There’s only one thing media and marketing gurus love more than a trend, and that is a label—especially a label that can be applied to a whole generation. First it was Baby Boomers, then Generation X, then Millennials—and now it’s Xennials.
So what is a Xennial and why are people suddenly talking about them? In short, a person born between the mid 1970s and early 1980s. The general consensus seems to be that the term was first used in 2014, in an article written by Sarah Stankorb and Jed Oelbaum for Good magazine. For Stankorb and Oelbaum, a Xennial is a member of “a micro-generation that serves as a bridge between the disaffection of Gen X and the blithe optimism of Millennials”.
Xennials, who reached their “adult milestones” in the 2000s “landed in a fleeting sweet spot before the Recession that plagued Millennials’ launch”. Xennials, unlike Millennials, were able to start their careers and gain valuable experience before the Financial Crisis of 2007-08 hit, and, unlike Gen Xers, hadn’t made investments in property or retirement savings that were at risk of being wiped out by the crash. Stankorb declares: “We were born at dawn”.
It might sound like just another buzzword, grist for the media mill or a peg for a marketing presentation, but some commentators feel there might be something in this rather too slick new term.
For Jia Wertz, CEO of socially responsible fashion brand Studio 15, writing for Forbes.com, business needs to “tap into the buying power of Xennials”, people born between 1975 and 1983.
Xennials enjoyed analogue childhoods—no mobile phones, no internet—but came of age in a time of new technological innovations that would leave Millennials wide-eyed with amazement, from VHS video recorders and a fourth (yes, fourth) TV channel, to computer games and the Smash robots. Xennials are digital immigrants and much more comfortable with the brave new world of social media, smartphones and the internet, however but they don’t hold new technology in the same high regard as Millennials.
“This generation doesn’t always relate to the influx of marketing that is currently targeted to Millennials, creating a unique opportunity for those companies looking to tap into this segment of consumers,” writes Wertz. Approximately 25 million Xennials in the US alone.
Wertz highlights a number of Xennial traits including a love-hate relationship with social media and an understanding of the importance of taking ‘digital detoxes’. Like Millennials, they are interested in health and wellness, but unlike their juniors, they have the disposable income to spend on health and wellness products. Xennials also value relaxation and work-life balance, so they will spend their income on holidays and prioritise time with family over work where possible.
When it comes to brands and businesses that are appealing to Xennials, Wertz points to the recent success of Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, which aims “to end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being, performance, and purpose, and create a healthier relationship with technology”. The subscription mindfulness app Headspace, founded by Richard Pierson—himself an Xennial—and Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe in 2010, has an estimated value of approximately US$250 million according to Forbes, and is another good example of a business appealing to Xennials’ concern for their wellbeing.
Netflix’s retro hit show Stranger Things and the Nintendo Classic Mini, a miniature version of the NES released in 1986 loaded with 30 classic games such as Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda, are examples of brands appealing to Xennials’ yearning for their analogue childhoods. Those brands that have undergone renaissances—think Converse and Vans—or have been a continually on-trend presence throughout Xennials’ lives, such as Apple, also score well. There is also still residual loyalty to companies like Sony, who were the apex of quality back in the day, but who have since been surpassed.
There are naysayers. “Generational labels amount to divisive, reductive stereotypes,” writes Jessica Kriegel, Senior Organisational Development Consultant for Oracle Corporation, for Forbes.com. Kriegel argues that a generation “is too broad a category to be a truly effective marketing segment”. Why, when technology provides information with intimate detail on individual consumers, do marketers continue to generalise about entire generations? “While generational labels may be useful in marketing, there are much more precise ways to appeal to consumers than by lumping them into a homogenous, 20-year-wide age bracket,” she writes.
But perhaps, as Bob Hoffman, retired Chairman and CEO of advertising agency Hoffman/Lewis and one of the most respected voices in the world of advertising and marketing, told The Drum’s Samuel Scott when asked about marketers targeting of Millennials, “The problem isn’t targeting. The problem is obsession”.
Even Jia Wertz sounds a word of caution, noting that Xennials don’t like being stereotyped. “The same should be considered in marketing to this group, as they prefer to be seen as individuals” she writes.
Whilst businesses and marketeers alike may not agree on the best way to speak this newly defined group of consumers, one thing we can be certain of is that by and large, they are an affluent and well-educated group, that are currently under-sold by businesses and brands worldwide. Watch out Millennials; Xenialls might just be the next big thing.
This story is designed to throw an everyday lens on some of the issues being discussed and debated by investors across the world; it is not research, so please do not interpret it as a recommendation for your personal investments. However, if something has piqued your interest and you would like to find out more, please contact one of our Investment Managers on 020 7337 0777.