Marketers are missing the boat when it comes to breaking out one specific and essential group: Baby Boomers.
That's because they are not taking into account that a 55-year-old woman has vastly different purchasing habits than a 65-year-old or a 75-year-old. Too often marketers rely on long-standing assumptions about this group that are just plain wrong, and they apply weak marketing rules that are even less applicable when targeting people who are entering or already in retirement.
In simpler terms: They suck at knowing how to go after Baby Boomers.
Much of the advertising and marketing world is built around sex, youth, and coolness. Marketers try to differentiate their offerings with strong positioning of some sort. They’re relying on people making choices based on the product’s attachment to the youth generation, a cool factor, or the sexiness it portrays.
For 20 years, we’ve been saying that when Boomers retire, it’s going to be a big deal. Now that the future is here, it’s almost like no one was paying attention. Marketers are not really prepared to market to an older generation.
Boomers act much differently than the people who retired even three decades ago. They are not activated to engage like other segments today. We’ve seen that they are not as brand-concerned, but are much more value-oriented. And that’s just not as sexy to marketers.
Growing Need To Go After The Retiree Market
Why should you be changing your approach to Boomers and seniors? Boomers used to control 20 to 30 percent of America’s financial assets. Now as many approach age 65 and retirement, they control 77 percent of the country’s financial assets. Together, they account for 50 percent of the spending in the U.S.
There is a huge market available to reach boomers on the Internet. People over the age of 65 spend $7 billion online annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The youth might have this incredible reference socially, but you can’t discount the online power of the Boomers.
In addition, Baby Boomers are cash-oriented, despite their penchant for purchasing online. As they approach age 65, they become unimaginably conservative–surprisingly, shockingly conservative–in their financial dealings. Many are dropping the credit cards altogether so that they don’t outspend their means. It’s a time in life where they start thinking, “I can’t exceed my retirement funds; I’ve got to be conscious of it,” and it marks a shift in their consumption behavior. Collectively, they have a large financial backing and are generally willing to spend it, but it’s a time of life that becomes less about rewards and more about value.
Reaching Into The Boomer Basket
Only 15 percent of the marketing dollars in the U.S. is spent on the retirement end of the spectrum. Instead of breaking out Boomers, marketers lump them with the elderly almost as if everyone 50 or older is part of one demographic. There couldn’t be a bigger mistake.
Understanding how Boomers view themselves is crucial. There are too many ads depicting old people. Appealing to Boomers means showing them active, in bicycle shorts and spandex pants, out in the world enjoying life. You don’t have to show them as sexy, but you do have to show them as on the go and healthy no matter what you’re marketing.
To be effective at acquiring Boomers, they need to be handled differently. Specifically, there are three fronts marketers should approach with a fresh eye:
1. Creativity: I would implore CMOs to challenge the bias toward Boomers and test, test, test. Don’t just buy into the preconceived practices, but test to find out what really works. This is where a direct marketing approach will way outperform a standard creative approach. And don’t think it’s just images or looks. Be conscious of font and contrast. It’s a universal truth that the eyes weaken with age, so use an appropriately sized serif font for better legibility and have good contrast.
2. Offers: Value is important. The younger crowd uses Scoutmob for a cheap meal, but they’re less value-oriented when it comes to boots, jeans, and the right kind of look. With Boomers, it’s all about value no matter the product or service. It’s not that their skepticism is higher, but the insistence of preservation of capital and their finances are typically higher as they reach retirement age, and they value good offers.
3. Support: Marketers are usually pretty good here. They support their marketing with testimonials, creating trust. They bring in the right endorsers celebrities with the high Q rating who appeal to the demographic. But where they fall short is with security, both emotional and financial.
Here’s an example of good support: Zappos says, “If you buy a pair of shoes, we’ll ship them to you for free. Not only will we ship them to you, but we’ll let you return them for free if they’re not right. That’s how secure we’re going to make it for you.” With distance shopping, Internet shopping, and catalog shopping, the free shipping both ways is huge. Creating activators to add security gives retirees a sense of, “OK, I’m going to be safe.” It’s why they trust badges like the Better Business Bureau, AARP, and Good Housekeeping--the types of icons that clutter up normal marketing but are essential for easing retirees’ minds.
As you can tell, there’s a huge market out there waiting to be tapped. These are just good first steps, not the end of the path. They’re out there and waiting. Treat them with respect, listen to their needs, and you, too, can acquire more Boomers.