Is boating overlooking Generation X?

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They encompass those born between 1965 and 1980, give or take a year or so, and they’re called Generation X or Gen-X’ers for short. They’re really not a small group although we may well have inadvertently failed to see them on our radar.

That’s because the 46 million-member Gen-X demographic is sandwiched between the huge 80 million Baby Boomers that have drawn virtually all our marketing attention and the 76 million Millennial generation behind them that’s too young to be “in play,” yet. Appropriately, we long ago identified the Boomers as our industry’s key to growth and success as their millions passed through their peak earning years. That’s a given.

By comparison, the Gen X’ers are barely half the market share of the generations that precede or will come after them. Still, there are 46 million out there and wouldn’t we enjoy having a slice of that pie these days? Moreover, while large numbers of Boomers are now past their traditional peak earnings years (41 to 53), the leading edge of Gen X’ers is right in the peak earnings zone. That should put a boating industry target on their backs!

So who are these Gen X’ers? Obviously, they are largely in their 30’s and early 40’s, heading into those peak earnings years. But each generation has its own distinct set of values developed from the social environment in their early years. Gen X’ers, for example, are geeks -- the first generation to grow up with computers. Unlike Boomers, technology is woven into their DNA. They are also much more ethnically diverse and better educated than Boomers. Statistically, X’ers have the highest education levels of any age group, according to the Census Bureau, with more than 60 percent attending college. They hold mid-level positions in corporations and government. They’re poised to replace aging Boomers. But they’re different than Boomers in many ways worth recognizing if we want to reach them with a boating message.

For example, Gen X’ers are naturally individualistic. They came of age in the era of two-income families and rising divorce rates. Mothers joined the workforce in large numbers and the X’ers became the “latch-key” kids. Experts contend the result is X’ers are independent, resourceful and value self-sufficiency. This latter trait may be why they are seen as the fuel behind the current growth in paddle sports.
Gen X’ers also esteem a work/life balance. Unlike Boomers, X’ers work to live, not live to work. They have a work hard, play hard mentality. They like to incorporate humor, games and similar diversions into their work activities. That goes double for leisure time pursuits. They prefer to do things their own way and thrive in casual, friendly environments.

There’s a lot more about X’ers -- they’re likes, dislikes, buying habits, family values, how to approach them and more -- worth serious examination. Indications are a boating message aimed at them will resonate. We certainly can’t afford to take our eye off the vast Boomer market. But, the time seems to be here to begin developing messages that directly appeal to those millions who are moving up the economic ladder into the primary boat-buying income and age demographic – the Gen X’ers.

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