I’ll be there.

23 Jun

It was about a year ago when I first saw the commercial.

I was mesmerized. The Jackson 5’s “I’ll be there song” played in the background while artfully selected video of people both vulnerable and strong played on the screen. “Who and what is this advertisement for?” my mind asked. It was brilliant.

State Farm, I soon discovered, was the answer I sought.

But the thing that touched me was the statement about generation-influenced cultural shifts. GenXers (born 1961-1981) are now the generation ascending into mid-life, the primary generation raising children and the new definition of 40-somethings in the U.S. The Jackson 5 song, I’ll Be There, hit #1 in 1970 when the oldest Xer was nine years old.

So, here’s the thing to note for those of you in marketing, communications and HR is this: GenXers (the Nomad generation in archetypal language) experienced childhood in an era when adults are self-absorbed and the needs of children were roundly considered an inconvenience to adult experience, expression and fulfillment. While Millennial children (born 1982 -2002ish) rarely know a moment that doesn’t have some form of hovering parent, teacher, coach, babysitter, extended family member or paid supervisory adult around them, GenXers’ childhood was the era in which the term “latchkey children” came into being.

So, let’s look at the “latchkey children” turned midlife adults. Know what they value? Accountability. Access to information. Transparency. If you run a company and you think you’re currently accountable to your customers, you will only know this to be true when you’ve passed through the hell-fires of damnation your GenX customers will give you when they feel they can’t trust you to be straight, when they believe you’re not reliable and when they are not allowed full access 24/7 to the information about their accounts with you and your company data that they feel they have a right to see.

Trust me that they don’t trust you just because you have a long history of customer service, or that you pride yourself on XYZ, or that you’ve got a great mission statement splattered on your website and collateral materials. By the culture into which they were born, GenXers learned early and fast that adults and institutions didn’t have their backs, so, Boomer-led organizations, don’t take it personally when your GenX customers don’t respond the way you think they should. They’re operating on cultural programming different than yours, and different than Millennials.

Rather, accept the nature of this generation and BE THERE.

You want a sliver of the 81.3 million American GenXers as your customers? Be there for them. Transform your communications. Your online access to account information. Your speed with which you respond to inquiries. Tear down the opaque systems and obfuscation of data. Fire your copywriters and bring in people who can write in a human, clear, concise voice. Make sure that every piece of information your GenXers want is provided.

Don’t know what that is? Read your emails. Read the complaints. Stop acting as if customer service and your PR departments are supposed to “handle” problems. Put these biting complaints front and center in your management meetings and ask what you need to do as a company and how you need to transform — now — to become the kind of company that can serve and support this very large, intensely market-savvy, don’t-mess-with-me generation. Why? If there was ever a word-of-mouth generation that trusts individuals over institutions and personal commentary over corporate messaging, it’s this generation.

You may not like this. But you will do well to adapt. And one of the core values to add to your culture now is the explicit determination to “be there” for GenXers in the ways they say are critical to them

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2 Responses to “I’ll be there.”

  1. tom martin June 5, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    great article!

  2. annathema June 6, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Thanks for re-posting this. I was able to reference it today during a related discussion in class.

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