If you’re Gen X, that means you were born in the ’70s, grew up in the ’80s and came of age in the ’90s, or something like that. You grew up listening to music like Van Halen, Run DMC, The Smiths and Nirvana. You went to school, and probably began working sometime during the second Clinton Administration, beginning to pay off your student loans. It was an exciting time to enter the labor force, just as the digital revolution was beginning to take hold.
Like many others in my generation, I entered the labor force in the mid-’90s. My first job was with a marketing firm. I was hired by a Baby Boomer, a nice woman named Stephanie about 20 years my senior. Marketing at the time was still pretty old school, but it was there where I was given my first work PC, set up with my first email address, and taught to surf this new thing called the World Wide Web using what was then the state-of-the-art browser called Netscape.
If you’re a Gex Xer, chances are since you’ve been in the workforce, for better or for worse you’ve lived in the shadow of the Baby Boomers. They’re the ones who have hired you, fired you … and most certainly always held the best jobs. The more I think about the marketing world, the more I realize that there’s an important undercurrent here, one that will have a tremendous impact on Gen X, and quite possibly Gen Y, as well.
You see, last time I talked about a transition that’s taking place in the marketing world, as an older generation of brand stewards gives way to a new generation of digital marketers. I explained this trend was set to accelerate in coming years due to the rapidly changing nature of marketing itself, which is becoming more data driven, technology focused and operational in nature. In case you missed it, you can read about this topic in “3 Ways Rank-and-File Marketers Matter to the C-Suite in a Brave New Marketing World.”
In the marketing world (not in tech, but most definitely in the rest of corporate America), most high-level roles are still staffed by Boomers. What I find very interesting is that for the most part, the vast majority of Baby Boomers (with some notable exceptions, of course) are not especially digital people. Many have learned to live and work in the digital world and quite well, but when I see my dad fumble around on his feature phone I most definitely can see a huge gap.
So the transition I mentioned above will essentially be a passing of the baton, as the Boomers recede from the picture and are replaced by the next generation of marketers. Now here’s where it gets really interesting. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a Baby Boomer is someone who was born between 1946 and 1964. Ranging in age from 48 to 66, Baby Boomers aren’t getting any younger. Generation X spans the years 1965 to 1983, more or less, while Gen Y is from 1985 to 2003. Now let’s take a look at the size of these three generations:
- Baby Boomers: 79 million
- Gen X: 41 million
- Gen Y: 85 million
What this means is that in the marketing world if you’re a Gen Xer, your time to lead is coming. If you look at the numbers above, you can see there will there be a huge leadership void that will need to be filled as the Boomers retire during the next few years … as a small generation replaces a huge one. The economic crisis during the past for years may have postponed their retirement. But any way you slice it, the Baby Boomers will soon begin retiring more or less en masse during the next few years. When they go, they will leave huge leadership vacuum behind.
But that’s not all. In today’s marketing world, playing a leadership role will require both digital and managerial experience. This means that if you’re a Gen Xer with digital marketing and managerial experience, you’re literally going to be worth your weight in gold in coming years as the generational transition accelerates.
Don’t believe me? Just wait and see. And if you’re not ready to rise to the occasion, guess what? There are 85 million hungry and talented digital natives in Gen Y itching to move up ahead and take your place. If anything, they are the most digital generation yet. At this point, they’re still young and have yet to acquire the years of on-the-job experience it takes to succeed in a high-level marketing job. But give them some time and that will certainly change.
So, Gen X, are you up for the job? To quote Jack Nicholson is the classic 1992 movie A Few Good Men, “Can you handle the truth?” If not, Gen Y will be there waiting in the wings, happy to swoop in and take your place.
Any questions or feedback, as usual I’d love to hear it.