Grown Up, But Not Aged Out: How Consumer Brands Can Reach Gen X

Lessons from the Sports Industry on How to Reach An Important Demographic

Marketing to millennials is all the rage these days with companies coveting the 18 to 34 year old set. But dismissing other generations leaves a lot on the table–things are not as they used to be when it comes to conveniently categorizing audiences . For Gen Xers, growing up—ok, let’s face it, getting old—no longer means retiring to the sofa like generations past. In fact, just the opposite. They are active, looking for experiences and have the financial resources to do so.

The world of action sports is a great example of an industry that consistently engages all demographics, including BOTH millennials and Generation X. Here are some ideas that any company can consider when talking to them.

Creating connections is about authenticity, not age. Over the years we’ve worked alongside a number of companies serving audience X including Mammoth Resorts, California’s largest action sports playground. We’ve had a front-row seat, watching as the legendary Tony Hawk went from shredding the first terrain parks to teaching his kids how it’s done. Yet some of the most successful connection points at this resort have centered on Mammoth Mountain’s 100-year old founder, Dave McCoy, who built the place– quite literally–with his own hands.

It’s natural to question how a man born in 1914 fits with reaching an action sports audience and the answer is as simple as it is instructive. As the saying goes, the sun never sets on a bad a$$. For his time (or any time, really), McCoy was as extreme as they come and by telling his story in a way that’s authentic to who he is, it appeals to any age group.

There’s a tendency to define action sports athletes and their audience as fitting conveniently in the 18-34 age. But if you choose the right story and tell it authentically, even the Greatest Generation and Millennials can find common ground.

Now turn to your company. All founders or executives have a back story. What do you have to work with and build upon to drive engagement? Human interest works when engaging audiences from all demographics and recognizing that while a core might be the bulls eye, it pays to look beyond it. It’s also key to remember that your executive has experienced a lot before his/her time at your company, and maybe, just maybe, also has a very engaging personality. Taking those experiences and “light” and using them to relate to audiences of all ages will connect your brand across generations.

Avoid over-segmenting. The right campaign can connect with many. In an ideal world we’d communicate with every unique audience segment separately, but it’s rare to have the resources to do so, and frankly not always necessary. The right campaign can talk to both the “core” and a more general audience at the same time.

For example, Mammoth’s Beanie Campaign was centered on a timeless piece of ski gear: a hat to warm your head. Something as simple as giving away a cap appealed to the core and wider audiences with equal vigor. The program was easy to juice and because it was visual, drove wide-ranging engagement. Beanies were given away at all sorts of events, a road sign was constructed offering the perfect selfie photo opp, an app was developed to superimpose beanies onto an image, and for 2016, a non-profit partnership was forged with Stand Up to Cancer.

One simple item of clothing drove a hugely successful campaign because it excluded no one and appealed to everyone–the core, Rad Dads, kids, and frankly, anyone on the slopes who was at risk of a cold head. You don’t have to go total bro to reach the core, just as you don’t have to go soft to reach a family audience.

How does this translate more broadly? Pick something fun with mass appeal. Maybe it’s a video contest. Maybe it’s an item to giveaway (people love free stuff – anyone at a trade show with a t-shirt to giveaway can vouch for what people will do for swag). Give some away, sell some with proceeds going to charity but connect your customers with an experience that unifies them. With the proliferation of social media there are more options than ever to run a successful campaign, with one key being longevity. While there might be an initial surge at the program’s start followed by a tapering off, keep it going, promote it regularly, and turn customers into advocates while reminding them of the thread tying it all together. People love to feel like they are part of something special.

Choose your partners carefully. One of the quickest ways to undo authenticity is selling out so choose partners wisely. Brands will be judged by the company they keep. While innovative relationships can make brands hipper, more modern, more distinctive, more interesting, and more noteworthy, it’s important that partnerships align with your brand and customers understand the connection.

Content is always a really good litmus test: does a potential partner’s brand fit into a video piece you’d post on owned social? If yes, then it’s just a matter of finding a creative solution that works for both parties. If not, why? It’s an important question to consider because if you can’t answer it to your audience’s satisfaction, you may lose them.

Also be clear on your vision as a partnership; both sides need to understand and agree and then act accordingly. So many brand partnerships fail because after the initial buzz has worn off both companies go back to business as usual with neither side really understanding what they are supposed to do next.

By no means is this to imply a script to sell any gadget, widget or lifestyle product; a one-size-fits all approach is the marketer’s unicorn. However, marketing to different age demographics should be approached more collectively. People are living longer, staying active longer, are more engaged with technology than ever before and excluding certain generations actively ignores potential loyal customers. At the end of the day the divide between Gen Xers, Millennials and even some Boomers may not be so vast.

-Co-written with Tim LeRoy