Why “marketing to boomer” myths are holding back your business
It happened again. I got ‘that’ direct mail piece in the mail. How many times will they mail to me before I am flagged as a perennial non-responder (aka not-interested, at least not for now). It’s one of the few pieces of actual direct mail that I did NOT opt-in for – unlike my Bloomingdales and JCrew catalogs and offers, as these companies know that I’m actively engaged with their brands and in turn reward me with relevant information that I look forward to receiving.
Now back to ‘that’ direct mail. As you may have guessed, it is habitually sent to me from AARP – the largest non-profit advocacy group serving people 50+ (who themselves rebranded to evolve their outdated identity: American Association of Retired Persons). When I turned the magic five-0 (which I was proud of), my membership packet magically appeared. Not requested, wanted or needed. Or so I thought.
This was still my parents’ American Association of Retired Persons. I thought they just didn’t get ME – and I guess I just didn’t get THEM. Maybe some of that relates to my perception of AARP’s past brand marketing and brand image. But more importantly, I didn’t want my ‘milestone’ (age) to define who I was and what was important to me. But we’ll get back to this…and why it is so vital to create marketing strategies and messages that connect with the boomer generation of today. People like me!
BOOMERS ROCK: 50 really is the new 40
As a baby boomer myself, I relate to the real power (economically, socially, culturally, politically…) of the largest generation in history (over 77 million), born between 1946 – 1964. While many brand marketers have ignored them to focus on the “sexier” Generations X and Y, boomers are actually the most influential and affluent group, constituting about 1/3 of the U.S. population, with discretionary purchasing power of over $2.1 trillion per year. Boomers are redefining many aspects of American life, as they re-imagine their own. They are not to be ignored.
And we don’t. Fifty really is the new 40 to us at Trajectory! We understand boomers are multi-faceted, vibrant, informed and super active – and that 50 is only someone’s chronological age. We have been working with clients across health, wellness, personal care, and leisure who understand the reality of this generational shift – and what its real implications are. Because we (and our clients) understand FICTION vs. FACT as it relates to marketing to boomers. If you care about capturing the vast expenditure generated by some of the most affluent members of society, you should too.
BOOMERS: Separating FICTION vs. FACT
- Boomers are all alike
How can they be when they span so many life stages and lifestyles. One size (one very large age band) certainly does not fit all. Today’s boomers are as contemporary as they are diverse, raising kids, becoming grandparents, taking care of aging parents, getting (re)married, retiring, going back to school, finding new hobbies, giving back, starting new careers, and much more. Boomers (like me) can’t merely be defined by age alone.
- Boomers don’t have money to spend
Not all boomers are wealthy, but they control most of the wealth in the U.S. – which means more money to spend on your products and services, if you understand how to connect to them. In fact, the median net worth of $112,048 for HHs headed by someone 55-64 is about 15x greater compared HHs under-35 at $7,240. Those 50+ represent 65% of the aggregate net worth of all U.S. households. And in terms of spending, they outspend younger adults online 2:1. So why are you neglecting them?
Sources: U.S. Census, MetLife Mature Market Institute, U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey, Nielsen, Forrester Research
- Boomers can only be reached through traditional methods
Boomers grew up on TV and print, but have also embraced electronic and non-traditional marketing methods. It is important to note that 96% of boomers are active with word-of-mouth (WOM) and viral marketing by sharing product or service information with friends and family – as brand recommendations from trusted sources are important to them. We’re actually in the midst of developing a unique WOM program now for a healthcare client who wants to facilitate more meaningfully connections among this audience.
Boomers also have a major impact online – constituting the largest group on the web at over 30% (of 195.3 million U.S. Internet users) – spending an average of $7 billion annually. Convenience, coupled with easy comparison-shopping, reviews and relevant online offers, are contributing factors.
Sources: ThirdAge, JWT Boom, Jupiter Research, SeniorNet, Pew, Forrester
- Boomers are always brand loyal
Not the case. In fact, boomers are more willing to experiment than their younger counterparts (maybe by virtue of experience), and are actually predisposed to trying new products. Over 50% believe “In today’s marketplace, it doesn’t pay to be loyal to one brand.” Remember, boomers are transitioning through many life stages, with needs changing along the way (health, family, careers, personal, etc.) – providing brand marketers with a great opportunity to address changing behaviors, goals, and life perspectives.
- Boomers only care about themselves
Boomers, by way of circumstance, are probably the most caring generation, both in terms of their time and resources – caring for their aging parents, children moving back or still living at home (over 1/3 still have children <18), and always giving of themselves (socially conscious). They define what it means to give back.
- Boomers don’t adapt well to new technology trends
Boomers were on the front lines for the first computers (working on a PC and booting up DOS), e-mail (which was mostly used internally) and the Internet (which was the wild west, no interfaces or organization). They were really the first to understand how technology would change our world, and lives. Now, more than 80% of boomers routinely use the Internet – for instant messaging, downloading music, videos, financial activities, and gaming. In fact, 44% of smartphone owners age 50+ access the Internet or check email daily from their phones, and adults 45+ account for 34.7% of current tablet users.
So it’s not hard to believe that the top four website for people 60+ are Google, Facebook, Yahoo and YouTube. Of boomers 50+ on the Internet, 82% research health and wellness information (as well as travel and leisure), 65%+ buy from e-tailers, and 65% engage in social media – and these numbers are only growing.
Sources: AARP, Pew Internet and American Life Project, (WSL/Strategic Retail), comScore TabLens
- Boomers are all slowing down
Only about 10% of boomers will actually stop working entirely when they reach retirement age. And it’s not because the majority of them have to, but they want to stay actively engaged. And engaged they are, with the typical boomer regularly involved in at least ten activities, and over 66% planning on spending more time on interests and hobbies than they do today!
So this is a ‘heads-up’ to leisure marketers – with disposable time and income comes the desire to be adventurous. In fact, adults 50% make up 80% of all luxury travel spending, over 50% take one trip annually, and those 55+ spend half of all vacation dollars in America. And we can’t forget that over 22 million of them attend live sporting events each year. So it is not surprising that 55-64 year olds outspend the average consumer in almost every category including, entertainment, gifts, eating out, shopping, and even personal care.
Source: ICSC, Pew Internet and American Life Project, US Government Consumer Expenditure Survey
BOOMERS: A Big (Missed) Marketing Opportunity
So, let’s get back to me. Boomers are big business! And while so many branding and marketing strategies have failed to connect with them, companies in every arena are course correcting and trying to figure out how to make that lasting emotional connection. From beauty companies like L’Oreal and Revlon, to packaged goods leaders like General Mills and Procter and Gamble, financial services like Wells Fargo and Fidelity, luxury car companies like Lexus and online providers like Amazon (with their new 50+ Active & Healthy Living Store).
The most important, and indisputable, fact that brand marketers need to come to grips with is that a consumer’s age alone is of little use in determining their marketing strategies (unless there is substantiating evidence to the contrary). Rather, values, beliefs and behaviors matter most. The sooner that marketers change their perception and approach –– the sooner that those serious about growing their business will be able to do so.