Marketing to boomers: the elusive sweet spot

Screen shot 2013-10-28 at 11.08.45 PM
Many companies still haven’t figured out how to market to boomers, including P&G and its corporate, faculty and student partners in its Live Well Collaborative innovation lab – whose goal is to research and develop product ideas for consumers age 50 and over. While they’ve completed 37 projects, they’ve yet to commercialize a single product.

This article on bloomberg.com – Aging Boomers Befuddle Marketers Aching for $15 Trillion Prize – underscores the enormous (though still untapped) opportunity available to brand marketers who can crack the code on this still underserved segment of 50+ consumers.

Dimensioning The Opportunity

According to Nielsen, more than half of the U.S. adult population in 2017 will be 50+ and they will control a full 70% of the disposable income. By 2050, there will be 161 million 50+ consumers, a 63% increase over 2010. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems to translate into a pretty sexy market. In spite of this, only about 15% of all ad dollars are spent against this demographic (though they account for almost 50% of CPG sales).

And beyond the sheer size of the market, consider just a few media consumption and spending statistics:
• Boomers watch 174 hours of television a month, 63% more than Millenials
• More than 50% are on Facebook
• They’re almost equally engaged to the same level of younger generational groups on all major social media platforms
• They spend $7 billion online annually, and this is quickly rising

So What’s Missing?

Existing 50-plus targeted products aren’t creating a lasting emotional connection with older consumers. Case in point is that nobody aspires to own products like adult diapers and denture adhesives. While some need to spend their money on these essentials (and they are, to the tune of $600 million annually on Depend), they have the dollars and the desire to spend (and splurge) on the things they truly want – the products and services that help them to not only feel better, but to look better and play better. That’s where companies so far have failed.

Cracking The Code

The challenge (and opportunity) is for brand marketers to make their brands more relevant to this massive market. But to do this, marketers need to view this market with a fresh set of eyes, and let go of some common misconceptions.

First. Even a discussion about the 50+ market in general can lead you down the wrong path, as it’s comprised of multiple lifestyle and attitudinal segments. Working or retired, in good health or in need of care, kids at home or empty nesters – these are just a few of the variables that distinguish these sub-groups and impact the relevancy of your marketing.

Second. Older consumers buy the same brands they always have. If that was true, says Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist who’s been studying seniors for 40 years, ” I would still be driving a Chevy Impala and wearing English Leather.” On the contrary, Baby Boomers might just be the single most vibrant and exciting consumer group in the world.

Third. Boomers and seniors are cheap. Wrong. Boomers spend more than any other group on leisure and lifestyle. Same when it comes to their pets (their kid and grandkid fill-ins). And a survey of 3,000 60+ consumers by consulting firm A.T. Kearney found they’re not particularly price sensitive. Reinforcing this point, consider that more than 40% of Apple products are bought by boomers, according to Nielsen.

The lesson to be learned is that getting caught up in the stereotypes that surround the 50+ market are detrimental to your business. Rather, to your great financial benefit, learn how to cultivate the relationships with these people who have many more years of living and spending ahead of them. Do this by moving beyond their “must-haves” and reminders that time is winding down to creating experience-rich products and services that respond to their wants and aspirations.

Can you fill the elusive sweet spot and be the friendliest 50+ brand in your category? You only have a global market worth $15 trillion by the end of the decade as your prize.