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 In Marketing

Chasing Millennial dollars is trendy. Catching Baby Boomer dollars is good business. Millennials may be the shiny thing, but Boomers are still the ones who spend. Those of us over age 50 are responsible for 50 percent of all consumer expenditures, but clueless (shiny attracted) marketers are only spending five percent of their ad dollars on us, according to Forbes. And their article, “Marketers Throw Out The Baby Boomers With The Bathwater,” goes on to point to a recent study by the University of Michigan that says that “…marketing campaigns targeting Boomers are twice as likely to be successful as those targeting millennials.” Yet, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) calculates that less than 15 percent of companies have developed a business strategy focusing on them.

Still wondering if us Boomers are worth pursuing? Ponder these facts:

  • Older consumers are one of the few engines of growth in an otherwise sluggish global economy, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).
  • “In the next two decades, spending by Americans over 50 is projected to increase by 58 percent, whereas spending by Americans 25-50 will grow by 24 percent…” says a report by Morgan Stanley
  • Boomers spend more on technology than Millennials, purchasing everything from premium cable to the latest smartphones.

Many marketers are not getting the message, though. They see my generation as the sole providence of ads about adult diapers and emergency medical alert devices.

Those who get it will benefit. Big time. Consider the case of Stitch, an online dating, activity and travel community for those over 50. Their founder, Marcie Rogo says: “[Boomers are] brand loyal. This is what I love about them… If they trust you as a brand, they will stay with you. They’re not going to hop around like Millennials.” Stitch was started two years ago and now has 50,000 members in 50 cities worldwide.

And how about L’Oréal? This is a company that recently added a 69-year-old actress, Susan Sarandon, to its roster of over-50 brand ambassadors for its beauty product line. Anyone want to tell Susan Sarandon she’s too old? Not me!

General Mills gets it, too. They spend a serious amount of ad dollars on what they call “…the highest per capita cereal consumers … [those] among the age 55 and over population…” General Mills spokesperson Kirstie Foster adds this: “Cereals that appeal to Baby Boomers, such as Honey Nut Cheerios, Fiber One, and MultiGrain Cheerios have been a big part of our growth in this category.”

And don’t forget Subaru, a brand built by Boomers, who started turning away from Detroit’s gas guzzlers during the 1970s. The brand’s been appealing to our need to protect our little (Millennial) darlings since the time when we drove them around behind car windows that featured “Baby on Board” stickers. These folks know how tastefully touch on Boomer nostalgia without pandering.In the commercial called “Memory Lane,” a grandmother and Woodstock veteran shares a nostalgic moment with her family. “This tree is where I had a chance encounter with the man who would become your father and grandfather,” she tells her granddaughter and both hug the tree. A bit indulgent, but I like it, and I admire how it fits in with Subaru’s long-time slogan “Love. It’s What’s Makes a Subaru.” It plays on my heart strings without insulting me. I have only one beef with them: It’s the commercial where the dad is cleaning out the car before passing it along to his daughter. He lingers over the paraphilia that triggers memories of her growing up. That commercial makes me cry. Every time. Not fair, Subaru. I do not like being the old lady who cries at car commercials!

Tips for Marketing to Baby Boomers

The 77 million Baby Boomers still pack an economic punch. Smart marketers should be looking for ways to tap into the spending of the generation that Bloomberg dubbed “The Richest Generation in US History.”

Here are a few tips to make that happen:

  1. Take Advantage of Brand Loyalty – Boomers are loyal to the brands that have proven themselves over time. They are at the stage in their lives when they value products that have always come through for them. And they don’t necessarily suffer from FOMO (that’s “fear of missing out” for you old people) when it comes to the latest trend. I’m on my fourth Camry; my third LG smartphone and I buy Dannon yogurt by the case because, frankly, I don’t want to spend my time considering the alternatives. Does that make me boring? Probably. Does that label bother me? Nope. I stick with those products because they work, and I prefer to fire up my brain cells for more important decisions.
  2. Go for the Up-Sell – My generation looks for ways to make our lives easier. Once you prove that your product can do that, we’re probably open to some upselling. If Dropbox makes my life easier, you can convince me to pay a little more for extra storage. If that cruise took me away from it all the last time I went, you can probably convince me to go for the upgraded stateroom next time. And, remember that upselling me on something I already like is a whole lot easier than bringing in a new customer.
  3. Reward the loyal spender – Whether it’s frequent flyer miles, cash back on my credit card spends, or points for my Victoria’s Secret card (yes, old people like nice undies, too) I like the idea of a reward for that spending. Since you already know we Boomers are brand loyal, how about sending us a little love to reward us for all that spending? It will keep us coming back.
  4. Take advantage of traditional marketing and sales tactics – Older Boomers still watch and give credibility to what they see on TV and in the newspapers. They may be reading those papers on-line, but their content still conveys a sense of credibility. Use those vehicles for both advertising and public relations campaigns. “Marketing tactics seen as intrusive on their personal lives (like Facebook ads) are not welcomed, but traditional television and newspaper ads are okay,” says blogger Mary Lister in her post, “Generational Marketing: How to Target Millennials, Gen X, & Boomers” She also points out that Boomers are less likely than their younger counterparts to read long-form blog posts. While the 1200+ word post attract search engines, Baby Boomers report that the articles they like the most are only 300 words.
  5. Understand that “I’m Worth it” resonates – Baby Boomers feel they have earned their position in life. And, whether we are retired or still working (like yours truly), we believe we’ve reached an age where we have worked hard enough to splurge on themselves. And we do. According to AARP, US adults over 50 spend $3.2 trillion annually and have accumulated $15 trillion in financial assets; which is greater than the total GDP of countries such as Italy, Russia, the UK and France. “Try marketing full-price or ‘top-shelf’ products to them. No one wants to be drinking $7 wine in their 60s, or buying used furniture on Craigslist for the house they just downsized to after their last 25-year-old moved out. Boomers are more likely going to be okay with splurging on themselves in retirement,” says Lister.
  6. Emphasize Boomers’ eternal quest for youthfulness – We were the generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30. Now that we are way over 30 we still don’t still don’t trust old people. We don’t see ourselves as old people. We expect that a long and lively future still lies ahead of us. You’re certainly welcome to throw a couple of Beatles songs into your ad, but don’t think we’re all about looking back. “When crafting a message for Boomers, businesses need to be cognizant that they are extremely optimistic about the future and their part in it… [For Boomers] Aging is the future of living,” says Peter Hubbell, in his book The Old Rush: Marketing for Gold in the Age of Aging.
  7. Realize that Boomers are used to redefining what it means to be their age. The sheer size of my generation has always meant we could redefine how things were done; what rules were okay to break and what was okay to wear (heck, who do you think made jeans okay? Before us, they were the province of cowboys and farmers). We have, in fact, reinvented every stage of life we’re entered and changed everything from entertainment, to fashion, to parenting. And, no matter if we’re working or retired, we expect to redefine what it means to be our age. “To [Boomers] … aging is a lifestyle, not physiological demise,” to quote a piece in Forbes called “Marketers Throw Out the Baby Boomers With the Bathwater.
  8. Use social media Boomer style – It’s a misconception that we don’t use social media. Most of us (82.3 percent, in fact) belong to at least one social networking site, according to the marketing agency DMN3. But you won’t find us on the same channels as our kids or their kids. While a 23-year-old may use Snapchat or Instagram to post photos or videos of their wild night out, we stick to Facebook and YouTube to post images and videos of where we go, what we do, and how superior our kids are.
  9. Embrace the fact that Baby Boomers READ – We grew up reading text and we’re comfortable with reading full ad copy. Reading is a hobby that many of us actually enjoy. So we’re okay with a more text-heavy message in your ad. That doesn’t mean crowding every inch with copy, but it also does mean we’re okay with a longer message.
  10. Nurture your relationships with us- While we’re still responsive to traditional marketing channels, we’re not push-overs. Don’t think all you have to do is pimp our childhood memories to make us open our wallets. Boomers need to build trust with a brand before they buy. That happens over time. It means you’ll need to commit to a longer sales journey to get to us, building credibility and nurturing the relationship the entire way. The bad news is that these sales take longer. The good news is that they will lead to brand loyalty and repurchasing for an even longer time.

I’m Right Here

As a marketer, I’m well aware that paying attention to the newest of the new is a survival skill for any company or product that wants to succeed. I’m also aware that Following the Money leads down a variety of paths. Don’t close this one off because it’s not marked “This way to the Millennials.” You’re leaving money on the table. Or should I say the path?

A version of this post appeared in the Hartford Business Journal on July 10, 2017

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