Targeting generation X, Pt. 3

By Jason Kestler

Kestler Financial Group, Inc.


Editor's note: This is the third article in a six-part series. Click here to read the first in the series.

The baby boomers’ claim to fame is being the largest demographic group in history. Several commentators have compared its effect on society to that of a large pig being swallowed by a python. As it makes its way through the animal, it wreaks havoc at every turn.

So, too, for the boomers. Their large numbers alone forced massive rebuilding, restructuring and expansion of everything from school systems to highways. Whereas prior to the boomers, fashion statements were largely the venue of young adults (think of the flappers and zoot suits of an earlier era), the boomers seized control of the marketplace in their teens and never let go. While marketers are often criticized today as “youth obsessed,” current generations simply accept the attention. The boomers demanded it. They grew up planning to take over the world and have largely done just that.

Many assume the attention the boomers got from their parents and society in their formative years created the famous boomer stereotype that the world revolves around them. There is no question the typical boomer believes that, given the right combination of perseverance, skill and plain "we know we're going to win in the end" attitude, anything is possible. For this reason, personal growth is a priority, even at the expense of appearing self-centered and selfish. Boomers, for example, are almost solely responsible for the massive sales of self-improvement materials. Despite the harsh events of their lives — e.g. race riots, political assassinations — boomers are basically incurable optimists believing they will always prevail in the end. Why not, since they always have?

Boomers, however, are still the children of their parents. In the world of business, they may have planned to overthrow the status quo, but their tactics show an acceptance of the established rules and regulations, reflected so well by John Lennon in the Beatle's "Revolution."

"If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow."

In effect, the boomers were just as willing to pay their dues as their parents; they were willing to wait to make massive changes until they'd earned the right to do so. After all, the business world the boomers entered was the command and control universe so valued by their elders. Few options seemed to exist to start a business from scratch. As a result, a boomer didn't dream of competing with General Motors — he or she dreamed of taking it over. It didn't mean they were as convinced as their parents about blind loyalty, but to ultimately win the game, they didn't believe you had to fight loyalty. On the contrary, the road to success was simply to play the game better.
In this pursuit of ultimate victory, boomers often leaned on each other. Teams were central to many of them growing up, and continued to be so in the workplace. This is the generation that, after all, saw Woodstock as a key example of how success follows if everyone will just help each other.

All this emphasis on success in the workplace, personal growth and "if we just keep at it we'll eventually get it right" had a dark side. While their parents felt that if you offer loyalty you were going to receive it in return, boomers felt their rebellious youth, the civil rights movement and the anti-war confrontations had taught them a different lesson: if you wanted something, you had to go after it with a passion. Boomers as a group are noted for incredible focus on their work as the foundation of self-worth. This may be because work is the one place where there are typically measurements of success and winning the game. The latest promotion or raise became the milestone of progress. In far too many cases, personal and family lives furnished no such benchmarks and thus slipped lower and lower on the priority list. Marriages often dissolved as one partner or the other claimed it limited their ability to grow. The flower children had somehow become the "me" generation.

These tendencies, for good or ill, determined the approach boomers take to their financial lives. While conservative in some ways, this is often an attitude of "I need to protect what I have so I can roll the dice elsewhere." Thus, while stock ownership grew massively, so did the willingness to bet on growth and the latest new idea, such as technology. While they bought life insurance, they single-handedly created a boom in universal and variable polices that offered protection plus the opportunity to make a financial killing. Boomers may not think outside the box as much as they believe, but they clearly are willing to stretch the sides of it as far as possible.

Part four will focus on Generation X Generation Next, discussing their differences and similiarties with older generations.