Don’t Ignore Gen X!!!


By: Samantha Teter

In: Audience Development, Marketing & Communications

It’s not easy being a Gen Xer. Our generation tends to be overlooked in the world of marketing. I like to give my millennial colleague and fellow ArtsHacker author Sarah Marczynski a (jokingly) hard time for writing all of her millennial posts.

But it’s not just she that is taking on a focus of this massive generational cohort. It’s everyone! The media, the marketers, the demographers. It really got me thinking that so many arts organizations are putting SO much focus on finding the Millennial audience that they’ve completely overlooked us Gen Xers. After all, we know the baby boomers will be aging out soon, so why not look to Gen X to be the next step into audience building? Why are people going looking straight to Gen Y?

I went to the web to see what studies may have been done about marketing to Gen Xers. And it seems my hypothesis isn’t unfounded. The Pew Research Center posted an article titled “Generation X: America’s neglected ‘middle child”. Stuck between two mammoth generational cohorts, this article deems Gen Xers as ‘a low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths’. True that.

A fellow Gen Xer, Arik Hanson, posted this article on LinkedIn on why the marketing media continues to ignore us. Good question. For a fun read (but with some salty language), there’s this gem of an article written on behalf of Gen Xers to Millenials.

So what should arts marketers do? How about stop ignoring us! Although many of us have kids in college down to elementary (or are parents to Millennials), we still have some disposable income. We still want to go out and have a good time. We use social media and technology too. We’re on Facebook and buy tickets online. We may not be as large of a demographic as the Boomers and Gen Y, but we still are 65 million strong.

Gen X

Here at the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, we recently did some generational mailings that included Gen X audience members. After all, we are the next level of patron beyond Boomers. Ignore us, and you’ll have a huge hole in your own audience demographic. Take a look at your own demographics and see how many of us you already have in your database.

According to the 2010 “The Experts Guide to Marketing the Arts” by the Arts and Business Council of Americans for the Arts and distributed by the National Arts Marketing Project, here are some ways to reach Gen Xers:

  • Facilitate eclecticism: Xers need to believe they will be getting something new every time they visit your venue. A mix and match approach to subscription/membership will work. (Think Choose Your Own packages)
  • Leverage the ‘honesty’ of live events with Xers. There is no hiding behind technology in live performance, and Xers find this fascinating, and yes, risky.
  • Diversity is a hallmark. On the downside, this means that work by dead, white men will have the least appeal. On the upside, it opens the door to a wide variety of artist presentations.
  • Fun equals adventure for most Xers. Therefore the arts need to provide a total experience in the mode of Blue Man Group or Cirque do Soleil.
  • Xers are at a split lifestage, some household building while others are new parents. This splits an already small target into an even smaller one since parents with children under 6 will general not participate in arts events, unless specifically designed for young children.
  • As a result of their shifting familial structures, this generation more closely associates with friends than family. But while the source may have changed, word of mouth is still a key marketing tool.
  • Fewer Xers carry cash. Their money management of choice involves credit and debit cards, so you better accept plastic if you want Xers to participate in your offerings.

So in your next planning meeting, please think about how to reach US as well as that coveted younger demographic. We may not be ‘young’ anymore, but we certainly still have a lot of life left in us!

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Samantha Teter
Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Executive Director Samantha Teter has over 15 years of experience in arts and non-profit marketing, public relations, and sales. She moved to the Chattanooga area in 2012 for the position of Director of Marketing with the CSO, and was promoted to Executive Director in 2016. She previously hailed from Denver, where she was Director of Marketing and Sales for the Colorado Symphony. Prior to that, she was Director of Marketing and PR for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in Indiana. Other arts and non-profit experience includes Director of Marketing and Auditorium Events for the Scottish Rite Center in Fort Wayne and Marketing Specialist for Indiana Tech.
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