How to reach China's real big spenders: Gen X

Gen X
People born from the mid-1960s to about 1980 may not be as sexy or make the headlines, but they’re a sensible, knowledgeable driver of high-end spending
13 Oct 2018

Millennials, yes fine. We get it.

All of us have referenced the Chinese millennial so often that the syllables may have lost all meaning by now, becoming some sort of ritualesque mantra chanted out on a weekly basis at the latest “can’t miss” China expert panel discussion.

Yet what about Gen X? They matter, too!

They may be a little older, they may not be quite as sleek-sounding and the “Gen X mindset” doesn’t seem quite as sexy (more like slippers and a good book), but logically speaking they are a crucial segment of consumer demographics.

Generation X (which the Pew Research Center defines as those born from 1965 to 1980) – is the generation just before millennials (born from 1981 to 1996).

China’s Gen X, of course, love luxury too. Being born a few years before a game-changing millennial-mindsetter doesn’t change that – and, they may be even more of an important demographic than the millennial. Yes, I said it.

I’ll just insert a disclaimer here: I haven’t sourced data – big or small – or opted to include stats. This is because:

1. Chinese stats are always huge, massive, hundreds of millions. This is China. And ...

2. Who, including even the most wizened China expert, would really believe that millennials spend big, while those born between 1970 and 1984 have less wealth than millennials?

In some senses, Gen X are the bread and butter of luxury brands – something of an oxymoron, I grant you.

Yet with Gen X, you experience all of the benefits of the affluent or high-net-worth individual (HNWI) Chinese consumer: someone with a love and discernment of luxury, sophisticated, well-travelled and at the peak of their financial topography, with none of the drawbacks of the millennial: over-stimulated, brand-disloyal and probably too busy Instagramming their new Fijian-language tattoo to pay any attention to your own scintillating brand story.

Talking to luxury Chinese Gen Xers is more straightforward than trying to snake-charm a millennial into clicking through to your engaging 10-minute mini-movie, in which you have pinpointed the precise Chinese key opinion leader (or KOL) which will hypnotise them into clicking through again to buy WeChat gift vouchers to send to their own “network of followers”. As they livestream it.

No – Gen X are not into KOLs, because they have been there and done the celebrity thing already. HNWI Gen X Chinese own the company that owns the KOL.

They now have their own business empires to run, lives to lead and the only time they livestream is when they FaceTime their older children who are studying at Oxford.

(It’s worth noting that the celebrities that Gen X grew up with are now the richest, A-list household names such as fellow Gen Xers Sun Li, Zhao Wei, Lin Chi-ling, Andy Lau, Eason Chan; so they aren’t bothered about trying to follow a thousand new KOLs.)

Gen X want to know what and why. Who and how aren’t so uplifting for them.

Have a beauty product? What’s in it and why should I use it.

Opened a new resort in the Maldives? What can I do there and why is it better than the seven I’ve been to already. OK, I’ll take 10 boxes of ampoules and sign me up for the three-bedroom villa.

A lot of truth is said in jest – but as a Gen Xer myself who has been married into the Chinese family for a decade and a half (making no claims to be a “China expert”, you understand), I see a marked difference between the various age ranges of affluent, first-tier urbanites.

While millennials have made the headlines – and deservedly so – spare a thought (and a smart campaign) for the Chinese Gen X. Precision and efficiency are needed to capture their immense spending power.

Gen X might not make the headlines, but they are a pragmatically driven, ultra-knowledgeable powerhouse of luxury spending.