individualistic. We hate to be lumped together- not only with other generations, but even among our own generation. Ironically, we hate the term “Generation X” as it implies that we don’t know what we are. Maybe “we” don’t know who “we” are, but “I” know who “I” am, and “she” knows who “she” is and “he” knows who “he” is and that is all that matters to us.

Consumer terms: Thin ice here. “Just because I drive a Jetta, doesn’t mean I know Yoga” (now there is a company that knows how to market to our generation…) Just because the last “younger” couple that an agent took out wanted a tri-level for it’s functionality, doesn’t mean that “we” do. I know what I want and there is no persuading me otherwise. (This is a sensitive issue here … Baby Boomers are the same age as our parents, and we don’t need people acting like parents to us, no matter how heart-felt it is…) Assuming anything about what we want, or trying to sell us something that we do not want, is more than a minor faux pas- we are easily offended and may very easily “click” – watch a different cartoon. 

So there you have it.

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Written By

Mariana is a real estate agent and co-owner of the Wagner iTeam with her husband, Derek. She maintains the Colorado Springs Real Estate Connection Blog and is also a real estate technology trainer and coach. Mariana really enjoys helping real estate agents boost their businesses and increase their productivity through effective use of technology. Outside of real estate, blogging and training, she loves spending time with her husband and 2 sons, reading, re-watching Sci-Fi movies and ... long walks on the beach?

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Ines

    February 4, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Mariana – I remember perfectly when you wrote this and it was a wake up call for me because I had NEVER considered generation studies as part of my marketing. I just had a baby-bommer Realtor tell a Gen-X client of mine that a particular area she was considering was “out of her league” – I will have to write about that one.

    Now I have to sit down and really look at these studies and see how my marketing approach can benefit from it.

  2. Mariana

    February 4, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Thank you Ines – I believe that there are always different ways to work with people. Generational studies is one of those ways.

  3. Benn Rosales

    February 4, 2008 at 11:54 am

    We aren’t talking about how we work with people, we’re talking about how you pull market. If the average agent doesn’t understand how or where to pull, then you’re left out there pushing.

  4. Mariana

    February 4, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I see that. But understanding the generation-thing helps me know HOW to effectively target-market, which DOES go hand in hand with how I work with people. IMHO.

  5. Mariana

    February 4, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    … Of course it is not a blanket understanding. Just a facet.

  6. Benn Rosales

    February 4, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Mariana, I’m glad you understand that, but our assertion is not what you do with the client once you have them, it’s whether you feel you’re spinning your social media wheels and getting no where or whether you even bother.

  7. Mark Harrison

    February 4, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    [setting to the side the question of whether the story should be on AgentGenius, and responding because it’s interesting.]

    We may well be married. If we are, you would be MAD to assume that the man is the decision maker. While the man is more likely to be a manager in a large company, the woman is more likely to own her own business.

    The woman may well ask the man’s opinion of something.

    – THAT IS NOT A CLUE THAT _HE_ IS THE DECISION MAKER.

    – It’s a clue that she is taking into account HIS views in coming to HER decision.

    About the one stereotype that may hold true is that SHE needs more space for her clothes than HE does 🙂

    Oh – and I’m firmly GenX as is me wife, who has a Masters Degree in Engineering from the University of Oxford, and is Chief Programmer for a Financial Services Company now the kids are at school!

  8. Mariana

    February 4, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Hi Mark – I posted this here because this is a RE Opinion site, and this is my opinion – my outlook on me, as a RE consumer and a GENXer.

    The automatic assumption that man=decision maker is not relevant, in my opinion. In my marraige, as in many I would assume, there is a type of respect that enables both the husband and wife to come to decisions together… However, I see this more as a marital evolution than a generational descriptor.

  9. Missy Caulk

    February 4, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Mariana, there is a difference, I am a boomer, my daughter is gen X and we work totally different, I give her all the X’s and Y’s and they love her and become friends, tailgate etc…

  10. Lani Anglin

    February 4, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Mariana, thanks for sharing your story. I think we all agree that where we market and what our marketing looks like is based on our understanding of countless demographic points, including using generational data… even if it’s for you crazy GenXers 😉

  11. Mariana

    February 4, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Missy – I didn’t know that you worked with your daughter. Way cool!

    Lani – Target Marketing…

  12. Athol Kay

    February 4, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    I can’t even discuss Gen X issues without suffering from an Emotional Ketchup Burst.

    Currently i’m on my Anti-Sabbitical working in a nursing home. I tell myself its not Occupational Slumming because the pay is a tad too good for a McJob.

    Though I really should pick up a few more hours and get benefits as I suffer from Poorochondria at times.

    Ya’ll read the book right?

  13. Mary McKnight

    April 11, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    Oh Mariana,
    You know I am so down with demographic profiling being a sociology/marketing geek myself! I am a consummate generation X-er. I agree with you completely- we are not a brand loyal group like our parents- we grew up during cola wars for goodness sales! We are tech savvy- want to work with people we feel we can connect with on a technical level, like wit and low brow humor (we came of age with Pauly Shore) and at the end of the day feel like we walked away better than when we walked in (the 80s touchy feely movement). Knowing that can definitely help you sell me!

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