“Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?” — The Beatles
The youngest members of the one of the largest generations turned 50 last year. And just as they’ve shaped public policy, advertising, music and pop culture, Baby Boomers are not going quietly into retirement.
This is the group with the largest amount of disposable income, and a big slice of the nation’s consumer spending. But even though they represent 66 percent of the nation’s purchasing power, only 10 percent of marketing dollars target Boomers.
Businesses ignore this group at their peril, according to the AARP, a nonprofit advocacy group aimed at providing information and resources to people who are 50 and older.
“The irony here is that the reason the 18-to-49 demographic became the desired consumer target was to reach Baby Boomers as they bought their way through each life stage,” the group said in an online article. “Yet once they turned 50, for the first time in their lives, Boomers became invisible to most marketers.”
UCCS marketing professor Jeff Ferguson, a Baby Boomer himself, agrees.
“When we hit elementary school, the focus was on how to educate all these kids,” he said. “It was the main topic of conversation. Then, when we hit high school, the same thing. And now, we’re hearing similar conversations: ‘What does this mean for the labor force, for health care?’ But people aren’t really viewing Boomers as a group that they should spend money advertising dollars on.”
At Vladimir Jones, a Colorado Springs advertising and marketing firm, it makes sense to follow the money.
“They have $46 trillion in wealth, and outspend other generations,” says Mimi Wheeler, vice president of Shift Insight at the firm. “Furthermore, Boomers’ spending power is only going to rise in the foreseeable future. Not only will Boomers continue earning wages by staying in the workforce longer, but according to 2014 research by NextAvenue.org, they stand to inherit upward of $27 trillion from their parents.”
The Baby Boomer generation is broadly defined as people born between 1946 and 1964, about 77 million people. It’s one of the largest population groups in the United States. They are the generation that vowed they’d never grow old.
Marketers should remember to keep that in mind, says Camille Blakely, owner of Colorado Springs advertising and public relations firm Blakely+Co.
“They’re active; they’re the wealthiest group; they are physically fit; and they have the most disposable income,” she said. “This is the group that redefined traditional values, so businesses need to keep that in mind when they plan their messages.”
The Boomers’ mindsets as they approach traditional retirement age is different as well.
“Don’t refer to them as ‘old’ or ‘seniors,’ ” she said. “The older Boomers are concerned about health and fitness, so market to them by letting them know how they can maintain their current lifestyle, how the product benefits them.”
Boomers are different from Millennials, who move from brand to brand without pause, she said. Once you win over a Boomer, you have a customer for life.
“They are tenacious about brand,” she said. “They’re the last generation that has brand loyalty. So it’s harder to get them to switch, but once they do, they stick with that brand.”
Blakely uses two clients as examples of different ways to target-market to Boomers: the town of Cripple Creek and Eclipse Private Jet. Both depend on disposable incomes. Both use different marketing techniques to reach their audiences.
“In Cripple Creek, we buy network television, targeted cable, digital displays,” she said. “We’re trying to reach women 45 to 65, so we also do a lot of email marketing.”
For Eclipse, the agency uses a different approach — including old-fashioned direct mail.
“It’s traditional, but we’ve received a big response from it,” she said. “It’s not all we do, we also use search engine optimization to direct them to the website, and advertising in select geographic areas where high-income Boomers fly.”
Not slowing down
No matter what the product, it’s important to let Boomers know they’re still relevant, Ferguson said.
“Keep in mind this isn’t a big monolithic group of like-minded people,” he said. “But overall, the leading-edge Boomers focus on health care, wellness and travel. They want to be seen as active. They’re not getting older and they’re never going to admit that they’re old. They want eternal youth — sell the product by talking about how it will make them look better, feel better and do more.”
It’s not just that Boomers don’t perceive themselves as slowing down, said Wheeler. It’s a mistake to market to them as old.
“It’s not just that they don’t want to see themselves as alone and sedentary, growing old in a rocking chair,” she said. “It’s that this stereotype of aging is genuinely not their reality. So brands that market to the aging demographics with ‘old people’ clichés risk not just offending, but having their messages miss the mark completely.”
And marketers shouldn’t ignore the online marketplace when directing messages to Boomers. Blakely says they’re driving technology changes.
“While younger people are the earliest adapters of a new technology, Boomers are the ones that are using it and driving the market,” she said. “They’re the ones buying smartphones and using Facebook and Twitter. Advertisers who don’t reach them there are missing a big part of their audience.”
In fact, studies show that Boomers are using the Internet for purchases at twice the rate of Millennials, and that they focus more on content than younger generations.
Businesses should be sure to understand exactly how Boomers use both traditional and online media, said Jon Bross, media director at Vladimir Jones.
“There are some significant differences in the media preferences and consumption of Boomers, versus other groups,” he said. “For example, 51 percent of Boomers enjoy a printed or digital newspaper, but only 6 percent of them are streaming video or music. Boomers however, consume more content online than Gen X or Millennials — even though that younger audience spends more time online, the Boomer’s appetite for content remains stronger.”
Marketing to Boomers shouldn’t be about age, says Wheeler.
“As part of our planning process we evaluate all potential consumers and identify ‘gaps’ or opportunity segments where our clients can build their franchise,” she said. “Sometimes this is based on age, but more often it reflects a mindset or values orientation.”
Those values and mindsets frequently center on health care and fitness, but also about retirement and fiscal security, Blakely said.
“This is a big, powerful group,” she said. “And they are in transition as they age. Be prepared to reach them where they are, with meaningful content online but also with television and newspaper marketing.”
And don’t expect that Boomers will follow their parents’ footsteps, says Ferguson.
“They might not retire right on schedule,” he said. “If they enjoy their job, they’ll stay. But more importantly, this is a group used to a certain kind of lifestyle. If they don’t think they can maintain their lifestyle while retired, they’ll keep working. There are several different markets this group is going to want to access in the future — they’ll want to stay at home or in an active lifestyle center; they’ll want home offices; they’ll want to vacation more.”
AARP isn’t waiting for traditional advertising departments to get on board. Earlier this year, the advocacy group launched its own firm.
As Boomers age, they face life choices that will drive their spending habits — long-term financial security, empty nests, changes in family cars, technology needs, even dating and fashion. Those needs should drive advertising dollars to them.
“As they have done through every life stage before age 50, Boomers are reinventing life after 50, and this means discretionary spending on products and services that help them create rewarding, meaningful, enjoyable experiences throughout their second adulthood,” the AARP said. “Marketers who strike now will generate sales levels among 50+ that won’t be seen again for another 20 years.”
Boomers by the numbers
of all after-tax income
spent on trips every year
new vacation home purchases
Boomers outspend Millennials online
1 out of 2
buys new tech products annually
8 in 10
make online purchases every month
(Source: AARP and Immersion Active)