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Which generation is driving creative media disruption? X marks the spot

Full disclosure: I am a Gen Xer.

In the United States, Generation X (Gen X) refers to people born roughly between 1965 and 1984, who are now between 30 and 50 years old. It is a relatively small generation compared to and sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials.

Despite its size, Gen X is the quiet, driving force behind much of the creative disruption of how media is consumed.

Gen X came along at a wonderful time for media. As kids, they had newspapers in their homes, but they grew up and came of age during the most rapid advance of media technology in history. They watched colour cartoons every Saturday morning. They were the first kids to be able to tape shows and watch later without commercials.

Gen Xers were early adopters of portable music. They moved the video arcade to the living room. They ushered in the beginning of 24-hour news coverage and watched reality television before anyone else. They were early visitors to the very first HTML Web pages.

The boomers lit the torch, and Gen X ran with it.

The unique nature of this transitional audience presents some wonderful opportunities for newspapers.

Gen X understands the tradition and integrity of the local printed newspaper, but embraces technology of all sorts. In fact, Gen Xers want to get information in multiple ways rather than on just one device or another. Like their millennial children, they have a thirst for information and want it at their fingertips at all times.

Here are some interesting statistics about Gen X. According to Forrester Research:

  • 95% own cell phones. Of those, roughly half own smartphones and 11% own tablets.

  • 74% use the Internet to do online banking.

  • 72% use the Internet to search and research companies.

  • 95% have Facebook pages.

  • 62% read newspapers.

The roughly 65 million people who make up Generation X in the United States love media. Of all kinds. So, what does media consumption within this generation look like, and what can newspapers do to appeal to them?

Gen X is a transitional generation when it comes to media usage. Gen Xer’s behaviour tends to look more like the millennial generation, but their love for nostalgia means they’re not quite ready to give up more traditional ways of getting news.

This means that to attract Gen X readers, newspapers must offer content that reflects the Gen X appetite for a wide range of media options:

  • Gen Xers loves social media. In fact, they use social media almost as much as millennials.

    According to a study by Pew Research, 78% of Internet users ages 30 to 50 use social media on a daily basis, compared to 89% of millennials and only 60% of baby boomers. The social media site favoured by most Gen Xers is Facebook, (ironic considering this site was created by a millennial for other millennials.

    The Huffington Post has done a particularly good job of offering a variety of content on Facebook, with more than a dozen different pages on various niche topics. One page in particular, HuffPost Weird News, is a good example of the kind of quirky, fun content that appeals to Gen X and millennials alike.

    Newspapers need to create unique content for their social media sites (in addition to more traditional news) that is different than what they offer in print. Gen X wants variety.

  • Like their baby boomer older siblings, Gen Xers grew up with televisions in their homes. But they grew up having a love affair with television not shared by any other generation. With the advent of the digital era, Gen X took this love for video online. YouTube is the world’s third most-visited Web site, after Google and Facebook, and Gen X is a large part of the reason why.

    The New York Times YouTube channel currently has more than 5,000 uploaded videos and 329,000 subscribers. Its most popular video has nearly 10 million views. Not all of the videos are hard news, either. You’ll find recipes, human interest stories, product reviews — all of the things Gen X wandering minds want to know.

  • Gen X is not adverse to print. Most Gen Xers grew up during the golden age of newspaper print media, so they were exposed to print at an early age. They want convenience and options; they don’t want to be tied to any one method of receiving information; and they are definitely not clinging to a printed newspaper.

    In a previous post, I mentioned a focus group we conducted at The Spokesman-Review in which the majority of participants were older (65 and above), with the exception of one guy in his late 30s. The difference in attitude toward media between the older readers and the 30-something was readily apparent. 

    The younger gentleman had no loyalty to any one method of reading newspapers. While the older folks generally received their news from a few regular sources, the younger guy was not loyal to any one method and got his news from wherever was most convenient.

    When asked if he would consider a subscription that included print, his attitude was one of indifference. “Sure,” he said, “if I don’t have to pay a lot for it.”

    This attitude should be taken into consideration when developing print content and targeting subscription campaigns. Gen Xers are not going to pay for a print edition filled with news that’s already 12 to 24 hours old.

    If newspapers want Gen X to read print, they need to give them a reason to.

  • Speaking of which, if you expect Gen X to pay for your product(s), you’d better make it easy for them to do business with you. Gen X is big on making online purchases, and they are as savvy as their millennial counterparts. According to Forrester Research, 81% of Gen X has made purchases online. They want quick, easy-to-navigate e-commerce and will not have patience for confusing, clunky pay sites.

As Gen X approaches 50 years old, they bring to the table a significant amount of buying power. They also continue to lead the creative disruption of the media.

People born between 1965 and 1984 came of age during a global transformation unlike any that had been seen before. Indeed, they continue to be at the forefront of the transition from the traditional to the new and innovative.

Gen X has an appreciation for both, which provides a wonderful opportunity for newspapers, if they are willing to put some thought into how to reach this lucrative audience.

About Dan Johnson

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