As Mick Jagger sang, “what a drag it is growing old.” That is, unless you’re a member of the largest demographic group in national history – with most of the nation’s net worth, and the ear of business marketers and advertising professionals.
The generation that gave the nation Woodstock, Bob Dylan and Alan Ginsburg is getting older. Starting in January, a baby boomer will turn 60 every 7 seconds for the next 15 years.
With control of 70 percent of the total net worth in the United States, baby boomers’ wishes and whims dominate the business market. Experts say smart marketers – from ski resorts to clothing stores – should focus on addressing the needs of those customers.
“We conducted a study with the hypothesis that people over 50 felt slighted by advertising and that those people are in a different place than people in their 30s and 40s. Those marketing needs should be addressed,” said Matt Thornhill of the Boomer Project, a consulting group that provides marketing and advertising ideas aimed at the baby boomer generation. “We discovered that we were right – and if you want to grow your business in the next 10, 15 years, you should pay attention.”
Historically, marketing and advertising focuses on young adults ages 18 to 34 and seniors, Thornhill said. Now that the boomer generation – nearly 78 million strong – is nearing 60, marketers need to respond by changing their message, he said.
Business owners ignore this generation at their peril, he said. Boomers use more of their income – about $10,000 more annually – on discretionary spending than any other demographic group, he said.
“The big factor is that there are just so many more of them,” he said. “They are at the peak of their earning potential, and they don’t want to be marginalized. This group is a huge factor in the way business should plan their marketing and advertising.”
Boomers spend nearly $400 billion annually on clothes, cars, vacations and homes. In order to reach that market, businesses should focus on what these consumers say they need.
Marketing to a specific demographic originated with the boomer generation, Thornhill said. Marketers focused solely on the adult and children markets until boomers hit their early 20s.
“It started with television programs, they wanted more people that age to watch television,” he said. “They worked hard at creating a desire for that demographic to watch their programs. And that still should be the target audience; they’ve just gotten older.”
Boomers seem determined to accept getting older differently than previous generations, Thornhill said. As they age, the group is returning to their “roots” – and is buying with a social conscience.
“Honda was surprised; Toyota was surprised,” he said. “They thought the people who would buy their hybrids would be mid-20s, Green party people. Instead, they are getting purchases from people in their 50s and 60s. In response, you have a Lexus hybrid, targeted at this group. They are the ones who can afford $45,000 for a car. Boomers definitely prefer to buy from a company who has a social conscience, as well as a good product.”
Boomers started the all-natural craze in the 1970s, when they rejected plastic and other petroleum-based products, Thornhill said. After giving up those economic roots for conspicuous consumption in the 1980s, the group is returning to the demand of all natural, environmentally safe products.
Marketers are responding to the aging demographic in a number of ways. Even businesses that require a certain amount of physical fitness are finding ways to keep boomer business.
Ski resorts are remodeling slopes, even grooming expert slopes to erase moguls so that aging boomers can still ski steep slopes without “ripping apart their knees,” Thornhill said.
Resorts in Aspen and Vail are responding to the aging demographic: in 1998, 21 percent of skiers were 60 or older; last season, that number rose to 38 percent, according to ski reports. Aspen offers a course that provides new techniques for skiing expert slopes without putting additional strain on joints.
But Thornhill notes that even as ski resorts are adapting, boomers are more physically fit than their counterparts of the earlier generation. As a group, they seem determined to remain active, he said.
Local companies are following suit. The clientele at Compleat Games and Hobbies is young, hip gamesters. But Andy Gimes said the store is focusing on older customers as well, introducing a “family game night” concept that will remind baby boomers of the board games of their youth.
“It’s for all those baby boomers who remember hanging out and playing games with their family, before there were Nintendos,” he said. “Families hanging out together – that’s what we’re trying to get back to. I think baby boomers are nostalgic for those times and want to recreate them with their own kids and grandkids.”
Thornhill said that boomers are more about “experience” as they age, and less materialistic than they were in younger years.
“There’s a saying ‘Whoever has the most toys when they die, wins,” he said. “And boomers used to buy into that – who has the most stuff, what it says about them to other people. But now, they are all about ‘Whoever has the most experiences, wins.’ They want to buy goods and products that are relevant to them as individuals; it’s not about status anymore.”
Baby boomer Linda Bridger, who owns Saboz, said she targets marketing and advertising toward boomers, understanding that boomers have more disposable income than other demographics.
“I market on NPR and in the Cheyenne/Woodman area,” she said. “That’s where the boomers are who have the disposable income.”
While Saboz prides itself on its eclectic collection of shoes, handbags and jewelry, Bridger said she keeps the baby boomer demographic in mind when she buys for the store.
“One of my best selling shoes is the comfort shoe,” she said. “Baby boomer women are at the point where they don’t want to give up comfort for style – they want both. I sell a shoe that covers all the orthopedic requirements for comfort, to meet any medical needs, but is still stylish.”
Boomers are different than other generations when they reached 60, Bridger said. Boomer women do not want to sacrifice style, color or fun when they are buying clothes.
“They don’t want the kind of clothes my mother or grandmother wore,” Bridger said. “Getting older doesn’t mean getting boring; and these women don’t want to be boring.”
Businesses that want to attract the boomer demographic should focus on the “internal experience,” instead of “keeping up with the Joneses,” Thornhill said.
“It’s less about materialism, and more about the personal benefits,” he explained. “Boomers are less concerned with how they look to other people. They want products and services that are relevant to them as individuals. Their values are more about self-fulfillment, instead of what’s ‘cool.’”